An HR team’s roles and responsibilities can be varied during a crisis and can take different forms depending upon the nature of the crisis. In all cases, here are some roles and responsibilities which need to be smoothly handled during any crisis:
With the pandemic’s negative effects on global economies causing damage to businesses, large and small; HR teams have a major role to play. Most businesses are impacted negatively by the lockdowns and social distancing norms. This has left many businesses and their workers are financially adversely impacted. Almost everyone has lost a friend or family member to the virus. All these have put the emotional and psychological well-being of employees at risk. COVID-19 is indeed a crisis in every sense. It is imperative on the part of Human Resources professionals to manage through this crisis while ensuring that they cope with the situation.
When we talk about a crisis, they need not necessarily be a global pandemic like COVID-19. There are many different types of crises such as natural disasters (earthquakes, floods), infrastructure and network failures, incidents which cause damage to a company’s properties, death or injuries to the employees, lawsuits, or legal actions against the organization. Depending on its severity, every one of them can pose a serious threat to the normal functioning of an organization. Almost all of them require the deft intervention of HR teams, to see that the apple cart stays balanced.
HR’s role in crisis management is broad and the extent of HR’s involvement depends upon the nature of a given crisis.
HR’s role requirements during a crisis include ensuring the smooth handling of all the following aspects of an organization’s operations:
When dealing with a crisis, communication is the key. An efficient crisis management strategy formulated by the organization should reassure employees that the situation will get back to normal soon. This will help to offer them some peace of mind. Human Resource professionals often act as channels of internal communication during a crisis. So, it is imperative on the part of Human Resource professionals to establish clear lines of communication between the employees and the management. They are also responsible for ensuring that the company’s intranet sites are updated with all the relevant and appropriate information such as HR policies and procedures for crisis management. Also, such intranet sites should be updated with all the employees’ contact lists (with the required role-based accesses and controls) and useful company announcements. Human Resource professionals can also work with their management and other stakeholders to ensure that the flow of information is consistent and up to date within the organization. It is also the responsibility of the HR team to develop relevant FAQs to answer any questions pertaining to the crisis. And also to make sure that any employee feedback received is communicated to the management.
Human Resources professionals are also expected to create and maintain policies governing employee conduct and organizational procedures in coordination with their senior management. These would be a part of their repository of crisis management plans and procedures. Every crisis is unique in its own way, so it requires the company’s policies and procedures to be modified depending upon the demands of the situation. For instance, COVID-19 has prompted every organization to opt for a work-from-home model and has kept entire workforces locked down within the four walls of their homes. In such a situation, it is the responsibility of HR to ensure that the policies, procedures, and guidelines for work from the home models are up to date. The HR should also co-ordinate with the departmental managers and IT team to facilitate appropriate remote working systems so that the employees can work remotely in a hassle-free manner. They would also be required to put effective systems in place to ensure the smooth management of performance reviews and appraisals.
Employees should have access to comprehensive services and benefit programs offered by the organization for effective crisis management. For example, Employee Assistance Programs can be used to connect employees with healthcare providers to ensure better mental and physical health employees during a crisis. It is imperative that the necessary health benefits are made accessible to the employees. Employees need to receive immediate medical help in case of any medical emergencies. This would enable a faster recovery so that they can return to work with good health, renewed vigor, and enthusiasm. Since the ultimate goal of crisis management for a business is ensuring the smooth return to normal operations, it is indeed essential for its employees to be physically and mentally willing and able to work.
Some employees may not be available or able to perform adequately at their jobs during a crisis. In such cases, HR teams typically take up the responsibility for identifying the key characteristics of such members of a team to provide them with the necessary substitutes. It is important to identify the specific issues, health problems, or physical injuries faced by employees in a crisis so that appropriate support can be extended immediately. It will also ensure that the work isn’t hampered. If the HR team is well-versed with the skill sets and aptitude levels of all the employees, it can easily look for resources within the organization itself to substitute until the incapacitated employee is able and in a position to get back to work. So, it is indeed vital for HR teams to have a broad but clear picture of the background, skills, aptitude, experiences of the human resources within the organization, should they need to take up additional tasks apart from their scope of work during a crisis.
The agile business environment of today needs robust, enterprise-wide crisis planning to deal with the effects of such a situation on business operations. The critical assets of an organization such as the company’s reputation and brand image as well as trust and loyalty are also at stake during a crisis. It is indisputable that effective crisis management involves people, technology, infrastructure, revenues, profits, KPIs, and many other metrics. Keeping all these aspects in mind, the objective is to ensure that minimum damage is incurred and the organization returns to its original form as soon as possible. So, human resources professionals need to predict the possible outcomes and act decisively. Although certain exigencies cannot be predicted, it is wise to be vigilant and act quickly and responsibly during a crisis.
Technology has an important role to play during a crisis. Technology helps the organization establish robust communication channels to facilitate effective communication between the team members. Communication channels in the form of the intranet homepage, messaging and tele-calling apps, or emails through cloud platforms can be leveraged to make the most use of technology. HR can identify what and how technology can be used before or during the crisis to harness its full potential for bridging the communication gap. Seamless collaboration between team members is essential if a team wants to come out of the crisis stronger and better than before. It is also essential for the employees to embrace contemporary HR technologies if need be, although they may feel uncomfortable using some of them at the beginning.
There are various aspects of the organization for which HR leaders take responsibility. Identifying potential threats, training employees on risk management, drafting a business continuity plan, assessing the impact of the crisis, and conducting practical lessons in crisis management are just some of them. These actions enable employees as well as management teams to deal with a crisis confidently in the present even as they prepare them for the upcoming future. It is a fact that a typical crisis management process involves safeguarding the interests of a business in the form of revenue, profit margins, technology, and brand value. In this process, the well-being of the employees is often neglected. In other words, the human aspect takes a back seat. This calls for increased and proactive participation of the human resources professional in actions aimed at protecting the employees’ interests first. If the employees are well taken care of, the business will be automatically taken care of by the employees thus promoting business growth even during the most difficult periods.