The COVID-19 pandemic is creating new perspectives for human resource management particularly to ensure a healthy employer employee relationship.
Industrial relationships must be on the radar for most human resource managers because there are several things happening within the work environment that must be handled more proactively to prevent any breakdown of industrial relations. Most organizations have hard to re-organize themselves to positively respond to the challenges that have arisen due to the coronavirus pandemic. This article discusses the New Normal and social dialogue within organizarions.
To keep the organization running to serve the general public, there was the need for organizations to implement strategies that had its own implication on human resource management, especially industrial relations. These strategies included keeping essential workers on duty, putting staff into groups/shifts, working from home, reducing staff numbers or halving salaries, etc.
All these strategies introduced some human resource management concerns which may have a negative impact on the world of work. It is important therefore for managers, supervisors, unions or employee representatives to carefully understand the effect of the pandemic HR management systems in order to create a good balance between getting organizations to run and keeping staff highly motivated.
The challenge with the COVID -19 pandemic goes beyond work disruption. In the era of COVID-19, implantation of most collective agreements has been affected as a result of the negative impact of the pandemic on businesses. Some institutions have reached a new agreement with their employee representatives to defer some of their allowances in the interest of the sustainability of their organization. Some employers have also totally suspended the implementation of any agreement with staff. The ones without unions have to suffer different fates including having to be laid off without any compensation as required by Ghana’s Labour Act 651.
In other establishments, some management have decided to defer some of their benefits until the time normality returns to business. The practicability of implementing collective agreements and employment contracts have been affected by the effect of the COVID-19. During this era, some employees, especially those in the informal sector of the economy have lost their employment since most of the informal sector business have been hit hard due to the effect of lockdown and social distancing. Some organizations are still finding it difficult to resume operations even with the targeted approach to re-opening the Ghanaian economy.
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The New Normal in organizations
Beyond the threat faced by implementing existing contracts, the new norm in organizational settings which have been implemented to reduce the incidence of infection and to create a safe environment also comes with all challenges. HR systems are more required to focus on ensuring a safe working environment due how infectious the COVID-19 is. The responses to the pandemic so as to keep the working environment safe include providing protective wears, face masks, erecting hand washing and sanitizing stations, decongestion work environment, introduction of shift systems, working from home, etc.
All these come with some level responsibilities on both employers and employees including the enforcing hand-washing before entering the office building. Although organizational health safety issues are not a new command for HR, the new norm and the nature of the pandemic further drives home the need for HR systems to provide the needed logistics to make the working environment safe for all.
The duty to make the work safe now is always a shared responsibility, where the employer provides the protective wear or in this case the safety equipment and it is the duty of the employee to use it. In the normal scheme of things, once the employer provides the equipment and the employee fails to use the safety equipment, any accident the employee may be held responsible for refusing to use the safety wears. The pandemic however brings a different dimension to this because a staff’s failure to follow through the safety protocols at work, in this case washing or sanitizing the hands does not only expose him or herself to infection but that staff becomes a danger to other workers and the whole organization.
That means you cannot apply the existing labour practices that place the responsibility of observing safety protocols as known because of the nature of this pandemic. HR and Union representatives are therefore to create enforcing roles that will ensure that the WHO safety protocols implemented by the employer are fully observed to the core. There must be systems to flag staff who fail to observe these protocols to keep the workplace safe as much as it can be possible. In this case all key stakeholders within the organization but decide on clear directives or policies with clear disciplinary measures to make sure that the new norm becomes a corporate culture.
The COVID-19 pandemic also presents other health related issues that may not necessarily be caused by the virus. There are some psychological issues arising from the news about the pandemic and the way work is organized to beat the pandemic. The psychological effect of the pandemic on staff and their relationships cannot be underrated. Leaving home to work and returning home in the new normal is different from what employees knew before the pandemic.
Working from home is another source of stress for most employees especially for employees that have domestic challenges like living with an abusive partner. Working from home also creates extra work for most parents when they have to deal with home chores as well as taking care of their children who have been out of school due to the pandemic.
Most workers may be dealing with the fear of the pandemic as well as stress arising out of the new norm. There are also fears relating to losing one’s job depending on the nature of the job. These and many more such fears are negatively affecting the mental health of workers and organizations may have to find ways of helping their employees to manage the mental stress in this new norm.
Stress can affect the mental health of employees and this can lead to some unacceptable behaviors at work. For instance, it has been noticed that violence increases in offices during an epidemic. Violence is generally used to refer to all kinds of abuse. Some definitions of forms of violence at work include, bullying, assault, threats, mobbing, etc.
All behaviors that humiliate, degrades or damages a person’s well-being, value and dignity can be described as violence. Violence challenges employees’ safety, well-being and health. Violence and harassment are mostly linked together and they can mean the same thing within the work environment. Violence and harassment can occur when one or more workers or managers are assaulted in circumstances relating to work.
It is important for HRs, Supervisors and Union leaders to have an understanding of some of the dangers related to the pandemic on employees and the behavior at work. Stress has the tendency of creating situations at the workplace where harassment and violence can be on the increase and this when it happens can affect the morale of employees at work which eventually can affect work output. Understanding these things will assist the HR and Staff representative to handle the challenges that may occur during this era. A better understanding of these happening can also help organizations to put in place policies or measures to prevent and reduce the incidence of violence and harassment as well as policies to protect the mental well-being of the workforce since these things have a direct impact on productivity.
The new normal will continue to task human resource administration or management of organization while humanity tries to live with the virus. Clearly from a human resource point, general work productivity can negatively be affected if there are not systems to manage all the happenings to the world of work in this pandemic. Workers groups and their management must work together to ensure industrial harmony. Those who are going through negotiation must negotiate in good faith and be guided by the interest of all parties and not just sticking to what they think they need or want.
Having a peaceful work environment is an important ingredient that is needed during this new norm. It is therefore important for HRs and unions or staff representatives to have positive working relationships that are not inimical to the work environment. Employers and Unions must not forget that without the work, there can’t be employment for any of them. It is therefore important for both bodies to act as partners with a common objective of protecting workers and their employment.
Human Resource managers and Unions must use the mechanism of social dialogue to provide solutions for challenges that may affect employees as well as employers. The new norm will require some sacrifices, and these must be well communicated. Unions must engage just as employers will need to engage their unions.
The new normal will require a new approach to dealing with some of the human resource challenges that organization will be facing in this pandemic. This is time for s proactive leadership at all levels that will help human resources within every organization to stay safe while they are supported to adopt a good healthy work balance lifestyle to reduce the level of stress for maximum productivity. The new normal requires a new mindset for human resource management.Report this
Author: Roderick Ayeh, Manager, Projects and Credit at ARB Apex Limited