Article (May-2020)


Are HR leaders Ready for Post Covid-19 Crisis?


Designation : -   Senior Executive Vice President

Organization : -  Chandigarh University,Gurgaon


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A salute to Professionals: It goes without saying that Indian HR community and elsewhere in the globe has exhibited exceptional responsiveness, strong execution and thought partnership with business during these troubled and uncertain times. Technology has been leveraged well by the government, businesses and civil society to keep the world connected and supporting essential services.

Indian professionals can be trusted: The response from Indian professional leaders, whether it is HR or other functions has demonstrated to international companies that the Indian professionals can be trusted and that their offshore operations are in safe hands. This is despite that getting things done in India is challenge for in many areas things just do not follow processes. One has to use influence, assertiveness and personal engagement with service providers to get things going and that too on time.

Many more Challenges for future: The challenges we are facing are far from over and the crisis is still looming large. If various articles and blogs of analysts' insights are to be believed, then the worst is yet to hit the world. I hope some of the predictions do not play out.

Having said that, is HR prepared for what the future is going to look like? Has it started partnering with business to strategically explore if existing norms have been challenged and will new norms of business and employment come into play in short term to long term? The ripples of shock due to Covid-19 are going to last for a long time to come.

What should be the HR response to the new norm? What is going to be the HR response in the short term? Will it be to freeze hiring, Stop promotions, postpone salary increases, lay off people, be focused on workforce management, and give strong attention to the investors and stock exchange response? Or is it going to go beyond this and get a message across to the society that businesses need a healthy thriving society and is an important stakeholder for them clearly conveying that talent matters to businesses today as well as in future. Some cost cutting measures may be needed for the survival of business but will the employee brand survive for future? HR has a huge responsibility.

Many governments have acted swiftly and put in place enabling provisions for the businesses (whether they are sufficient or not is always debatable). Governments have put in place some frameworks/rules and in return have certain ask from businesses with respect to how they will deal with their employees. Some aspects that were supposed to be managed by employers have been dictated by the local authorities. It is highly likely that the NGOs will pick on the threads and start creating certain demands from businesses in general. Trade unions may get levers to protect its constituents if businesses do not respond with empathy. This is where the role of HR comes in. HR professionals will have to equip themselves well to navigate many of the laws that exist or which may come into play; just one more ask.

Wellbeing requirements & digitization to grow exponentially: From people perspective there will be definite change for the long term. HR leaders will have to curate something different for the world after Covid -19. Suddenly there is so much more that will matter to people and this needs attention in parallel now.

Existing norms of managing workforce or talent will undergo a dramatic shift. Expectations from employees on welfare and wellbeing are going to accentuate.

The experience that many of us are facing for the first time, first hand in our lives ( does not include people like my mother who at her age has seen the world go through, plague, TB , cholera , and world war deaths) having technology on our side will find the future of work and workplace rapidly changing. The successful experiment of work from home is going to take root. Percentage of talent working from home is going to go up. Those who had never experienced or deployed work from home have learnt it can functionally succeed. This will need a new set of people policies.

Having experienced the pleasure of being with the families during this phase may lead to more employees seeking part time jobs. Things that mattered most, the financial rewards may get replaced with rewards that allow employees spend more time with their families.

Employers in certain industries which were lagging in technology usage have experienced how the deployment of automation and artificial intelligence will result in enhanced productivity. This will result in still greater usage of technology and lower need for additional manpower.

The growth of gig worker and new respect for essential services: There is a realisation that a gig worker is as important as a regular employee for business continuity. Usage of such workers may go up and attention to their wellbeing can no longer be ignored by employers too. Employees working in essential services have got a new respect and their currency in the organisations will go up. An organisation's approach to physical and mental wellbeing of their employees with strong insurance covers may be viewed more as a hygiene factor.

You have just 12 months for strategic moves: Covid-19 has provided an opportunity for organisations to reset. With at least one financial year for most companies likely to be a wash out, businesses require lot of action from professionals across spectrum but definitely HR has a critical role to play. Some industries may change forever, with digitization accelerating the shift.

Some employer brands will also be reset forever based on how they handle the situation soon after we are out of this crisis. The challenge will be how to balance business needs for profit while not coming across as profiteering.

How we see the world depend would depend what backgrounds and experiences we have had during this pandemic.

On the positive side the way people conduct with each other is also going to change. Spirituality, introspection, mindfulness will touch the corporate professionals. 

People's definition on expectations from careers will change. HR needs to tune into all this.

Possible other shifts: Beyond the business lens, there are other shifts that may also happen; for example impact on globalisation or international companies may reconsider working in a federal structure than in a globally integrated way. Society may accept governments being authoritative if their health, safety and social wellbeing are taken care of. Democracy as an institution may be challenged. Capitalism will be confronted with growth in socialism that promises to ensure sustainable inclusive growth?

Can organisations ignore the shifts which have large scale impact on all stakeholders?

One thing is clear that CXO's will have to rise up to new challenges coming their way and define the new path. CHRO's will be important stakeholders in creating the new way of working. The time is now.