Human Resources (HR) officials experienced an unplanned shift in their day to day operations due to the unexpected Covid- 19 lockdown. However, despite the hectic adjustments it brought, the Covid -19 lockdown can be taken as a blessing in disguise as it unmasked the generally hidden face of HR in organisations.
Covid -19 lockdown resulted in organisations adjusting working conditions in line with World Health Organisation (WHO)international regulations. Why a lockdown? Dr Smith of the Adam Smith Institution states the purpose of lockdown as “to save lives by preventing the increase of the infection rate.” Lockdown would be the best way to contain spread of Covid-19 because it ensured limited contact amongst people. At the workplace, limited contact meant that individuals had to stay at home and work from home. Only those in essential services would go to the workplace.
The role of HR has generally been considered to provide support to other departments. In some organisations, HR is lumped with other departments such as Finance, Business Management and Administration thereby becoming a division within another department. The general argument why HR is considered as a support division is that everyone feels that they can conduct HR work. The fact that most management diplomas and degrees contain a module in HR makes it appear as though HR is not a skill, yet it is a very specialised skill. The specialisation of HR is demonstrated during difficult situations such as firing employees and cutting down on employee benefits. The responsibility of communicating unfavourable information is left to HR.
Health and Safety
The importance of a functional health and safety system at the workplace was unmasked during Covid-19 lockdown.HR has always been responsible for workplace health and safety but this function was only visible through sick leave administration which involved ensuring that days taken on medical grounds were accounted for. Unless an organisation had a health and safety division, HR would keep a first aid kit for use in case of emergencies. Whilst work premises were considered to be safe, the appearance of Covid-19 revealed that workplaces were actually not very safe. HR had to embark in obtaining sanitisers, ensuring that social distancing was practised in offices and ensuring that all employees had masks. All this had to be done within a short period of time thereby putting a lot of pressure on HR.
The importance of HR in counselling and mental health was also unmasked during Covid-19 lockdown. As organisations sent employees for Covid -19 testing, those who came out positive required assurance that their jobs would be waiting for them when they returned from isolation, HR had the responsibility of providing counselling to employees, a function which was not very visible before.
A discussion with HR officers who had counselled employees with Covid-19 positive results showed that most employees were comfortable talking to HR because they already had a working relationship. Employees and HR had shared worse information such as the death of loved ones. Departmental managers were not keen to discuss Covid-19 results with their subordinates and left the responsibility to HR. That unmasked the importance of HR when it comes to employee communication and welfare.
The lockdown period could be taken as a form of forced leave and employees who did not have plans to stay at home for such long periods ended up getting depressed and their mental health was affected. The role workplaces play on enhancing employee mental health was taken for granted by both employers and employees and came to the spotlight due to the lockdown.
At workplaces employees had others to talk to, decent meals from canteens and a work schedule that was not so rigid. Due to the introduction of lockdown, HR had to counsel depressed employees through mobile text messages or WhatsApp.The importance of the face to face discussion with HR was unmasked ,as telephone discussions did not have the same impact as face to face discussions.
Policy formulation and implementation
Policy formulation and implementation is an essential HR function which requires a lot of time to administer. It involves looking at organisational structure, culture. vision and mission then synchronising them with prevailing employment laws. It took a lot of research to come up with adequate policies.
The appearance of Covid -19 lockdown brought a shift to the manner in which policies were formulated and implemented. Due to the emergency status, there was no time for HR to draft policies and seek guidelines from organisational boards. With general guidelines by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and statutory instruments, HR had to quickly come up with a workplace Covid -19 lockdown policy and implement it. For example, HR had to come up with a policy on working from home and action it immediately.
Whilst it was obvious that everyone came from a home, it was not so obvious that the homes could accommodate workplace operations.HR had to quickly come up with a working from home policy. Issues such as confidentiality, availability of Wi-Fi, laptops and generators in case of power cuts had to be addressed in the working from homme policy. It became HR responsibility to ensure that employees were able to work from home and yield the desired results.
Productivity had to continue despite employees working whilst locked at home. In an effort to maintain productivity, HR was faced with the task of reorganising operations in order to come up with means of tracking employee productivity.
Productivity tools such as online daily reports had to be devised and actioned. The importance of HR in Zoom meetings also came out as HR needed to appreciate all the work being done from home in order to record the progress accordingly.
HR plays a very vital role in organisations and Covid -19 lockdown unmasked HR functions which were generally overlooked or taken for granted during day to day operations. Organisational responses to Covid -19 lockdown unmasked that HR is not just a back office function but is critical as it is responsible for ensuring continuity of operations during sudden unplanned changes and emergencies.
- Tsitsi Esther Mberi is an employment services consultant ,mentor and opinion writer whose passion is to assist in solving employment challenges amicably.She is the founder of Binding Careers ,a career development company.Contact her on Email: email@example.com whatsapp : +263716893935 Twitter @MberiTsitsi Like Facebook Binding Careers