As time wears on and the recession shows little sign of being curtailed by the government's stimulus package, companies are continuing to cut costs by resorting to their fallback plan: employee layoffs. Millions of them. The national unemployment rate now tops 8 percent. In some states, the number of those unemployed exceeds 10 percent of the workforce. If I were more political, I might start the dramatic "1 in every 10 Americans" speech in a portentous, overly concerned, Big Brother voice. But let's just cut to the chase, shall we?

My company's industry -- book publishing -- is not immune to the effects of the current economic state. In fact, quite the opposite. We're small, independent, and we produce a non-essential consumer good. For some in this business, that could be a death sentence. Larger rival companies are cutting jobs by the hundreds.
On the other hand, we only have about 30 full-time employees. And even one layoff is, in my opinion, unacceptable. It's not about who's "essential" and who's "expendable." If you've done your hiring right, everyone is essential. Cutting one person from the team is losing one invaluable resource that helps make this entire company tick. In the short term, it hurts morale and lowers the productivity of a department. In the long run it means the entire company's time and money spent trying to make up for the loss -- redistributing tasks and overburdening departments, struggling to make up the slack, dealing with the paperwork, and eventually putting additional man hours toward rehiring and retraining. And of course, the toll layoffs take on the economy are tremendous.

If we want to survive, we have to use the resources we have in the best way that we can. And the most important resource we have -- that any company has -- is our people. Without their labor and commitment, our company would not be successful. To that end, I've asked my employees to institute what I call the "lay-on" (as opposed to the layoff. Get it?). Essentially, every employee is putting in one voluntary extra hour per day at work. One extra hour to be used in the most advantageous way possible: finishing up projects, having a meeting with a client or vendor, assisting a coworker, getting hands dirty working in another department. Even cleaning a desk or organizing files, if it helps improve efficiency.

Do the math -- 30 employees x 1 hour per day x 5 day workweek = 150 extra hours. Divide that number by 40 hours per standard workweek and you have 3.75. That's the workload of nearly 4 additional employees, all without hiring a single new person. Rather than cutting expenses (and revenue), we're keeping all of our employees' benefits and increasing productivity, and revenue as well!

We aren't asking for anything big. Just a little extra time each week that is completely flexible. We let everyone figure out what works best for them -- be it shorter lunches, working from home, coming in earlier or leaving later, or some combination of options. Not only are we preventing layoffs among our employees, we are also increasing our efficiency and output, building reserves, and staying profitable. Of course, what is probably the best measure of the success of the lay-on is its effect on the atmosphere of the company as a whole. People spend less time worrying about their jobs and more focused on doing their jobs.

Consider your options. Times are tough and you are worried about your company's survival. But to thrive in good times and bad, you have always relied upon, and will always rely upon, the people who work for you. You can panic, lay off people, and help fuel the fire of a chaotic economy. Or you can ask for a little more -- and get a lot more in return.