Uncertainty, Change and The Critical Role of The HR

It’s not easy when powerful catastrophes dominate the headlines every single day, putting people at risk and businesses, well, out of business. This is where the HR can play an important role to pacify the workforce, motivate them, and also ensure that there aren’t any interruptions to business continuity.

Economic uncertainty pervades businesses today. Be it recession, mergers, acquisitions, inflation or a pandemic like Covid-19, there is no saying where the threat will come from and how it will affect everything around it.

But one thing is for certain — the economy will take a beating. And when it does, business continuity and its survival become a challenge for the leaders. Unprecedented steps are taken by the higher-ups and amidst the government guidelines and recommendations, companies have to take swift actions such as operating at a limited scale, enabling remote work and so on to keep operations afloat.

It’s not easy when such a powerful catastrophe dominates the headlines every single day, putting people at risk and businesses, well, out of business. This is the stage where the HR can play an important role to pacify the workforce, motivate them, and also ensure that there aren’t any interruptions to business continuity.

How exactly can they do this? We explain below :

  • Back To The Drawing Board for Remote Work Policies

Economic uncertainty can result in financial losses. While there’s no way of predicting the sheer scale of the losses, businesses will do what they can to limit them. Remote work is one avenue that companies have had to resort to in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, whether they like it or not.

While it is something that is being experimented with on a massive scale right now, studies often suggest that remote working can actually save a company’s costs as it cuts down on rent, other office supplies, utilities. Moreover, many telecommuters and employers alike say that remote work policies fuel productivity in employees.

Remote work is a hot topic right now but it’s nothing new. Many companies have had it as a part of their workplace policies, while some have recently implemented theirs a quick-fix in response to novel coronavirus. That said, old or new, the policies need some re-tweaking to make it adaptable to economic downturns of any kind or scale.  

The HR Department’s role will be instrumental in the remodelling or laying down the foundations of a brand new remote working policy. Since it will not be an office environment, they need to let the managers and the leaders know the underlying basis for the evaluation of a remote worker; maybe total output rather than objectives completed? 

They need to have contingencies in place for employees who have never worked from home, those who are facing challenges, the communication barriers, their health and safety, and the equipment used they use to execute their duties.  

  • The Sick Leave Policies Need To Change

Does your company have a sick leave policy where temporarily-unfit-for-work employees get paid? If not, as the HR, you must instigate your leadership to have one immediately.

Nobody likes to risk their health, and that of another by coming to work. It’s detrimental to employee productivity. Moreover, news of the lack of a sick leave policy and employees endangering the lives of others by coming to work will get out and tarnish the company’s image. 

Employees need to feel protected. They need to know that as a company, you prioritize employee health. They need to feel that they’re not financially compromised when ill. The HR team must set up a sick leave policy if one doesn’t exist. You can also make it more flexible wherein employees can use their unused sick leaves to take care of their loved ones (if there is no casual leave policy in place).   

  • The Sickness of The Mind Must Be Dealt With

Times are hard during any uncertain economic downturn. People may lose jobs, salaries might be deducted to save costs, businesses may shut down, appraisals and promotions might stall, they might not get paid for months, they might fall victim to life-threatening afflictions…the problems are endless and so is the stress that comes with it.

The senior leadership must identify this and direct the HR to help the employees cope with such stress. Mental Health programs and support for employees can be set up for the employees. At times, reassurance from the leadership also needs to trickle in to motivate the workers. 

  • Unhindered Support For The Employees

Given the repercussions of any slack in the economy, the concerts of the employees are both valid and understandable. This is where the HR must rise to the occasion and come up with a bulletproof action plan: where we are, what is the situation like, what do we predict, what we are going to do, and where do we see ourselves when all of this is over?

It’s reassuring when all of this information is relayed to the concerned employees immediately. Of course, your bulletproof plan also needs to be robust and be able to accommodate changes as and when the economic situation changes.

As you’ll have to work with a crisis communication team (if there is one) and the senior leadership to direct comprehensive-yet-reassuring messages at the employees — remember, timing is key here; you do not want to overwhelm them with loads of information. 

  • Hear and Be Heard

Every company is like a family — closely knit and supportive of one another. And for every family, there is a family head who takes the most crucial decisions after hearing the concerns and opinions of all. The senior leadership is the pre-eminent body in any organisation.

Through the HR the leadership must be able to communicate with the employees directly, especially in times of uncertainty to allay fears and concern. The HR must take the reins of communication and ensure that it is a two-way street. The successful synchronisation between themselves, the management, and rest of the employees via multiple communication channels is something that they have set their seal on.  

  • Lay off The Layoff

An uncertain economic meltdown is difficult to predict and so are its consequences. Nobody fancies being let go. It’s even harder for employers who have to take the most dreaded decision which can leave a sour taste in anyone’s mouth — lay off or shut down.

Letting go of employees should only be the last resort if all else fails. However, if the decision is taken, as the HR, you can ensure that the process is equitable, ethical, and absolutely humane. Give the employees a heads up and plan a way to let go of them without compromising their financial security.

With the senior leadership, you can make a decision to come up with severance packages and consider the same soon-to-be-laid-off employees on a priority basis for any roles that may open up in the future.

Battling a recession isn’t always easy. But by preparing in advance and working in tandem with the employees, leadership, and the customers, the HR can ensure that the ill-effects of an uncertain economic disaster neither compromises business continuity nor employee/client wellbeing.

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