By Mariel Alison L. Aguinaldo

Human resources (HR) departments are vital when it comes to leading employees through the COVID-19 crisis, according to an HR executive.

“HR leaders must be at the forefront of innovation to reinvent the business. This is the time for collaboration, courage, and, more importantly, action,” said Haidee Enriquez, chief people officer at Sitel Group, during the Asia Future-of-Work Forum held on June 25.

When lockdowns forced the implementation of work-from-home arrangements, concerns about connectivity, productivity, and security were raised by both employees and their supervisors. Other companies had to downsize to cut costs

The HR department is shouldering a heavy part of this burden. “We all have many difficult financial and people decisions to make. Not only are each of us worried about our health and personal safety, we are also worried about revenue, executive and workplace safety, business continuity, and offering sound and ethical policies to employees,” she said.

According to Forbes, HR departments are well suited to deal with these issues because they have the best vantage point of overall processes. They can also “offer a systemic viewpoint, ensuring coordination, communication, and collaboration across units, functions, business groups, and silos.”

Part of this task entails reviewing and realigning HR strategies, initiatives, and processes. Said Ms. Enriquez: “There has to be sharper focus on employee well-being. We need to strengthen career-mapping and succession planning, redesign performance, and productivity models… and then balance short-term gain with longer-term impact.” 

One common concern among employees is burnout. The issue has gained new dimensions because of the lockdown, including a lack of separation between work and life, and continuing uncertainty about job security. To deal with this problem, managers are encouraged to talk candidly with their team in order to determine the best possible arrangement for each member.

Benefits must also be re-evaluated in order to pinpoint new needs that must be addressed during these times. Willis Towers Watson, a multinational risk management, insurance brokerage, and advisory company, published an employee benefits checklist for employers to help identify timely benefit considerations. These include coverage for telemedicine, subsidy or reimbursement for critical office supplies, and leaves for child care and elderly caregiving due to COVID-19.

Inasmuch as regular employees are being reskilled in order to keep up with industry changes, so, too, must HR leaders. Ms. Enriquez recommends adapting the principle of learning agility, which the Center for Creative Leadership defines as showing “willingness and ability to learn throughout their careers, if not their entire lives”.

“For even the most experienced of managers, this crisis is proving to be a steep learning curve as the virus ravages global economies and touches every corner of our personal and professional lives. The majority won’t have encountered anything like it before in our lifetime,” she said.