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BASICS TO ENSURE A SMOOTH START-Role of Human Resources during the return-to-work phase of the Pandemic

By Vaibhav GARG, Area T&C Accor Maldives, Global Expert & Mentor
13 September 2021
5 min read
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The world is being adversely impacted by the unprecedented health crisis – Covid19 and organizations are exercising extreme caution with regards to the health and safety of their employees and stakeholders.

Given the urgency and complexity of the challenges we are facing, the need of the hour is to create a safe work environment for the team members to return to work and to embrace this “new normal” reality, organizations and Human Resources leaders have adapted to change their leadership styles to address the current crisis.

We know that during a crisis like the one we are experiencing now; we are leading teams that are emotionally fragile. Across the globe wherever the businesses have resumed or are reviving, the HR leadership team has made every effort and attempt to ensure calm, constant communication and compassion while engaging the teams with a focus on health, safety, and regulatory & statutory compliance. Some quick actions, new changes, and recommendations for return to work include:

  • Training the staff on all new work and health and safety protocols, sanitation procedures and ensure that they are always up to date.
  • Providing personal protective equipment (PPEs) easily accessible to all employees always.
  • Equip employees with personal work tools whenever possible.
  • Avoid working in pairs or groups if possible or limit it to tasks that absolutely require to be handled by several persons
  • Planning staggered breaks and mealtimes to avoid grouping too many people at one place.
  • Keeping the team roaster as stable as possible and avoid unnecessary rotation of the staff.
  • Appointing dedicated resources to manage prevention measures e.g. COVID-19 Manager or additional responsibility to be given to the Resident Doctor and the Security Manager to ensure health and safety compliance.
  • Documents for instructing employees should be made available centrally. In addition, the management to regularly (at department meetings or in small groups with intervals) remind about the necessary compliance with the protective measures. It is recommended to inform the employees about the infection transmission and about the protective measures taken in the hotel.
  • The management to comply with the Health Protection Agencies and local ministry regulations while being mindful of conforming with obligations regarding the confidential treatment of medical information with regards to medical testing results and being sensitive when making decisions regarding who is selected to return to work based on medical conditions.

During this recovery and reopening process, the Human Resources team works closely with the leadership team, serving as an internal consultant, to respond based on identified priorities. The Human Resources role includes coaching, developing strategy communication plans, tracking, and analyzing metrics, and any other actions that would help ensure that employees’ needs are met throughout the return-to-work transition and beyond thereby also ensuring proactive planning that addresses these key areas: safety, business viability, and work-life concerns.

Some recommendations are as follows:

  • Safety – employees would want to know their employers are taking steps to protect them from exposure to contagious disease and otherwise keep them safe.
  • Operational Adjustments – clearly communicate to employees any operational adjustments the company is making to improve workplace safety.
  • Sanitization/hygiene improvements – inform employees about steps the organization is taking to sanitize the workspace and improve hygiene.
  • Business Viability – in times of economic uncertainty, employees are concerned about their ability to earn a living and to pay for housing, food, and other basic needs.
  • Transparency – Be transparent and truthful regarding business impact while proactively share information on steps the company is taking to maintain or grow market position, profitability.
  • Vision – Communicate the organization’s vision and strategy to unify and align employees around it.
  • Work Life Concerns – it’s more important than ever for organizational leaders to empathize with employees and be flexible with regard to work-life balance concerns.
  • Empathy training for leaders – Provide training and/or coaching to leaders on how to empathize with employees.
  • Flexible work arrangements – Consider expanding flexible scheduling or remote options for employees.
  • Mental health support – provide and promote counseling facilities for help navigating the emotional impact of the pandemic.

In a crisis like this, people observe the Human Resources Leaders very closely, they see how his/ her energy is and the words he/she is using hence a leader needs to be calm and cool while keeping the focus on the right things. The role of Human Resources leadership is to spark that resilience, stoke that fighting spirit. It comes from a combination of safety and trust in the leader and the company.

Human Resources Leaders build trust and psychological safety when people feel seen and accepted for who they are — and that trust is essential for a high performing team; this is an opportunity for Human Resources Leadership and to be able to make a difference when the teams on the ground need all the possible empathy, support and hand-holding through this crisis to emerge unscathed and stronger hence they must continue to act quickly, clearly and promptly at every phase of this crisis and intend to continue this approach for as long as this crisis continues to affect the business and more importantly colleagues. It is times like this that the company’s shared values and employee-centric culture will help preparing for the future.