When business slumps, most companies immediately turn to cutting employees to save costs. Even in an improving economy, about 1.3 percent of private sector employees are laid off each year. As an HR specialist, terminations and layoffs make it more difficult to maintain morale with those who remain. You’re also faced with hiring and training replacements when business picks up again. HR is often an endless and thankless struggle. But there are some important tips for optimizing your company’s workforce at any stage of growth.

1. Effective Communication

It’s important to learn how to communicate with your employees, both individually, collectively, and within groups. As communication is a two-way process, you also have to ensure that they’re comfortable speaking with you. The opportunity to express their concerns is important to employee satisfaction. People wish to be seen as individuals, not merely company assets. A friendly tone and empathetic attitude will convey this much better than quoting policies or doling out merciless discipline. While there may be a time and place for those, winning and sustaining employee goodwill takes honesty and compassion.

2. Build Relationships

A productive relationship between employee and employer is built on respect, trust, and motivation. Without these, there will be very little dedication and loyalty among workers. Employees can’t be expected to give their best if they feel they’re being deceived or unappreciated. As an HR professional, it falls on you to establish and support this relationship from both sides. Employees need incentive and opportunities through both monetary rewards and personal advancement. Performance reviews and raises should be fair, consistent, and open to discussion. It’s important that each manager knows and responds to their staff on a personal as well as professional level.

3. Information Systems

Human resource information systems, or HRIS, are an invaluable tool in today’s digital age. HRIS software for small business allows you to collect and organize employee data, run reports, and do analysis of the information you’ve collected. Both small and large businesses can use HR systems to manage payroll, track benefits such as vacation time, and make notes on employee reviews or disciplinary actions. In effect, it should give you a detailed picture of each employee’s history with your company. This is a useful information source that you can search, study, and manipulate as need dictates.

4. Encourage Growth

Employees that aren’t challenged inevitably become bored and frustrated, which can mean that the most productive employees may eventually become the least productive. Top performers have abilities which can benefit your company if these individuals are allowed to grow with the business. They should be given opportunities to learn and grow in their careers. Employees who consistently deliver and surpass expectations should be challenged with new responsibilities and taught new skills. If you let a gifted employee suffer or depart because of apathy or neglect, you’re actually harming the business.

5. Promote Team Building

The most productive environments are those with a team atmosphere of mutual support. Every new hire should be introduced to his co-workers, mentored, and made to feel comfortable in his/her role from day one. Your “team” may refer to a certain workgroup, a whole department, or the entire company. But it’s essential that you take steps to see that each person feels comfortable and confident in their role. Workers that seem aloof or too independent should be coaxed into collaboration through team building exercises, work-related social activities, and joining committees or brainstorming sessions. If you have employees that refuse to be team players, let them go before morale suffers.

Don’t assume that lack of productivity indicates “bad” employees. You should take responsibility for your own policies and behavior. It’s nearly always possible to find better solutions.