It’s not even a week that Paris was seething under the brutal terror attack in six different places carried out by the ISIS. While we are still grappling with the atrocities, the attack has once again garnered attention to managing critical situations, and why organisational policies and their HR need to broaden their already existing disaster management policies.
Experts have found eerie similarities between the Paris and the Mumbai 26/11 terror attack. The strategies used by the extremists were very similar. In 2008, about 10 LeT members carried out a series of 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai, killing 164 people and wounding at least 308. However, there’s one aspect of this debacle which generated equal awe, albeit positively– the way the staff of The Taj Mahal Hotel Mumbai carried out their duties -- calmly and diligently. This selfless work garnered a lot of attention throughout the world. The Harvard Business Review went to the extent of researching the practices of HR of the organisation. “After all, this was an extremely rare case of employees placing the safety of guests over their own well-being; and in the process some of them sacrificed their lives...” The research found three pillars of practices that explained the courage and actions of employees: A recruitment system that hires for character and not for grades; training programmes that not just mentor employees but also empower them to take decisions; and a reward programme that recognises employees on a real-time basis.
Ratan Tata, the then chairman of the Taj group, took a few initiatives which paved a new direction in dealing with crisis. However, this is just an aberration. Most companies are still in the process of chalking out how to address this kind of massive destruction (read terror attack). Companies follow disaster or crisis management plans; but in lieu of the increasing global attacks like the recent Paris terror attack, or natural calamities like the Nepal Earthquake, it is now imperative to widen the plan to manage crisis. Disasters don’t call up and strike. When it happens, it creates panic, disillusion and also fear. These crisis impact not just socially but affect the economies as well.
There are generally two sides of a disaster. One, when it strikes and the general mayhem, and the other is the after-effect -- psychological, social, economical. The HR of an organisation generally is adept with the first side -- crisis preparedness plan, have a designated crisis team, focusing on information and training. However, the most important aspect is often swept under the carpet, ie. recovery plan or the after-effect. And this is where the role of the HR needs to widen.
Post crisis, the HR personnel have serious aspects to deal with. Employees will be stressed from the harrowed time during the crisis. And each employee has different mindset to cope with in different situations. Few might be able to bounce back with their work, but most employees can be demoralised to even start working. Some might not be able to digest the death/injuries or any crisis related news which directly affects the productivity. The HR must deal with these issues with timely interventions, like counselling, upbeat news, engaging in positive work.
Social media is one such platform where important information is disseminated quickly and effectively - through Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram. Company handles on Twitter is used quite well by top brass' to broadcast important information like how to remain safe, where to go. So instead of employees getting disillusioned about what to do, there remain instructions to help them just in time. And this process is cost-effective.
The HR can take responsibilities to engage employees in counselling sessions, so that once the staff is back to work after the traumatic experience they can settle in their routine quite effortlessly. And the sessions will also help to identify which employees are still reeling under the stress, and who all need more counselling. In India, counselling is very much ignored by the employees, more so with the stigma attached to it. Indian companies have started Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to help their staff in different situations. Among others, HCL Technologies, PepsiCo, Essar Group, Johnson and Johnson, JPMorgan Chase, Computer Science Corporation, these companies have the EAP to help employees. “Our HR regularly sends emails to us regarding health issues, stress, and family matters under the Employee Assitance Programs. But most of the employees don’t really give them any heed because of time constraint and also fear of being judged,” said Saujata P* (name changed on request), working with Computer Science Corporation, Bangalore.
It is unfortunate, but it's not really possible to ignore the death of any valued employee as a result of any disaster. The HR needs to propagate the news in the most subtle way so as not to demoralise the staff, and the need to replace them with able candidates is the most important function of the HR.
It is not difficult to follow these practices, as has been shown by the Taj Group. If one can do it, the others are not really far behind. It has become imperative to focus on the emotional help of the employees more than any other. Paris needs this as much as we all do.