HR supporting and leading during COVID-19

HR supporting and leading during COVID-19 – Oliver Requilman

In this article series, I ask HR senior managers and leaders to discuss ideas on supporting and leading during COVID-19.

Featured guest contribution by Oliver C Requilman

What role should HR play to manage the COVID-19 issue unfolding and to lead the way?

Oliver: Just for alignment and better clarity on COVID-19, the Philippines is now in a State of Calamity and has placed Luzon Region on Community Quarantine. That said, at the time of writing, work was suspended for 30 days and access to basic needs was being monitored and limited.

First, HR should put emphasis and importance on compliance with the national government’s directives. Second, make plans along that line of compliance and keep an updated source of intelligence. Communication is very important. HR should continually communicate updates to its employees, from the start of the crisis, up to the point of work suspension where everyone is either placed on a work from home arrangement or no work at all.

Lastly, HR should be on top of the changing landscape in this crisis. HR needs to be adaptive to ground ordinances and must have the ability to scan local security measures and health issues affecting the industry, if not the economy.

What should form the core parts of the HR plan?

Oliver:  There are many core parts of any HR plan depending on the nature of the business and industry. However, I can think of three of the most likely common core parts of any HR Plan: communication, sources of supplies, and intelligent source of information.

For more than 10 years, I have been utilising the most understated intelligent source of information, the HR Information System. The master data that can be extracted from HRIS has valuable information in terms of the residential area, the average age of employees, marital status, size of an average family unit, and tenure. This explains the need to be more accurate in terms of updating information in the HRIS. This is something that HR should promote in the organisation.

This source of information has always been taken for granted. Communication is very important. Sending updates to employees, even from the early stages of COVID – 19 is a sign of readiness of HR to respond to any impending catastrophe. And to follow it up with related information thereafter will give every employee and the management peace of mind.

Sources of supplies are very important but dependent on the data of the employee master file. HR has to identify a dense cluster of particular areas where most employees reside, planning for transportation or accommodation can then be easily decided upon.

In balancing the needs and rights of both employee and employer in managing a crisis, what are prime considerations for HR?

Oliver:  I can think of three primary considerations to balance the interest of employees and employers in managing a crisis.

  1. Economic Consideration. While the business has to earn to sustain its operations, employees have to make both ends meet with their income. And in times of crisis when basic supplies (food, water, and transportation) are limited, management should firstly consider the needs of their employees before any consideration of the business. Where quarantine periods can last longer than 90 days, loss of business should not be a reason not to pay the employees their full 90-day salaries. Yes, the business will be at stake but you cannot afford to lose both – business and employees.
  2. The security of every employee and their family unit. Once at a Business Continuity Planning conference I was asked: “What if the big one (the biggest earthquake that could hit Metro Manila) happens tomorrow – is our hospital well supplied and well equipped for the influx of patients?” My honest answer was, “We will attend first to our employees and their families, then we will attend to other patients. You see, we ourselves are victims should that incident happens.” I am sharing that experience because most companies think of their customers’ welfare first before they can even think of their employees. HR should be at the forefront in influencing a change in mindset ie that security should be accorded firstly to its employees and their families.
  3. HR is not about employees or the employer alone. HR’s primary role is to understand the nature of their business, their industry, their competition, and the talent market. It is so easy to assume that we in HR know the business we are in, when in fact we cannot even answer the most basic question “How are we going to move forward after the crisis?”

The answer to this question is capability training.

Having this in place may not assure you of a successful comeback but it will give you a semblance of the path to take when the crisis is finally over. We often mistake ‘enabling’ with ‘capability’ when these two concepts have different frameworks.

Can you provide suggestions on the communication strategy and pitfalls to avoid?

Oliver:  Always understand the source of information and validate any information you have picked up from social media or the internet. Don’t just depend on the news broadcast on television or radio. You have to go out and see the sun yourself.

Places to source information include government information agencies and the Department or Ministry of Labour and Employment. Always maintain connections online for small news that can be taken as useful. Constant communication with all your employees is very important. A simple text or SMS message regularly blasted to all employees provides a sign of assurance that there is still business and that work will be waiting for them once the crisis is lifted.

But the content should have a positive message, not one of despair. This is the very reason why I always endorse with management the provision of mobile phones as tools of the trade, regardless of the position or level of the employee within the organisation. Also, I stress the importance of accurate Employee Master Data.

Pitfalls to avoid? Un-validated information being passed around. Never send out information that is un-validated or unchecked, especially if that information is lifted from social media. You have to always question the validity of any information being forwarded to you. Like I said, check the sun outside yourself.

What actions can HR take to support the organisation for business operation continuity?

Oliver:  BCP (business continuity planning) in HR is always taken for granted. Thus, updating Employee Information Master Data or HRIS if often taken for granted too. There are only a few organisations that are mature enough to understand its importance.

If I may share my experience, I once worked in a beverage manufacturing plant in Tacloban City at the time Storm Hainan happened. A year before the storm struck the city, I had organized a BCP Seminar and Workshop. Not everyone was ecstatic in preparing for BCP. Everyone else, except the speaker and I, thought that the tsunami would never happen in that part of the island since our location is a bay.

Our plant was on the coastline but it faced another large island. Then a year after that BCP training too place, Storm Hainan happened. It was the worst case of a storm surge that ever hit the Philippines. HR should be at the forefront of promoting BCP in the organisation. It might seem like paranoia but that paranoia might come in handy. HR should prepare a BCP plan for calamities, social and civil unrest, and military coups. Understand that all planned activities are there for the security of the employees and plans are for the recovery of the business.

Oliver RequilmanLiv, based in the National Capital Region, Philippines is just another Filipino with a global perspective and a box – full of love to the profession of HR and People Management. Read the background behind this article series and other featured contributions.

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