The second wave of COVID 19 had catastrophic impact on Indian industries. In the last 10 weeks, we had conducted a short pulse survey with 30 companies across India. When we analysed their qualitative response, we realised that CHROs emerged as New Frontline COVID Warriors, as they had to grapple with addressing needs of COVID affected employees and their families. These companies revealed that percentage of infected employees in last 10 weeks ranged from 12% to 25% while the percentage of employees whose family member(s) had also been infected ranged from 25% to 40%.
When I asked more details about their priorities during these difficult times, the answer was clear. On average, HR Leaders allocated 20% of their time to the top priority task of taking health and welfare measures for affected employees and their families. This is followed by a high degree of resource management, which allows them to continue critical operations and boosts the morale and engagement of the company’s employees.
The biggest challenge faced by companies in this second wave is the oblivious nature of this pandemic’s end date. With infection rates on the rise, the best approach for many organizations has been to adopt a risk management policy wherein they prioritize the health and safety of employees while maintaining operational resilience and mitigating adverse effects on businesses.
Using all the learnings garnered from these conversations, we have deduced that, moving forward, companies will need a combination of the following facets:
- strong and empathetic leadership
- close eye on cost management
- agile business practices
- flexible staffing strategies to achieve desired results
While CHROs are busy managing distinctive, multidisciplinary war room amidst pandemic-related crises, we suggest the adoption of the following methods during these difficult times:
- Communication: The difference between management and leadership is communication. Ensure that this principle is consistently embedded within top executives, whether considering health, business crises, or family support systems. It is important for employees to feel that their managers are concerned about them and their families. This retains trust in stressful times and ensures a smooth, dedicated service from their end.
- Proactive Policy Changes: One cannot mandate productivity; they must provide tools that enable people to become the best, most productive versions of themselves. Hence, fix policies and procedures that might be creating bottlenecks in providing the intended benefits to employees. Be proactive in the process of identifying, acknowledging, and removing these bottlenecks. However, be extremely mindful about acknowledging the issue since someone has rightly said “‘you cannot fix a problem that you refuse to acknowledge”.
- HR Energy: Positive emotional energy is the key to health, well-being, happiness, and success. Let HR teams spread positive energy through their conversations and actions. Set up clear backup plans among HR functionaries and communicate the same to leaders across all levels. Ensure that sufficient importance is levied to morale-boosting and motivational sessions. You will see the magic unfold itself.
- Leadership Interface: Leadership is not just one strong quality, rather, a blend of several such qualities. While no individual possesses all the needed talents constituting leadership, any individual can work on a combination of those qualities and term themselves a leader. Additionally, it is important to understand the right time to use Pull and Push. This ensures that managers across levels demonstrate a proclivity for empathy and pro-action.
- Lending An Ear: Encourage employees to share their personal, familial, and/or workplace challenges openly. Companies must help employees realize that they are not alone in this battle. Meeting agendas can be restructured to provide time for appreciating and/or empathizing with employees’ individual circumstances.
- Manning Support: With a larger percentage of the workforce being affected by the second wave of COVID-19, there is a need to create a Plan B and Plan C that mitigates resource crises. Overstretching existing employees might not be the best solution here. A better solution would be to identify and suspend all non-essentials and focus only on the bear minimum operational requirements.
- Leveraging Positive Stories: Life is all about learning, adapting, and converting. Stuck within a major crisis such as COVID-19, people are not only facing challenges at work and in personal lives but are also subjected to a constant barrage of troubling headlines. Companies should therefore build up internal channels that communicate and share good news. This would help them perpetually orient conversations in a positive direction.
- Ensuring Positive Employer Brand: Setting the right culture across all levels of business at any time, especially during a crisis like this, is vital. Having a reputation of supporting employees and keeping spirits high during a crisis is also a good boost for the company’s employer brand and its long-term success.
A strong passion for any objective will ensure success, provided the end desire is met with appropriate means. COVID-19 is a worldwide outbreak and the loss that we are incurring is also being experienced by thousands of global leaders. However, it is important to understand that this is a phase and it too shall pass soon. Till then, let us put our best foot forward and work towards ensuring positivity, empathy, dedication, and support towards our employees. Cheers to becoming bigger and better!