Revenue may be down and the pressure to slash costs intense, but some U.S. companies say job cuts are not an option.
Companies that have avoided layoffs amid this recession are the exception, not the rule. U.S. employers have cut 5.1 million jobs since the recession began, including 663,000 last month alone. But some are looking to shave costs while keeping their work forces intact, so that when the economy does turn around, they'll be ready to ratchet up production again.
Economists say that's a wise move.
"If you overshoot on the downside and lay off workers, it puts the company at a disadvantage when the economy comes back to life," said Sean Snaith, economics professor at the University of Central Florida.
Costco Wholesale's profit is down 27 percent year-over-year, but the discount store has not laid anyone off, choosing instead to freeze hiring at its corporate offices. The only workers let go have been holiday seasonal hires.
The company says it recognizes that labor remains its most valuable — if costliest — resource.
"We're certainly sharpening our pencil everywhere we can," said Bob Nelson, Costco's vice president of financial planning and investor relations. Nelson could not recall any layoffs at Costco since the closing of some stores in the 1980s.
Other steps companies are taking to cut costs are not exactly harmless to workers. Chief among them: capping the number of hours employees can work, cutting or freezing pay and suspending matching payments to tax-deferred retirement accounts.