High emotional times, or crisis times, have hit people in different parts of the world at different times in the last plus-ten years.These have ranged from the ones caused by natural disasters (hurricanes, floods, thunderstorms etc) to man-made or man-influenced variants (bomb-blasts, kidnappings, intra-company recession, industry recession etc). It had been more common to hear of them in other lands than around Nigeria but that seems to have changed now.
Business leaders and Human Resource practitioners need to awaken to the fact that some of our nightmares have happened already and there is therefore a need to change our playbook. It would require more than a rapid response approach but a coordinated, proactive and thoughtful system. A system that goes beyond business continuity to people preservation and business continuity. We would certainly require a programme that is more than mere compliance to the duty of care but an opportunity for the engagement of the hearts and minds of our staff and stakeholders.
In preparation for a crisis the better prepared organisations usually have a Business Continuity Plan in place.
What is business continuity planning?
Critical services or products are those that must be delivered to ensure survival, avoid causing injury, and meet legal or other obligations of an organization. Business Continuity Planning is a proactive planning process that ensures critical services or products are delivered during a disruption.
A Business Continuity Plan includes:
1) Plans, measures and arrangements to ensure the continuous delivery of critical services and products, which permits the organization to recover its facility, data and assets.
2) Identification of necessary resources to support business continuity, including personnel, information, equipment, financial allocations, legal counsel, infrastructure protection and accommodations” (ref. Public Safety Canada).
So a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) is a “set of documents, instructions, and procedures which enable a business to respond to accidents, disasters, emergencies, and/or threats without any stoppage or hindrance in its key operations. Also called business resumption plan, disaster recovery plan, or recovery plan” (ref. business dictionary).
Were we to follow the wordings, it may reveal that a BCP has a stronger focus on the continuation of the business. And I must say that that is a great thing as nobody desires that a disaster should wipe out our lives. A disaster, as the name suggests is already bad enough on its own. It is worsened when it meets an organisation, a state or a nation unprepared. That is the unassailable essence of the BCP.
However the focus on the continuation of the business sometimes rubs it of the chance to protect, and preserve employee lives. In many other cases some organisations and states do not even have an updated functional BCP. It is just possible to sometimes, particularly in crisis times, think of employees as just resources. Whereas our staff are first and foremost human beings – with all the frailties and imperfections that come with it.
For example, in response to the reactions of some companies to the March 11 earthquake in Japan, a commentator had this to say:
“The people needed positive support from their employers that demonstrated concern first for people and second for the continuity of business. This did not happen for a lot of people. And in many cases was better handled by small Japanese companies who had the wisdom to allow people time off in the immediate days after the quake. Time that allowed people to focus on family and personal concerns so that they could later return with more grounded responses.Many foreign firms tried the “business as usual” approach when public sentiment was anything but usual. This threw many people into conflict between personal considerations and employer objectives. Resulting in many people simply taking matters into their own hands or feeling trapped.
Real useful advice for CEO’s. In a multi-dimensional calamity like the recent Japan experience, work with your people as individuals. Those who need time away should get it without fear for their jobs. Those ready to man their posts should be supported in doing so. And those in need of more fundamental support should get it.Not everyone is a team champion player, though that same person may be an otherwise perfect employee, emergent situations can see some reeling. While that quiet wall flower employee may stand up to be a true leader in this kind of situation. My point is you must judge one by one [individually].As for post disaster sentiment including labor movements. I do expect a lot of workers will be seeking better protections of their jobs, their safety and more influence over company responses to future disasters”.
Let’s not even forget that both the employer and the employee have a duty of carefor health and safety to which each is bound. Your employer has a ‘duty of care’ to look after, as far as possible, your health, safety and welfare while you are at work. “Lord Atkin, in Donoghue vs. Stevenson defines the basis of the test of the duty of care thus – you must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour.
Who, then, in law is my neighbor? The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.” (ref. Nelson TemienorTuedon, Human Resource Management: An On-the-Job Perspective).
The aim of this article isn’t to encourage litigation nor is it to stir up legal arguments on the spirit vs the letterof the duty of care that employers owe employees. If we toe that path we would only end up with an attempt by business leaders to pursue compliance with the law only. Whereas,what is desired, is for us all – business and human resource managers alike – to have a rethink about our mindset regarding employee management during crisis times.
