The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had a pervasive impact on all sectors including public sector enterprises. Of particular significance is the reinvention of the human resource (HR) function in various government organisations. The lockdown triggered by the pandemic compelled most government organisations to allow their employees to work from home and opt for a staggered attendance with variable working hours to maintain social distancing. Had it not been for COVID-19, this arrangement would have remained alien to government organisations.
As the world gears up to tackle unprecedented challenges in the COVID-19 scenario, it is evident that much will hinge on the ability of the HR function to lead the organisation from the forefront and facilitate a smooth transition into the post-COVID-19 phase. Government organisations will be no exception to this trend.
Over the last century, the role of HR in government organisations has undergone a paradigm shift from that of administration and supervision to talent management and retention, the latter more so for PSUs. The proliferation of technology and the onset of automation has made certain roles redundant, leading to the restructuring of job roles and changes in skill sets, not to underrate a high turnover of talented resources. This has had an obvious impact on the HR function in government organisations.
Historically, government organisations and PSUs have been the torchbearers of economic growth and nation building. However, challenges such as overstaffing, ineffectual decision processes, frequent changes in leadership, lack of motivation, and so on have impeded their growth in recent times, leading to mounting losses. The COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity for government organisations to rethink their role and assess their operational models. The role of HR will be the centrepiece in reimagining this change, assuming paramount importance in motivating employees, besides nurturing and retaining talent. The
The present global crisis has underscored the need for cost optimisation and fuelled the demand for a workforce with diverse skillsets, encompassing various dimensions, such as increasing the proportion of the female workforce, integrating people of various age groups with different modes of work and learning and making workplaces accessible for the differently abled. All such functions imply the multi-pronged role of HR in leveraging this inclusivity to tackle the challenges amidst complex and dynamic economic scenario.
Another sphere where the HR function comes into picture is providing lifelong learning. As demand for broad skillsets increases in the post-COVID-19 scenario, the HR function needs to foster an ethos of continuing education. This will further the organisation’s goal to provide necessary on-job training, exposure and nurture the skill set of employees. This will not only attract talented Millennial workforce, but also aid government organisations in achieving tangible outcomes, thereby impacting their bottom line. A corollary to encouraging talent retention is ensuring that employees feel a sense of belongingness to the organisation. An open-door policy and relatively fewer hierarchies will be instrumental for fostering this change, which again, implies that the role of the HR function cannot be underestimated here.
Employee engagement will gain new currency due to the need for government organisations to navigate through the transition in the post-COVID-19 era. This extends the role of the HR function — not only do they have to address concerns and apprehensions of employees in the post-COVID era but also focus on hygiene and wellness measures, besides devising novel ways to keep employees engaged and motivated.
With remote working finding wider acceptance, and demand for automation growing, many leading corporates are leveraging technology extensively in a vast gamut of functions — from recruitment and onboarding employees to mapping their performance. Government organisations have already made a beginning by automating clerical tasks, embracing e-office, and conducting virtual meetings over internet-based platforms. The onus will be on the HR function to spearhead this change by sensitising the organisation on the significance of the proposed technology and encouraging its wide adoption.
Hence, the ongoing coronavirus crisis has brought to the fore the all-encompassing and indispensable nature of the HR function in government organisations. The road ahead may be daunting, but certainly rewarding.