Article: Is the HR function prepared for the third wave of COVID -19?

Strategic HR

Is the HR function prepared for the third wave of COVID -19?

If the first wave had caused a spike in levels of stress and anxiety on what will happen, the second wave brought the country to a standstill; with over three hundred thousand new infections being reported every day.
Is the HR function prepared for the third wave of COVID -19?

The second wave of the pandemic that struck India in the past couple of months has affected the country on all fronts. The past few weeks have seen a decrease in the death toll and a letdown in the  infection rate, giving us the hope that the worst of the second wave is over. 

Unlike the first wave where we had a lower rate of infection, which mostly affected the weak and the  elderly, this time around the rate of infection has been much higher and it has affected people across all age groups, including the youth. Youngsters mainly form most of the workforce in corporate India.  

If the first wave had caused a spike in levels of stress and anxiety on what will happen, the second wave  brought the country to a standstill; with over three hundred thousand new infections being reported every day. As employees and their families started getting affected, supporting  them in their immediate medical needs became the top priority of all organizations. The HR  departments who were leading from the front to help the employees during the first wave, realized that  they now had to shift gears  

Employee well being 

The companies had to go beyond the benefits extended during the first wave, namely COVID Insurances,  physical and mental health & well-being programs etc. Many organizations realized the need for more  practical support at the ground level for the employees who were going through this crisis. 

Some of the organizations set up cross functional ‘COVID Emergency Response Teams’ (CERT) with an email id and multiple telephone numbers which could be reached at any point of time. On notifying  them, the CERT team would swing into action to help the employees and their families in arranging  hospital beds, oxygen concentrators/cylinders, doctors, and provide all logistical support to shift them to  the nearest available medical facilities. 

Apart from this, organizations have arranged some of the following benefits: 

  • Availability of the services of tele-consulting platforms where the employees can avail unlimited  free consulting services of Doctor’s (from morning to night 6 days a week) who would support  them not just in COVID care, but also specialists in other fields, arrange diagnostic test samples  to be collected at home and delivery of the required medicine to their homes  
  • Two to three weeks of paid leave to those employees who are affected and require them • Personal video counselling sessions with trained psychologists for employees and their family  members  
  • The managers would keep a tab on all employees daily, and on noticing unnotified absenteeism  for more than one day, would inform the HRBP who would then proactively reach out to the  employees or their family members to enquire on their wellbeing and work with the CERT teams to facilitate all help required, if affected/showing symptoms 
  • Apart from promising a reimbursement towards vaccination costs availed by any employees  across the country, many organizations also arranged vaccination drives at their premises, where both employees and their families could avail vaccinations in a safe environment

Business Continuity Planning (BCP) 

It is important for HR leaders to rethink their strategy on BCP from a one-time solution during  emergencies to a more sustainable long-time strategy which is flexible and scalable. This should include  training for all the employees to embrace change and be prepared to take on new skills and roles to  adapt to the changing business needs. 

The IT sector has managed to successfully complete an almost 100% transition to a remote working  model which has managed to keep the continuity of business operations during the first wave. However,  the intensity in which employees were affected during the second wave has also brought up the need to  have a first level back-up for all important positions/roles. Organizations should also devise operational  plans on how to sustain operations with a reduced workforce, switch/transfer operations to a less  affected place at that point in time. It would be useful to create a systematic and documented method  to suspend, close and resume operations as per business needs, and the same communicated to all the  stakeholders, including your clients to give them the assurance required that their operations will not  come to a grinding halt.  

With many of the India employees being affected, most of the organizations who had their delivery  centers outside of India started re-aligning their work temporarily to less affected countries, to ensure  that delivery to their customers were not affected. 

Preparing for the new normal 

According to the KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey ’21, around 45 percent of global executives don’t expect  to see a return to a 'normal' course of business until sometime in 2022. Hence, it’s essential to accept this new way of work. This may create a need for new roles, render some redundant, or require upskilling of  existing resources. 

The survey also observed that 66 per cent of Indian CEOs feel that the pandemic has accelerated the  digitization of operations and creation of next-generation models. Embracing an agile work culture, is  now well regarded as being a definitive means to engage workforces and teams who find themselves  geographically dispersed.  

As Albert Einstein said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be  changed without changing our thinking.” 

The HR function needs to work on the process of changing our  thinking and preparing the workforce for the new normal of doing business, which would be the best  preparation for the ‘third wave’ if, and when it happens.

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Topics: Strategic HR, Employee Engagement, #GuestArticle, #COVID-19

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