How does this #KarunaInTimesOfCorona read?
Having Karuna or empathy, compassion and consideration for another human has been the fundamental philosophy in Indian culture since historic times, and the difficult times that we have faced since March 2020 has been no different.
And, employers have ever faced a greater challenge in their life, where Karuna has been necessary above all else.
It was but natural that people, including clients, investors and shareholders, other immediate stakeholders, were extremely worried about the Covid pandemic-induced lockdown, possible loss of livelihoods and the combined effect on the fragile present and uncertain future. But, the uncertainty was the greatest among employees. At this time, what was needed was the firm reassurance from senior leaders that the company truly cares about and is committed to its employees. While many possibilities could be covered, it was necessary to focus efforts on the key ones that would yield the best results.
Managing people performance, expectations and mental wellness
Towards the first part of the objective, companies used agile methods for goal setting. In parallel, people performance management were used to track productivity effectiveness. Many employers took care to keep the performance benchmarks open and flexible, according to the difficult conditions imposed by lockdowns. Many established organisations made use of the performance management system to reiterate their commitment to employee welfare.
In the ‘new normal’ of a virtual world, ‘Zoom’, ‘Teams’, ‘Webex’ and ‘Bluejeans’ became the new board rooms and meeting rooms. Such platforms were widely used to connect with employees.
HR teams had to proactively introduce changes in productivity trackers, taking into account the new reality. High performers were identified and recognised, which helped to manage their expectations.
Looking back at the last 15 months, it was the employer’s ability and willingness to reach out to the last employee, many located at remote corners of India, by way of constant and motivating communication that has been the defining factor to ensure mental wellness in many cases. Hierarchy barriers were broken and open and transparent communication initiatives from the senior management to general staff were undertaken on a periodic basis, in addition to peer-to-peer conversations and daily intra-team chats.
Nurturing innovation in a digitised world
Digitisation saw a quantum leap during the last 15 months. So, whether it was connecting with new customers or serving an existing one or looking into some customer grievance, digitisation made a marked difference. Being a bank, we were allowed to remain open but with limited staff. Managing a hybrid – 50% attendance at the branches and 50% in a WFH mode – workforce initially posed challenges to us as well as other banking peers but we, as an industry, gradually adapted. To ensure a seamless WFH, the IT security infrastructure was revamped. Innovation in products, processes and delivery became the sine qua non, especially for service organisations such as banks.
Recognising the importance of life-work balance
Since studies from other countries had warned about the adverse effect of the pandemic on the mental wellbeing of employees, many organisations spent considerable time on counselling employees and especially those afflicted with Covid. Most employers ensured that these employees went on fully-paid medical leaves. Other facilities such as enhanced insurance, diet supplements and a liberal leave policy were provided to employees and their families. Many organisations advocated that life always came first, and work was only important to ensure continuous livelihood, and took active steps to safeguard the work-life balance of their employees so as to prevent burnout. An initiative which received very positive feedback and served as a great morale booster was a virtual family connect programme, where representatives from our senior management interacted with employees and their families.
Empathy should not be temporary
We started with #KarunaInTimesOfCorona. Let me now change it to #KarunaNotOnly InTimesOfCorona. Indeed, we do not need the pandemic to show us what ‘empathy’ and ‘compassion’ represent as human values/qualities. Empathy should be fundamental to every organisation and individual. Thankfully, many organisations displayed evidence of empathy in multiple ways – be it in the form of actual Covid care for employees, including providing for financial, insurance, counselling and even vaccination. It is our moral duty, and shall continue to be practiced by all considerate employers.