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Troubled Times Need Humane Managers

Role of HR in tackling troubles tactfully

I feel more than bemused when people talk of the post-pandemic economic scenario. Is Covid 19 dead? Has it ultimately bid goodbye to the planet? Will the recently launched vaccines triumph over the most deadly virus in living memory? Are we certain about the vaccines’ efficacy and longevity? And what about the side effects of these virus fighters created in a mighty hurry?

Listen to the experts carefully and you will find that none of them has a definite and confident answer to these normal queries haunting the common man.

We are aware that the Covid virus is fast mutating and is staging a comeback in several countries where it had started fading. There is also talk of mini and micro pandemics hitting current and new geographies any time. Covid thy name is uncertainty and you are far from gone. Perhaps, you have decided to stay for good and torment us in different forms.

This being the reality, it is ridiculous to talk of a post-pandemic economic scenario even if Harvard Business Review, Mckinsey and other reputed academic and practising business platforms think so. Optimism and hope are essential but not at the cost of hard reality.

Yet we need to live on with as less fear as possible. The latest and more horrific crisis overshadows the lesser ones we confronted in the past. The world has faced and overcome recessions and economic downturns that hit us with alarming regularity? Major recessions have been rocking global commerce almost every decade. The sub-prime crisis of 2007-09 and the dot-com bust at the beginning of the century are still fresh in our minds.

So it does make sense to pick up the pieces from the past and learn to live with long-term recession. We must remember that while recessions may stop making it to media headlines after sometime, their deleterious impact lasts a long time with some of the damage remaining undone forever. Yet we need to move on. So what is the learning from the past?

Regular check-up of your company’s health is no less significant than your own medical check-up. Honestly scrutinize inefficiencies in your product or service offerings. The Covid-caused upheaval has shown that economic ups and downs are now more imminent than ever. Let’s not forget that the year-old Covid storm is still raging and causing mayhem. It is also time to assess your HR strength to maintain or exceed current output. However, resorting to layoffs as the sole HR intervention is not wise; it causes apprehension among your current and potential employees.

The honest scrutiny based on hard data will enable you to identify the pain points in your company. What should be done to make the organisation better equipped to sail through troubled times which are set to become the new normal in business? Are some employees engaged in doing repetitive tasks? Is the company focusing too much on low-margin products and services? Changes are called for. Go in for job sharing. Employees engaged in low margin activities can be moved to the company’s profit centres. Such changes may lead to unwarranted publicity. Honest and transparent HR interventions with the affected workforce can pre-empt this possibility. The nobility of your intentions and actions will keep your reputation intact and protect your business.

It may sound counter-intuitive but the fact is that employee-linked changes can “maximise” your existing teams even during recession and slowdown. How?

Writing in HR-centric website Insperity.com, Jenisse Chaffold provides some tips. While existing leaders should obviously be encouraged and reassured, the company should try to identify its undiscovered leaders and empower them. Provide them bigger responsibilities. Employees should be told that their hard work and loyalty during these troubled will not go unappreciated. This will ensure high morale and consistent output.

Such an approach needs to be accompanied with intangible benefits to employees, particularly those entrusted with higher responsibility. It needs to be understood that an individual employee is under greater stress than the company during recessionary times. He suffers financial, emotional and personal family-linked issues. So, mere monetary compensation will not motivate him.

Flexible timing, work-from-home opportunities are known to ease employee pain.

Managers should be trained to deal with mental and emotional health issues being faced by the employees. Mental health challenges can affect the entire workplace. Qualified HR professionals can play a big role in this context.

To make the company recession proof one needs to think long term. Your HR team should be well trained in communication and risk mitigation. This needs to be done proactively and not when the sky is falling on your head.

People run companies. An empathetic and healing HR hand can equip managers, staff and workers to tackle terrible troubles tactfully.

Basant Chaudhary is a Poet, Writer, The Chairman of BLC and Basant Chaudhary Foundation. (feedback@basantchaudhary.com)

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