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Responding to Covid-19: 4 Important HR Lessons

By | DTIB Editor

Amid growing concern over the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, vast majority of organizations in affected areas in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world are taking steps to safeguard their employees from the respiratory infection and to stop the spread of the virus.

The key initiatives include launching communication campaigns, expanding the number of workers working from home, and restricting travel to and from high-risk cities, states, and countries.

HR departments at these companies are at the forefront of devising new policies, handling communication campaigns, and tackling numerous other challenges during this crisis. Here in this post, we will discuss four important HR lessons that have been learnt so far.

  1. Focus on Authentic and Impactful Communication

Business leaders and HR managers should be excellent communicators, yes, but they also need to be skilled at handling crisis situations. They need to know how to be authentic and impactful while communicating key messages to employees especially because there is a bunch of bad news and hardly any good news to share.

We are in an unprecedented situation and no one really knows how long it will last. Many organizations will lay off workers; others will ask for salary cuts. Countless business entities will be forced to shut shop.

Therefore, it is time for business leaders and HR departments to empathize with and reach out to their employees.

As the global tourism and hospitality industry has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott, world’s largest hotel company came on the front line and delivered a video address to employees.

Sorenson calmly explained the serious challenges that Marriott is now facing and the steps the company was forced to take. Even as Sorenson shared the bad news that tens and thousands of Marriott employees would be furloughed, he sounded emotionally authentic in his video address.

  1. Help Employees Working From Home through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Not all business organizations can have their employees work from home (WFH). For instance, the Coronavirus pandemic has driven automakers, manufacturing companies, etc. to shut factories. They had no other option.

Companies where employees rely upon computers and digital tools for office work haven’t remained unscathed but they were able to adjust their processes to WFH schedules more easily.

WFH is the new norm for thousands of small, medium and large scale companies now. Until the world moves past the COVID-19 pandemic, HR leadership needs to provide greater flexibility to employees who WFH. Many employees need to support children at home (since schools are closed) or care for elderly or ill family members.

Microsoft has already announced that the company will provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave to employees because of school disruptions.

Target is helping its employees through the pandemic by offering them access to a backup family care benefit.

Facebook is paying bonuses to help employees with incremental expenses.

  1. Prioritize Employee Wellbeing

Many businesses have been in a fire-fighting mode to put necessary IT backend in place to have their employees WFH. Ally Financial, for instance, moved over 8,000 employees to WFH within days.

But, what’s really worth mentioning here is the manner in which the company reacted swiftly and demonstrated itself as an organization that cares about its employees.

From provisioning of hustling equipment to setting up Internet connections for employees to ensure smooth WFH schedules, the company also offered 100% coverage for COVID-19 diagnosis and online healthcare services, immediate paid medical leave for COVID-19 positive employees, paid caregiver leave for employees looking after a sick family member, access to mental health professionals, and expanded childcare support.

Besides business sustainability, Ally Financial has also prioritized employee wellbeing. HR professionals and business leaders can take a cue from Ally Financial on how to support employees and their families during this uncertain time.

  1. Handling Absences

How business organizations handle employee absences will depend on that employee’s duties, benefits, and allotted sick/casual leaves.

But, we have an unprecedented situation at hand.

Therefore, most companies will need to adjust their HR policies to handle absences.

What if a worker gets quarantined but has already taken his quota of vacation or sick leave? The best way to encourage such a worker to ‘act responsibly and follow quarantine directions’ is to either allow him to WFH or give paid time-off.  

For instance, Uber is offering 14-days of paid sick leave to its employees if they are quarantined or sick due to the COVID-19. Walmart has announced that the company will provide two-week’s paid sick leave to employees, without using their existing quota of sick leave.

Put simply, it is time for HR leadership to review their PTO (paid-time-off) policies, especially if human-to-human contact is necessary at work and remote work isn’t an option. Workers shouldn’t have to grapple with the tough choice – to work during the COVID-19 outbreak or risk losing pay.

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