HR Vs. The Pandemic – Bringing Your Best Game
– Govind Ramachandran
The influence that Human Resource Professionals exert on the welfare and livelihood of the entire workforce is overarching, especially during such trying times. Emerging as one of the toughest economic scenarios that the world has been witness to since World War II, the COVID-19 virus has already changed the employment scenario drastically. Business leaders have been categorically evaluating HR – their performance with regard to human resource planning strategy and whether they are adding value to the organisation or not. Lapses by HR can easily translate into financial repercussions, apart from affecting their credibility and the possibility of losing effective human resources.
The recurrent question, asked in several forums and platforms over the years, has been when will HR get a seat at the table? Perhaps the more pertinent and apt question would be when will HR move to the head of the table? The current crisis tends to emphasize this concern even more. The deserving HR leaders, who can guide organisations and the business leaders navigate these difficult times from both people and How can HR be effective in the current scenario? There are different ways of answering this, but for succinct comprehension, these can be iterated through the following points: Which brings us to the primary question: cultural perspectives, will definitely get a seat. Poor culture and ineffective HR leadership tend to make businesses unsustainable and unstable. Peter Drucker, when stating “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” rightly describes how the industry perceives such missteps. Work culture in a company will always determine success, regardless of how effective a strategy is applied.
Which brings us to the primary question:
How can HR be effective in the current scenario? There are different ways of answering this, but for succinct comprehension, these can be iterated through the following points: Which brings us to the primary question:
Understand the financial health of your organisation in recent times
It is imperative that the HR carry an in-depth understanding of the business, including revenue projections, cash flows, reserves, EBITDA, etc. It will help HR take relevant decisions with regard to the workforce, which will affect the organisation.
Be attentive to employee needs
Organisational responses to the COVID-19 crisis are having a palpable impact on their employees. Compared to employees who are satisfied with their organisational reaction, more employees seem to be dissatisfied or threatened with a loss of livelihood. It is noticed that facing a crisis of such extreme proportions, employees either start looking for other options that may seem more secure, or demonstrate loyalty towards their existing employers in these times. HR plays an important role in being available and accessible to help employees face and overcome their difficulties in these taxing times. By and large, it helps in building up employee resilience and social capital of the organisation.
Focus on building trust
While the natural response of an organisation is to focus inward on investments and capital, maintaining trust and acknowledging efforts of employees help to improve employee engagement and effectiveness. In some cases, organisations are retrenching their existing employees from several departments while hiring people for others. HR should question such policies of the management. It is the HR that should insist and ensure to up-skill or re-skill the existing workforce and avoid any unnecessary loss of human capital, retain their reliability with remaining employees, and bolster their business credibility in the market.
Be vigilant during the COVID crisis
With many businesses considering downsizing to counter their current economic plight, the HR has to be extremely vigilant and cautious to ensure the welfare of the employees. HR is the champion of the people. Thus, HR has to make sure that no employee is asked to leave based on performance without giving them a PIP to improve their performance. Managers may find this the right time to get rid of ‘problem’ people without correct performance analysis or appropriate documentation. As HR, one must take a stand and do right by and for these employees to safeguard their interests and the reputation of the organisation.
Be empathetic to employees
In the worst-case scenario, where the business has no other option but to let go of individuals, HR must ensure that the organisational heads handle the impacted individuals with a humane approach. Everybody faces huge uncertainty when the organisation has to let go. HR has to be certain that this step is considered only after exhausting all other options like pay cuts, financial leverage, voluntary furlough, etc. The impacted individuals have to be given a considerable notice period so that they have time to make alternate financial arrangements and look for other employment opportunities. It is also important to ensure that the individuals receive the correct severance package as per industry standard.
Connect with other HR professionals wherever possible
HR can help such employees further by reaching out and connecting with other HR/industry leaders to assist with seeking employment for the impacted individuals. It is possible to minimize the impact of the loss of employment and make job transition easier with help from others. HR can reach out to their network and help out one another to aid the employees to the greatest extent possible.
Lastly, the HR professionals are themselves under the same compulsions and insecurities as the workforce. However, having a practical outlook and pragmatic approach goes a long way to balance one’s life. HR, as always, will continue to have a positive impact and do full justice to their roles. It is important to be gentle, kind, compassionate, and help those around, especially during these tumultuous times.