"Honey, I shrunk the company" is not the only response being tried by Governments and CEOs alike to keep sufficient workforces intact to rebuild once the Covid-19 pandemic is over.
Directors and chief executives of some of our biggest companies are minutely focused on whether fortunes will slide to the point that their firms will not pass the solvency test if the Covid-19 lockdown goes well beyond four weeks.
Many — like news media, airlines and constructions firms — are dependent on a constant source of cash flow to keep business ticking over. For some — like SkyCity Entertainment — which announced staff wage cuts this week, there is nil revenue coming through the door.
The Institute of Directors has suggested a "safe harbour for six months" giving boards of directors relief from laws that make them personally liable for any debts if their company trades while insolvent.
On the flip side is the view that directors cannot jeopardise their creditors and suppliers by knowingly trading if they can't cover wages and other costs like rent into the future without eating into cash reserves and piling on more debt to the point where firms become insolvent.
The Government has now come to the party by extending the wage subsidy scheme to large companies and working with banks on terms for guarantees to extend loans to companies to get them through this period.
But it's a difficult situation. No one knows how long the Covid-19 crisis will endure before the pandemic is conquered in New Zealand. There is a known rhythm to financial crises.
But the Covid-19 pandemic is both a global economic and health shock which is impacting severely at domestic levels. There is no inbred institutional memory for dealing with what the commercial world is currently facing.
And there are also no "stand down" provisions which enable firms to stand down staff without pay in the event of a black swan event.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson and officials are working with large companies to try to tailor solutions that will enable them to gear up their teams once it is possible to get back to work.
But as he indicated to Parliament's Epidemic Response Committee yesterday, much depends on how long New Zealand is in lockdown.
Take Air New Zealand. The company is lucky in that it has a 52 per cent shareholder (the Government) which has stepped up with a $900 million loan facility at a usurious interest rate of up 9 per cent to keep a slimmed-down company ticking over and is underwriting the cost of airfreighting exporters' wares into major markets like China.
Air NZ's share price has plummeted by more than two-thirds this year. On January 15, it was $3.05 a share — a 12-month high. At lunchtime yesterday, it was trending around 88-89c.
Other metrics that bring home the airline's predicament: the company's market capitalisation was $997.89m at 1.30pm yesterday — just north of that $900m loan.
Reconfirmation this week from Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran that the company would refocus as a domestic airline with an international freight and trade arm brought home the reality the "national flag carrier" faces. One-third of the workforce will go. Negotiations are well in train for that.
The airline has also been able to reduce costs by asking all its people to take leave without pay, forgo bonuses, reduce hours and consider voluntary exits. The board and senior executives are also taking pay cuts.
Foran underlined in his messaging to staff and customers that the airline expects it will need to draw down on the $900m loan within months because of high outgoings. "
"Every dollar we use from this loan facility comes with interest [more than double current interest rates for a household mortgage] and must be repaid."
It that is the case, the Government should look to drop the interest rate back to a more sensible level to relieve the burden on what is an essential industry.
The way the airline has called for expressions of interest to its staffers could result in informal stand-downs without pay. That is where executives and staffers who will be needed in a year or so when it relaunches an international passenger arm stand down from their jobs in the meantime.
Essentially, they remain connected with the company, still preserving long-term benefits, and can go and work elsewhere for a while until they are brought back in at a later stage.
In Australia, Qantas announced that it would stand down a majority of its 30,000 strong workforce — some 20,000 workers — until "at least" the end of May 2020.
Australia has stand-down provisions within its Fair Work Act. That act provides for "black swan" events — such as the global pandemic.
Section 524 of the act is intended to relieve an employer of the obligation to pay wages to employees who cannot be usefully employed in limited circumstances. The consequences of the stand-down can be severe. But it can take pressure off the wages bill, limit the extent of redundancy payouts in the short to medium term and retain links to a skilled workforce it will need in the future.
Here the Government has suggested it may redeploy some Air NZ staffers. This may seem anathema to many.
But voluntary redundancies can often result in the loss of people that are critical to the long-term future of a company. It is worth discussing.