A faulty mindset would induce the design of a business continuity plan that insufficiently plans for the care and protection of employees during a disaster. This rethink would compel us to design policies and procedures that make it possible for us to respond adequately to employee needs in high emotional times – whether this be of a personal nature (private to the employee) or of a wider reach (in the case of a bomb blast).
If we are to resolve this challenge once and for all, if we are going to succeed at designing schemes that raise a higher consideration for employees as human beings during disasters or high emotional times, it is pertinent that we address any foundational issues involved.You would recall that it is widely accepted that what you don’t have you cannot give. A foundational obstacle with designing these more sensitive corporate initiatives is that many managers don’t even know how to assist employees when they are going through personal crisis or life cycle changes.
What you cannot deploy within your team, you cannot deploy (successfully and sustainably)around the organisation. I recall a former colleague who got sold-out to her manager just because of how he supported her during the trimester period of her pregnancy. She was given a lot of work and time flexibility. There is this other case of a Nigerian who lived in the US and worked in a law firm.
When his mum died, he recalls how his manager, a Caucasian woman, brought food to his home so that his wife would have something to share with visitors without having to cook. His boss had been told that as a Nigerian, he was going to get a lot of visitors who would come to pay their condolences. His wife would have to entertain them – even if lightly.
So she took it upon herself to buy his wife food that she could share with guests that wouldn’t require her waltzing in and out of the kitchen. What is the morale of the story? Human resource executives should facilitate an increase in emotional intelligence towards team members, particularly in times of personal crisis or lifecycle changes.
In high performance organisations, where demands for excellence and out-of-class results are the order of the day, managers need to use times of personal crisis to make emotional connections with their subordinates. Executive management, working with human resources, need to design policies and procedures that shows the organisation as a partner during times of personal crisis or even during positive lifecycle changes such as pregnancy, marriage, etc. Employees have been known to sabotage organisations just because they felt mistreated or inadequately treated at the time they felt they needed the company the most.
For example, I am asking myself this question: what are organisations doing about their staff in parts of the north where bombs have gone off?I don’t think anyone ever expected that the day would come where we would get used to hearing of bomb blasts. Gosh! We were and we still are unprepared for it –since we as corporate bodies cannot be more prepared than the Federal Government. Certainly a new thoughtware is required for us to be able to respond to both the needs of the business and our employees.
A few thoughts and ideas are presented here with the sole purpose of sparking off deep and broad engagements of minds on the many-way-forward. This isn’t the typical ‘seven steps how-to’ article, but rather it’s more of an awareness campaign, one meant to get all of us thinking of the better ways to address the mental and emotional dislocation caused to employees by external disasters or discomfort.
Employees are human.
Doesn’t it seem as if we sometimes forget that the people who work with us are human beings? I think we do. They are human and so they can fall ill; their spouse or child can fall ill. They are human and so they have relationships that they deeply care about and their state of mind can be easily affected by the well-being or otherwise of these relationships. Examples of these relationships are: parents, spouse (spouse-to-be), children, siblings, etc. They can be gripped by fear and worry enough to affect their concentration and decision making ability. They also need reassurance now and then.
Develop and Updateyour Business Continuity Plans.
If you don’t have a BCP in place, please obtain one. Prevention is better than cure. Everyone agrees to that. But it is wisdom to plan for staff & business continuity peradventure a mishap or disaster strikes. Planning may not stop the occurrence but it can minimize the impact. We had instruments that informed us of the existence of Hurricane Katrina and the others, and though the instruments where incapable of stopping the hurricanes, they at least made it possible for many people to run away from harm’s way. “Having a disaster recovery or crisis plan in your workplace and knowing how to respond to employees can minimize the likelihood of lost work time, reduce stress-related disability claims, and help your business get back on track as quickly as possible” – Ceridian Connection.
Humanise your Business Continuity Plans.
Also we need to sufficiently extend ourcontinuity plans to include clearer details of how employees (and their families, in some cases) would be protected, and supported during and after a disaster. Firstly, the nature of our business model would determine the stretch and reach of our People Continuity Plan (for want of a better name). For example, we may have overseas operations (it doesn’t matter what business methodology we are using to operate in the foreign country) as far as we have deployed staff there. Can you imagine how your organisation would have responded had you had a subsidiary in Libya or Japan?
