09/06/2012 11:58 am ET Updated Nov 06, 2012

How to Displace Fewer Workers

Displaced workers comprise a significant chunk of our country's unemployed workers. A displaced worker is defined as "persons 20 years of age and older who lost or left jobs because their plant or company closed or moved, there was insufficient work for them to do, or their position or shift was abolished."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported 6.1 million long-tenured workers were displaced from jobs they held for at least three years. An additional 6.7 million short-tenured workers were displaced from jobs they held for fewer than three years, making the total number of displaced workers 12.9 million from January 2009 through December 2011.

But the news about displaced workers isn't all bad. The 6.1 million long-tenured displaced workers during this survey period is down from 6.9 million for the survey period covering January 2007 to December 2009. And in January 2012, 56 percent of the 6.1 million long-tenured displaced workers were reemployed, 46 percent of whom had earnings that were as much or greater than those of their previous job.

Regardless of the positive outcomes just over half of the 6.1 million long-tenured displaced workers experienced, and the number of new resources to help these workers get back to work, it should be among employers' greatest priorities to displace as few workers as possible. If you're an employer who was forced to release workers from their positions between January 2009 and December 2011, you're probably thinking this is easier said than done.

Obviously, you can't continue to employ or hire more workers you view as nonessential in a shaky economy still recovering from recession. After all, money may be tight, and you need to guarantee your essential workers paychecks, healthcare coverage, and benefits.

But there are ways employers can displace fewer of the workers they already have, beginning with keeping workers productive.

Keep Your Workers Productive

Productivity is the amount of output per hour worked. When output grows faster than hours worked, productivity rises. Rising productivity can boost employer profits, which slows job creation for some time; however, there are limits to how much employers can get from their current workers. As employers' profits grow, so should their desire to expand, causing a need to hire more workers.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, worker productivity is up only 1.1 percent compared to a year ago. Since 1947, productivity gains have averaged 2.2 percent per year.

To displace fewer workers, thereby helping to solve our country's unemployment problem, employers must keep workers productive. Ensuring your workers stay productive can be as simple as allowing them to listen to music in their cubicles. Keeping workers productive can also be as simple as my next suggestion: rewarding worker excellence.

Reward Worker Excellence

Rewarding worker excellence should be common practice among all employers regardless of industry, and it should go beyond the expected quarterly raise or annual holiday bonus. However, as workers in so-called menial minimum wage jobs will tell you, employers often don't recognize and reward worker excellence nearly as frequently as they should.

Remember the definition of displaced workers includes people who have left their jobs because there was insufficient work for them to do. If you're an employer an industry with less than satisfactory jobs, don't get into the mindset that all of your workers will leave sooner or later because they feel their tasks are inadequate. Reward them for doing the little things as well, thereby setting an example for all of your workers.

If you're worrying about money being too tight to reward workers, the good news is that worker rewards don't need to be monetary. Companies today are experimenting with other forms of worker rewards to increase worker loyalty.

Cross-Train Your Workers

Imagine this scenario: A manufacturing employer acquires new equipment that can perform the same work as his assembly line employees. The employer can now operate with the same quotas as before, but can do it with only a tenth of the current workers. If the workers only know how to perform low-skill assembly line tasks, the employer will cut them loose to maximize profits, increasing the number of displaced workers and our country's unemployment rate.

But if that same employer had cross-trained his workers to perform more tasks than what was expected in the assembly line, the employer has a better chance of finding his workers new jobs within the company. Moreover, if that employer is unable to find all of his workers new jobs within the company, cross-training them has at least provided them with more skills to offer new employers, giving them a better chance of finding new work quickly.

Should the above three ways for displacing fewer workers work for you as an employer and you see increased profits, please take this final piece of advice for displacing fewer workers: add new workers at a steady rate. The last thing you want to do as an employer after implementing my suggestions is to turn around and displace even more workers than you would have done originally. That's why I advise employers experiencing growth hire temporary workers first. Then if company profits plateau, fewer full-time workers will be displaced.

How do you think employers can displace fewer workers? Share your ideas in the comment section.