COVID-19 – The Challenges of HR

COVID-19 Challenges of HR

The present outbreak of Coronavirus as a Pandemic is affecting several countries across the globe. Coronavirus-Pandemic-Social distancing-Self-isolation-Infections, are the words very often heard, spoken and ringing in the ears of many across the globe, irrespective of the fact wherever they are. The pandemic scenario is leading to increased direct and indirect economic costs globally and the costs may go up furthermore as rigorous control measures are initiated. The public expenditure on healthcare is skyrocketing.

Many households routine got affected and also the businesses. People are advised to stay at home in order to be safe and the lockdown was announced for a period of 21 days from 24th March 2020. Talks are on, both in the print media as well as the visual media on the impact of infection and social distancing is advised and also washing hands to prevent possible infection.

Because of the fear and the potential threat of the disease, people seek to stay at home and to be with the family members, friends and social groups. People started migrating to their home towns. This behaviour is exhibited in crisis situations, often seeking safety.

The present scenario is witnessing a huge unemployment situation.  It is reported in the Economic Times (08.04.2020) that about 400 million people working in the informal economy in India are at the risk of facing poverty due to the coronavirus crisis. It is said that more than four out of five people (81%) in the global workforce of 3.3 billion are currently affected by full or partial workplace closure.

The lockdown and stay at home instructions had thrown several challenges to individuals, the small and medium scale businesses and big corporate establishments. Apart from the unemployment issues, this writeup tries to explore some of the HR issues that an organization may face post lockdown period while returning to normalcy.

The temporary migrant workforce forms a major chunk of the overall workforce in the country, and industries like textiles, engineering, real estates, brick kilns, transportation, hospitality etc., are the major employers. The money circulations in the hands of the temporary migrant workers and those of the daily wage earners reduced in the current corona situation. Apart from the fear of contamination, the lack of earnings to meet the day-to-day lively hood made them exodus and people started moving back to their home towns with their family and with little belongings whatever they had. This mobility of the workforce may lead to a dearth of manpower, a vacuum to be filled by HR, on priority, when the operations in the organizations are resumed. The supply and demand of requisite manpower may become a crucial challenge.

When these exoduses return back to work after reaching normalcy, experienced workers may or may not return. This would demand fresh training of the workforce. The HR person may have to chalk out the training schedules and plan for the cost involved and manage the fall in production during this time.

Some employers are providing these temporary non-earning workers, with food and shelter in order to restrict their mobility to curtail the contagious infection. When these workers are back to the workplace, once the work resumes, it is difficult to say that whether the same morale existed earlier would continue.  It would be an issue to be managed by the HR department.

When we look at the skilled and qualified workforce, many organizations have moved to work from home mode. This has its own advantages and disadvantages. Organizations which tried the work from home method during the lockdown time would have invariably saved on travel expenses and office space expenses including the electricity and infrastructure expenses. The organizations may like to continue the work from a home mode where ever possible, though employees may feel the disadvantage like loss of personal interaction with colleagues at times of need, boredom and get into a too relaxed mode. The morale of the employees may also have an impact. This is something HR have to think while getting into routine post lockdown.

Compensation issue during the lockdown is again a matter of concern for the organizations. Employees’ financial commitment may have to be taken care and the process of arriving at a consensus is essential.

In order to cope with the loss of production during lockdown period and to meet the sudden increase in the consumer demand, the organizations would expect their employees to take additional workload, and the HR has to ensure the smooth flow of work adopting right motivational measures.

The impact of COVID-19 on the expatriates and repatriates in the multinational organizations is yet another issue to be addressed form the International human resource management perspective.

It is necessary that the Human Resource department in various organizations may have to be geared up to face and manage the challenging issues that might crop up post lockdown period and normal work routines are resumed. Though it would be a short term phenomenon, have to be approached thoughtfully.

By Dr. J. Sathya Kumar
Professor – Human Resources
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