Ten years ago it would have been unnecessary or unthinkable to be having this kind of conversation but guess what today we already have more and more Nigerian firms extending their operations further into Africa and Asia, examples GTBank and Dangote. Secondly, the more people or relationship based service or products that you offer, the more reason you should be concerned/interested in the wellbeing of the staff that are behind these services/products.
By the way I don’t know any firm in our country using robots to provide services/products. Eg the People Continuity element of the BCP would require that we have a regularly updated online and offline (in case the systems are affected, even if for a few hours) record of our employees phone numbers; home address; next of kin full details; spouse full details, etc. Thirdly, the nature of the external disaster and its impact would also dictate the type of containment response required. For example a hurricane defers from a bomb blast.
Policies for Handling Staff in High Risk Situations.
Let’s not forget that sometimes a disaster hasn’t occurred but a situation or a locality may have heightened insecurity. Whether this falls within the purview of the BCP doesn’t matter, what matters is that we must have policies in place to protect, support, redeploy or evacuate our staff. And these policies must always be one step ahead of the situation – and not a policy that is applied only the worst as happened already. At this point I am wondering what organisations are doing about staff in locations adjacent or beside or near where bombs have gone off in some parts of the country.
Or even in the very places where we have experienced bomb blasts. I am aware that some organisations have international health insurance policies in place that includes overseas evacuation for management staff with what we know now we would need to discuss with security companies on local and international evacuation programs for potentially exposed staff.
Lifecycle partnership policies and training for managers.
We need to help managers develop sensitivity towards employees during lifecycle changes. Increasing managers’ awareness towards employee emotional and social needs is a great first step. The next would be to equip them with the skills and knowledge to be a resource at such times. In high emotional times employees need managers that are partners. They also seek partnership from the organisation that they serve. So in addition to training and equipping managers, organisations need to install policies and programmes that clearly show proactiveness and thoughtfulness.
“It seems obvious that the HR department should provide employee welfare services. Inevitably, HR staff will be dealing with cases and providing advice because they are in constant contact with employees and may be seen to be disinterested [impartial]. It is hoped that they will also have some expertise in counseling. Increasingly, however, it is being recognised that employee welfare is the responsibility of line management and supervision. If the latter take on their proper role as team leaders rather than their traditional autocratic and directive role, they should be close enough to each member of their team to be aware of any personal problems affecting their work. They should be trained in identifying symptoms and at least be able to refer people for counseling if it is clear that they need more help than the team leader can provide”.
–(ref. Michael Armstrong, A Handbook of Human Resources Management Practice).
Institute, Upgrade and Expand your EAP policies and programs.
Organisations that don’t have EAPs need to urgently deploy it.
“An employee assistance program (EAP) is an arrangement between a corporation, academic institution or government agency and its employees that provides a variety of support programs for the employees. Although EAPs are aimed mainly at work-related difficulties, they can also help employees with problems that originate outside the workplace when such troubles impact work attendance or on-the-job performance. The concept of the EAP originated in the 1970s in an effort to reduce substance abuse and intoxication in the workplace. Since that time, EAPs have evolved to deal with a variety of issues such as marital problems, depression, anger management, anxiety and physical illness. EAPs can provide day care for children of employees and elder care for parents of employees. Legal and financial assistance may also be available” –(ref.SearcCIO).
“EAPs help businesses and organizations address productivity issues by helping employees identify and resolve personal concerns that affect job performance. Through prevention, identification, and resolution of these issues, EAPs enhance employee and workplace effectiveness and are a vital tool for maintaining and improving worker health and productivity, retaining valued employees, and returning employees to work after illnesses or injuries. Some employers have found that proactive, preventive efforts to help employees identify and resolve personal issues before they have serious medical, family, and/or workplace consequences make financial and business sense (ref. www.dol.gov).
It is certain that we cannot exhaust all the ideas nor would we also be able to sufficiently detail the steps relating to each idea but I hope we have at least stirred our consciousness regarding the need to awaken to the workforce’s needs in this high emotional times. In crisis times or in crisis planning; care, proactiveness and thoughtfulness wins.