Some companies ask employees to go ‘slow’ even at the cost of productivity & business

Organisations across sectors are putting in extra efforts to balance employee health and business needs, even while they grapple with the challenges posed by the second wave of the pandemic

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The year 2020 was a nightmare for everyone. People want no memories of it. They were happy to bid farewell to it. All hopes were set on 2021 to bring new joy and optimism to help erase the negative outcomes and overcome the catastrophes of last year. Things were slowly falling into place and life was beginning to have a semblance of normalcy, with COVID cases falling. However, too much complacency did us in. As a result, today we have lost count of those infected and those who have lost their lives to the deadly disease across the country.

However, people do need to work, albeit from home. They are still expected to deliver, despite imagining the worst every time the phone rings. They cannot stop working even though somebody known to them is struggling for oxygen in some part of the city. They cannot forget work just because they are taking care of a child whose parents are infected and in hospital, along with their own regular domestic chores. Imagine the stress employees are going through, having to fulfil official commitments even while trying to coordinate with friends for a bed or an oxygen concentrator for someone in need! If work from home was challenging in 2020, it is even more so in 2021, because the feeling of helplessness — of being unable to help near and dear ones in distress — is adding to the mental stress.

Time to choose

This is the time for organisations to prioritise the mental and physical health of their employees and allow them some relaxation in terms of deliverables and outputs.

“During this tough phase, organisations can choose to keep aside growth and profitability and focus on survival. If we can ensure that every employee is safe and healthy at our workplaces, it would be a very big achievement for any company.”

Paramjit Singh Nayyar, CHRO, Bharti AXA General Insurance

HRKatha spoke to HR leaders from different industries, and all of them agree that organisations should allow their employees to slow down a bit and go easy on their output amidst this crisis.

“Every organisation needs to understand that these are not normal conditions and that each and every person is impacted. These are tough times when it is essential to show empathy towards the employees and support them,” says Nilay Nilay, CHRO, Indian Shelter Finance Corporation.

Adding to this, Paramjit Singh Nayyar, CHRO, Bharti AXA General Insurance, says, “During this tough phase, organisations can choose to keep aside growth and profitability and focus on survival. If we can ensure that every employee is safe and healthy at our workplaces, it would be a very big achievement for any company.”

However, with employee wellbeing and mental health topping the list of priorities now, will it be possible for companies to ensure a sustained level of output and productivity?

Going the extra mile

Recently, HCL Technologies announced its plans to shift some of its workload from India to other geographies, to maintain business continuity, as the company is reeling under the impact of the second wave of the pandemic in the country. It is constantly interacting with clients and prioritising work accordingly, ensuring smooth and continuous operations.

“Every organisation needs to understand that these are not normal conditions and that each and every person is impacted. These are tough times when it is essential to show empathy towards the employees and support them.”

Nilay Nilay, CHRO, Indian Shelter Finance Corporation.

An HR leader from one of the global IT firms has revealed that they are also following the example set by HCL and are trying to manage projects and assignments by shifting the work to other geographical locations, such as Europe and America. “Our people understand that these are very tough times and have shown support and extended help, even if they have to put in some more extra hours for a few days. We had followed the same strategy last year, when some of the European countries and America were reeling under the effects of COVID-19. Some amount of work was shifted to India at that time too,” she says.

Sharing yet another example, Anurag Verma, VP-HR, Uniphore, an IT tech company, says, “With the safety and wellbeing of our employees at the core of our culture, we have managed to create a balance between employee wellbeing and business continuity. We are aware that many families are infected by the virus, and therefore, we have allowed our employees to take as many leaves as they need to attend to any situation at home. They should take care of their own and their family’s health first.”

“With the safety and wellbeing of our employees at the core of our culture, we have managed to create a balance between employee wellbeing and business continuity. We are aware that many families are infected by the virus, and therefore, we have allowed our employees to take as many leaves as they need to attend to any situation at home. They should take care of their own and their family’s health first.”

Anurag Verma, VP-HR, Uniphore

The leadership team at Uniphore has also made an effort to check on their immediate team members from time to time to find out whether they or their family members require any kind of assistance. They are encouraging everybody to do the same.

“Generally, on weekends, the leadership team takes stock of the situation. We do not just discuss work, but also each other’s health and that of our families too,” adds Verma.

Uniphore has also announced that every first Friday of the month will be an off for each employee, so that they have enough time to attend to any personal need.

What about productivity?

Yes, we need to focus on employee health and lend as much support to the workforce as possible in this hour of need, but what happens to productivity and business needs? How can we create a balance between business needs and employee well being?

“Mentally, we have prepared ourselves to accept that for a few months, there will be less business for the company. In fact, we have asked our employees to make their own and their family’s health the first priority, even if it means being unable accomplish day-to-day tasks at work. We can always make up for the business losses in the coming times,” mentions Nilay.

“Our people understand that these are very tough times and have shown support and extended help, even if they have to put in some more extra hours for a few days. We had followed the same strategy last year, when some of the European countries and America were reeling under the effects of COVID-19. Some amount of work was shifted to India at that time too.”

An HR leader from one of the global IT firms

Verma is aware that there will be some delays in deliverables, and productivity will go down, but Uniphore is trying to manage this by requesting extended team members to put in a little extra effort and hours so that they can cover up. “Sometimes, the entire team is infected or is busy handling situations at their respective homes. In such cases, we proactively inform our partners and customers about the delay, and they also understand,” shares Verma.

“We need to enable and encourage employees to think about health and safety. Being part of the essential services sector, we have had to scale down our work by indentifying what is more important and prioritising each task. Also, we have tied up with hospitals and doctors so that immediate assistance can be given to employees in need of help.”

Udbhav Ganjoo, head – HR, Viatris

Bharti AXA General Insurance, had in the past proactively invested in ensuring every employee’s good health by introducing a programme called ‘Step Masters’. Under this initiative, employees were encouraged to walk everyday and they had seen significant participation from everyone. As per Nayyar, the company was prepared for such situations. “From last year itself, we focused on formulating business plans which did not require our employees to go an extra mile or take unnecessary stress upon themselves to achieve business goals,” shares Nayyar.

What about essential services?

Many industries have the option to choose their people’s well-being and health over business outcomes, but what about sectors that fall under the essential services category? They have no option but to continue their operations.

Udbhav Ganjoo, head – HR, Viatris, a pharma company, says, “We need to enable and encourage employees to think about health and safety. Being part of the essential services sector, we have had to scale down our work by indentifying what is more important and prioritising each task. Also, we have tied up with hospitals and doctors so that immediate assistance can be given to employees in need of help.”

Every company is focussing on giving that extra care and support to its employees so that everyone can sail through these difficult times. “At this time we need to show empathy and team work as an organisation, with leaders enabling employees to deliver. After all, at this hour, if we support them, our employees will support the firm in its hour of need,” concludes Ganjoo.

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