By Penny Concepcion
Never in our lifetime have we imagined that we will undergo a crisis for such a long period of time. We are all learning at the same time we are also managing the crisis. Since March, HR has been at the forefront in responding to employees' needs and balancing it with the business demands as almost all industries were affected by the crisis in varying degrees.
The unprecedented pandemic forced HR to adapt to the changes without any guide or reference, and in most cases just learning as we navigate through the situation.
If we were to create the HR Pandemic playbook, what should be its contents knowing what we know now?
1. A clear and communicated Employee Value Proposition (EVP)
An EVP articulates what differentiates the company from the others, and also reflects what your employees value most about working in your organization. Whether it’s the culture, the growth opportunities, training among others it helps the organization focus efforts on what employees value most.
In an uncertain environment, it does help when organizations are able to zero in on what matters most. It will certainly keep employees engaged and committed.
2. Reimagine key processes that need to be modified to meet the new ways of working
One key process is the Onboarding Process. Many organizations have adapted flexible work policies including work from home options. In addition, there is a need to minimize face to face HR transactions due to social distancing guidelines.
Hence, how do you change the current onboarding process to be able to cater to employees that are working from home? Delivering laptops and the welcome kit instead is one way of making sure employees are onboarded properly while balancing their welfare. What if they cannot go to the bank to open an account? Should you change the process and allow that they use their existing personal bank account instead?
The same goes for other processes such as offboarding, and transactional requests. There may be an immediate need to switch to allowing e-forms, and online requests.
3. Fast track HR Digitalization
Even prior to the pandemic, HR organizations have recognized the need to use technology in our HR processes. However, in many instances these have always been deprioritized.
But we all recognize that during these times, we now need to fast track our digitalization plans. Aside from the changing demands of the business that require HR on-demand services, employees have more needs as they navigate through the pandemic as well.
Ensuring availability of information for employees through user-friendly self-service portals and making use of technology such as chatbots to respond to inquiries 24/7. Digitalizing the 201 files will improve the efficiency of HR staff in delivering critical information to HR and business leaders.
While these technological advances entail a cost, it is worthy to know that the benefits outweigh the cost. The organization just needs to focus and prioritize which HR critical processes that when automated or digitalized will reduce existing pain points of employees and the HR Team.
4. New policies for the new normal
While some of these policies were non-existent before, this is the best time to develop new policies surrounding the current situation to clarify the expectations from employees in the new set up such as :
Telecommuting policy – clarifying the eligibility, the schemes and other guidelines such as data reimbursement. There may also be a need to differentiate business vs personal driven work from home arrangements
Return to Work policy – employees that need to return to the office physically may need to comply with certain requirements such as training, proper protocols in the office and other relevant guidelines
Flexible Working/Hours Policy – there may be a need to clarify how flexible the hours are and what the parameters are such as how many hours flexibility will be allowed
For organizations that have been impacted financially and have adapted flexible working arrangements such as reduced days, and forced leaves also need to develop policies to regulate these flexible arrangements and to assure that it meets the labor standards
Onboarding/Offboarding Policies – Is there a need to adjust the offboarding policy on when final pay can be released or not? What if the employee cannot return the assets due to valid reasons brought about by the pandemic?
5. Creative Training and Learning
Social distancing guidelines have changed the way we do training completely. While it may simply mean converting all Training programs to a virtual version, it may not be that simple all the time. For instance, in a face to face training, an 8-hour continuous session is certainly manageable and quite normal. However, in a virtual environment, an 8-hour continuous session has proven to be more difficult to manage and sustain. Hence, creative means to engage participants should always be taken into consideration.
6. Employee Assistance Programs
Whatever the company can afford based on their financial standing, some form of employee assistance to show a sincere effort in assisting those impacted by the Pandemic. For instance, paid pandemic leave for employees who are unfortunately stricken by a pandemic related illness.
Partnering with telemedicine companies in order to reduce the chances of infection of employees for non-emergency cases is also a common assistance program hence the reason for the 400% rise of the telemedicine industry.
Also as the pandemic continues, mental concerns are also increasing. Hence, another assistance that companies can provide is a mental health assistance program for its employees. Many options are available from in-house, outsourcing to providers. There are even pre-paid Mental Health services available in the market.
7. Virtual Engagement
It is certainly not easy to keep employees engaged especially in our culture where we are used to social gatherings.
The key to Virtual engagement activities is frequency. There should be more frequent engagement initiatives- there could be a team level, and an organization level ones to continuously make the employee feel the connection with teammates.
8. Self Care for HR
As HR takes care of employees, it is crucial to also have self-care activities for HR to keep them motivated and inspired. It is certainly not easy to address some concerns of employees that arise due to the pandemic. For instance, access to health care services is getting more difficult hence employees turn to HR for assistance. Also, the domestic responsibilities also interfere with the productivity of employees hence there are more issues on the ground because of these complexities.
As we cannot give what we do not have, a regular self-care activity is certainly a must for HR Professionals.
Self-care activities can vary from individual or group based but it should be scheduled on a regular basis – teambuilding, game night/afternoon, virtual breakfast/coffee, yoga/mindfulness among others.
The HR Pandemic Playbook is a living document where we add more experiences and learnings during this challenging time. Our HR team has been placed in a position that the key to survival is continuously learning and quickly adapting to the changing work dynamics. The principles in the Pandemic playbook in essence also apply to any long-term crisis that may hit the organization. This is a testament to how critical HR’s role in driving change and crisis management as the organization navigates through any form of crisis.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of my employer
About the Author:
Penny Concepcion is the HR Director of Goodyear Regional Business Services.
She has a total of 20 years Human Resources experience gained from multinational organizations such as Dell, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Infor, Ascender, and BMW handling all facets of Human Resources from Talent Acquisition, Organizational Development, Training, Compensation and Benefits, Talent Management and Employee Relations. Penny earned her Bachelor’s degree from De La Salle University with BS Industrial Management Engineering; Masters for Industrial Relations major in Human Resources Management from University of the Philippines.