The Filipino HR amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

By Rene M. Gener, DPM

The COVID-19 health crisis is an unforeseen event that slumped businesses and workers alike. In fact, nobody was prepared, not even big economies. This disastrous event has caused hardship in everyone’s daily life, including mobility, food supplies, trade, tourism, travel and financial markets.

In the Philippines, to reduce the impact of COVID-19 outbreak on businesses, workers, customers and the general stakeholders, HR leaders and business owners have taken tremendous efforts and steps to mitigate the circumstances. Various companies have updated their risk management plans to address the specific exposure, identified sources of exposure and means of transmissions. Employers have taken careful steps to identify risk levels in workplaces and to determine the control measures necessary to implement.

Since the outbreak has already affected workplaces and the number of cases are rising, the government immediately declared a General Community Quarantine (GCQ) which led to an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). The GCQ and ECQ, are both a lockdown mechanism to contain the virus from further spreading. The latter caused outright closure of businesses and work stoppage. Most companies were forced to adapt work-from-home arrangements, thereby fast-tracking the use of technology-aided communication and performance monitoring mechanisms. For the most part, the supply chain experienced drastic changes and disruption. Sourcing and shipping of raw materials were hard to get at the start. This was hampered by the lack of clarity in communication plans by the national and local governments. Among the hardest-hit industries were tourism, hospitality, energy, and transportation among others.

On another juncture, the crisis became a clear springboard for Filipino HR practitioners to rise above the challenge. Despite the worst business outlook in the coming months, HR Leaders made it a point to rally behind the “People First” battle cry, putting more emphasis on protecting lives and safety above profitability and revenue generation. Filipino Human Resources Management practitioners, exercised discernment and extraordinary leadership in these unprecedented times. They showed flexibility in addressing the needs of their people, without being too technical in the extension of social safety nets. Valuing human dignity and a strong belief on people first was at the core of every leader’s decision. The Filipino value of KAPWA (the self in the other), has transcended corporate policies and practices. The order of priorities is to first take care of their people, the customers come in second, then their partners and last is profit.

Furthermore, we surveyed our association members on what other concrete organizational practices were put in place. Thirty-nine percent (39%) provided shuttle services to employees who play a critical role in the continuity of operations. Others (36%) also introduced early payout of the 13th-month pay while some (32%) provided free meals to employees who are on duty. Others also introduced the following:

  1. Early release of the full month wages for the month of March

  2. Online delivery instruction to professional subjects

  3. Full wages regardless of employment status

  4. Full pay during enhanced community quarantine for those who are unable to work from home

  5. Provided hygiene kit such as masks, alcohol and vitamins

  6. Provided work from home allowance that covers electricity and internet

  7. Advance crediting of salary for the next pay period.

  8. Provided individualized tents with lockers as accommodations to employees in the worksite

  9. Additional medical assistance

  10. Provided 50 kgs of rice and cash assistance

  11. Provided regular updates that are accurate and how it made an impact on the organization.

  12. Executive levels voluntarily rolled back pay to help alleviate business conditions and assist on the needs of the workforce.

  13. Provided individual rest areas in the workplace with air-conditioned facilities;

Moreover, many companies provided clear directions, confidence and assured employees by sending a strong message that safety, family’s overall health and well-being is deemed important than profit. To keep business continuity and make operations working, virtual meetings are being maximized. This is also a way of providing continuous engagement among employees.

It is also worth noting that conglomerates and other big establishments are all hands on deck to keep the society functioning. Hotel industries are offering free rooms for front liners. Select public and private organizations are trying its best to contribute to the greater good by providing services and operating 24/7. Big businesses are making their share to avert economic fallout. Some companies retooled their process by producing what is urgently needed by the health sector. For instance, there are companies that originally, were producing perfumes and liquors but have currently diverted operations in order to produce alcohol which is highly needed these days. Food stocks of commercial food establishments were donated to the frontliners and the poor. Mobile kitchens were set up for easy distribution and ensure that frontline workers get these in a timely manner.

Reflecting on these practices, we can get a glimpse that no matter how big or small an organization is, showing the true meaning of MALASAKIT (care and concern for the other) and BAYANIHAN (a fundamental aspect of Filipino culture with an aim to work together to achieve a common goal) in times of crisis is inherent among Filipinos.

Indeed, it is in times of crisis that our capacity as HR practitioners to act humanely and with dignity is put to a test. It is my hope that we, as individuals, would always decide and act by putting people first.

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