Unavoidable slow-season layoffs can wreck morale -- and productivity -- at even the best-managed companies. Is there a bloodless way to expand and contract your work force as the business cycle dictates? The folks at Nypro Inc. think so.

Before assigning enough pink slips to handle the (presumably temporary) lean times, CEO Gordon Lankton asks employees whether any of them will volunteer for time off. For the past 15 years, they have. Older workers, employees with young families, or those for whom Nypro provides a second income are the most frequent volunteers. "They go out and get refreshed and come back more enthused than ever -- and they almost always do come back," Lankton says. "These days, people like flexibility. It helps them and it helps the company."

Lankton points out that the policy is more expensive than ordinary layoffs. Though payroll gets cut, related costs don't. Voluntary leave-takers at the Clinton, Mass.-based injection-molding company remain eligible for benefits and profit sharing.