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How to Lead Your Employee Benefit Plan or Labor Organization Through the Pandemic

As the economic effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic continue to unfold, it’s clear that some industries have benefitted while others have suffered.

Below are some thoughts to take into consideration for leaders and management of employee benefit plans and labor organizations representing workers in these industries.

Have a Plan – Better Yet, Have Five Plans

As we pass the 5 month mark of the national emergency with no end in sight, the employees and members of your organization will be looking to leadership to tell them what is going to happen. And if 2020 has proven anything, it is  that no one can predict the future. That is why it’s more important than ever to be prepared with plans for multiple scenarios. Ideally, you have a plan for the best-case scenario, the worst-case scenario, and three in-between.

Having these plans in place will not only reduce the fear of the unknown, they can take out some of the emotion and allow for a clear and well-thought out decision making process. Making a hard decision up front, and preparing the communication in advance, is a lot easier than trying to decide on the fly with emotions running high.

You may also want to implement built-in triggers for budget decisions, so that you can prepare thorough implementation plans in case the economics of your organization warrant.   For example, you could decide that if you experience a 10% revenue drop that all travel might be eliminated, while a 20% revenue drop might cause you to limit future hiring and relying on attrition to help reduce salary and benefit costs.

When developing these plans, one of the most important considerations will be…

Cash Flow Analysis

It’s hard to do anything else if you can’t pay your employees and keep the lights on. Below are some ways to manage expenses and retain more cash when you need it the most.

Manage expenses

Look at every single line item on your budget, big and small. Identify your most critical member services and eliminate those that don’t make the grade.  Challenge your team to reduce costs for every line initially and find ways to do more with less. Some areas might require greater investment but others will need to be cut back.  Some ways you can reduce expenses include:

  • Extend hiring freezes to vacancies created by retirements and resignations, in order to reduce payroll costs without resorting to pay cuts or layoffs.
  • Reduce or eliminate overtime and payments to outside contractors, by shifting responsibilities within the organization.
  • Talk to your landlord about options for rent relief. Some commercial landlords have offered their tenants rent deferral or application of the security deposit to rent payments. Is there an opportunity to reduce the amount of space you’re renting? Consider subleasing options.
  • Eliminate staff travel that isn’t essential. Easier said than done during the COVID pandemic for sure.   Use this experience to forever change how you acquire education (online) and decide which meetings to attend in person vs virtual.
  • Cancel nonessential subscriptions and office supplies. You probably don’t need those magazines delivered to the office right now. And with fewer people in the office, cancel any standing reorders for office and kitchen supplies. Little things can add up quickly.
For questions or further assistance, please contact a member of Withum’s Multiemployer or Labor Organization groups.

Government Programs and Loan Options

  • There are several options under the CARES ACT which may be available to you, including Employee Retention Tax Credits (“ERC”), payroll tax deferrals, and paid leave credits.
  • In addition to federal programs, there are many local government and private options for funding available. Look into the COVID-19 Resources available from your local government may provide additional funding options.
  • Your bank or credit union may also be able to help with cash flow, through a low-interest loan or line-of-credit. Make a call to your account representative to figure out what options are available.

As part of your cash flow analysis, don’t forget about…

Modernization

Technology is one of the few things that hasn’t slowed down during the pandemic. And the good news is that modernizing your systems and processes can help you in both the short run and the long run. Better integration between computer systems can reduce the time it takes to process requests, which allows you to provide better service to your members and instantaneously provide management with financial reports critical for making the best financial decisions. Certain administrative processes can become more efficient through automation, which allows your people to spend more time on value-adding projects rather than mundane daily tasks.

Taking these steps now will help your organization navigate the current storm while also creating the flexibility to adapt and succeed with whatever the future brings.

Author: Albert Leech, CPA | aleech@withum.com

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