I recently participated on a panel of esteemed HR colleagues that was hosted by the South Africa Board for People Practices. It was an opportunity to gain valuable insight around planning for the day after lockdown.
At the outset it was agreed that this would require focus on people, planning and profit.
Covid19 has raised reactionary themes from private business in response to the lockdown for example:
How do we deal with the lockdown? Do we place people on leave? Do we lay them off? Do we place them on short time?
How do we remunerate people if their contracts of employment and our incentive schemes have not been terminated?
If employees are working remotely, how do we manage performance? Is it fair for this to be done remotely? If employees were due to be disciplined, could the process continue remotely?
What is the new normal and how are we adopting and adapting our use of technology? What is the great reset?
From a human resources and employee relations perspective this requires a change in strategy. Employers are urgently required to create operating procedures that address capabilities to manage change. Structures and terms need to urgently consider change, risk and emergency management. This in turn informs how we deal with people, planning and profit.
How do we resume operations post-lockdown?
To truly give effect to this great reset, an apt term coined by the speakers, the employer needs to do the following:
Devise a plan to cope through and beyond the Covid19 crisis;
Ensure they have the correct attitude and use real time intelligence;
Develop a “resolution vision” and focus on what the employer will look like after Covid-19;
Understand that “real time intelligence” means the employer needs to embrace the fact that they are now a learning organisation. This requires creating a culture of shorter feedback loops to employees and, generally, learning from this to effect a culture of change and to pivot in response.
Remote working and the new state of trust and faith
These are critical components to the employment relationship, without which the continuity is rendered intolerable. Employees will return with the knowledge of the employer’s capacity and appetite for working remotely. The expectation will be for this to continue post-lockdown. We need to instil in managers skills to manage remote workers, adopt and adapt the platforms for remote work and look at the tools of the trade to support remote work.
It is clear that reduced consumer spend would adversely impact the employer’s business. Lost opportunities need to be identified and reconciled on the books of account. This impacts how the employer invests in their people and their strategy. A critical point is that employers need to adopt the best fit for their business rather than the best market practice. This requires an “outside in” approach. Organisations need to look at extraneous factors including market conditions and adopt what could work to build an employee value proposition.
Some key considerations are:
Transfering a capacity to employees to invest in the new business model and acquire a growth mindset around change. (This will result in buy-in for employee relations strategies which will manage employee liability.):
Helping employees learn how to manage stress. (Financial and emotional stress from the lockdown and future changes could have an adverse impact on workplace morale. If this is not addressed proactively this will impact performance and team synergies.)
Building resilience among employees as an investment.
Managing employee liability
The above can only deal with salaried employees, and once their buy-in to the great reset in this new normal is secured, employers can consider possibilities like:
repurposing bonuses and incentives;
delaying promotions and salary increases.
The remaining issue is how to deal fairly with waged employees – the employees who provide labour by manning machines and equipment in manufacturing, mining, construction and automotive sectors. If automation is adopted, it will likely result in redundancies. This is a simplistic view but this may happen over time. Employers can also look to outsourced models - functional outsourcing and procurement of products alone. At this juncture they need to commit to reskilling or upskilling waged employees to protect the economy.
There are tough times ahead but everyone can work together with employees and organised labour through and beyond the crisis.
To hear more from Sherisa listen to Africa Legal on Spotify in ‘The Great Reset Podcast’ as she discusses the impact of Covid-19 on employment law and female empowerment.
To read a practical guide to employment regulation changes in South Africa under Covid-19 see Fasken’s guide here
Sherisa is an employment lawyer and partner at international law firm, Fasken. She services clients in the Middle East and Africa in all aspects of labour litigation, public procurement, regulatory work, corporate governance and employment law across sectors and industries. She is actively engaged in legal incubation and acceleration of entrepreneurs on behalf of investors. In addition she advises clients on future of work strategies and various aspects relating to the workforce of the future. She has spoken at a number of conferences, on television and on radio on topical aspects relating to the law and business impacting the workplace. She was a member of the Presidential Commission on 4IR as a subject matter expert in the fields of legal, regulatory and HR. She was appointed a mentor of Grow, an arm of the international organisation, Hacking HR. She was also appointed as member of the Lead Advisory Expert Panel of the international organisation – Entrepreneurial Mindset.
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