The pandemic took everyone by surprise, but it most certainly catapulted HR into a spotlight it had never experienced before. HR leaders were placed under a lot of pressure trying to manage the situation innovatively and using this opportunity to instigate change. In my opinion the following represents the best and unique practices by HR professionals internationally during the pandemic. It also explores the different opportunities that arose from it. Much of what I’ve written was directly influenced by my listening to podcasts, researching different HR publications, government and organization’s HR websites.
Germany: Appeal to workers to donate paid vacation to colleagues in need.
Germany is one of the leading countries in managing the pandemic crisis best, not only medically but also from the HR perspective. HR executives stepped up to the challenge and took the lead on showing care for their people, while redefining new ways of working, among others. The top priority for the country was to ensure the wellbeing of all its nationals, regardless of the severe financial stress it meant. The safety of the people was a message communicated clearly from the top HR executives of both private and government sectors.
Like in other countries, Germans were not prepared for the pandemic, but, as in many crises, they came up with different solutions to manage cost without taking drastic measures like laying people off. The most overwhelming cost companies incur is personnel salaries. To reduce this cost, and maintain the workforce, many companies in Germany appealed to their workers to donate their paid vacation and overtime to those employees who need to take care of themselves or family members. Another unique solution was staff sharing among similar industries such as the retail and food industry. As always, Germany put the wellbeing and the safety of its people first and foremost.
China: Rotation of holidays and adjustments of schedules.
China may be the world’s largest blue-collar worker country. While most of the world was or is in lockdown because of the pandemic, the production of consumer goods had to continue. One of the issues China focused on was the reduction of turnover and avoiding layoffs. To prevent layoffs, Chinese companies were asked to apply a rotation of holidays, adjustments of schedules, etc. For companies that were temporarily unable to pay the employees, the Chinese government urged these companies to negotiate with union leaders to reach some type of agreement to postpone payments and pay in installments once the country regained normality. Another practice applied was granting employees social leaves in addition to the annual leave. These leaves were not rolled over, which in turn helped some companies reduce expenses. In the spirit of avoiding company bankruptcies and lowering costs, companies with remote employees applied policies such as paying for hours performed, altering salary structure or cutting working hours to 3-5 a day.
Another step taken was the suspension of employment contracts, which, according to local civil law, both parties can temporarily suspend an employment contract for extraordinary reasons such as unforeseen for reasons of force majeure or upon agreement. During the suspension of the employment contract, the payment of remuneration and social benefits can be negotiated between the parties.
Italy: The birth of a new humanism.
Italy was one of the countries that took the strongest hit from the pandemic. It hit the Italian economy strongly as well as the management of HR of many companies. In light of the high number of deaths due to the virus, the main focus of HR during this period has been the mental wellbeing of employees. The top priorirty of the whole country during the pandemic was to keep people safe. Italy worked closely with HR leaders of Spain and Portugal to find the best practices during this time. Italian HR did its best to ensure employees did not lose their jobs. They applied different practices, from allowing employees to use their vacation days to working remotely where it applied or paying for performed hours. Italian HR coined a new terminology during this period titled “The Birth of a New Humanism,” which is and should be the core purpose of HR.
Venezuela has been going through political turmoil for a while. The COVID-19 pandemic only added more to their unrest. However, the Venezuelan government worked closely with HR strategists to handle the situation to the best of their abilities while the country endures economic turmoil. The government issued a decree at the beginning of pandemic confirming that employees are entitled to job stability, known as inamovilidad (irremovability), during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under this decree, employees have secured job stability, but the employers are under no obligation to pay salaries for services not rendered.
Different HR practices were influenced by the economic state and culture of each country. However, there was a common theme among all of these practices, which is employee/staff wellbeing. That should be the fundamental theme of any HR practitioner. HR professionals must be strong and influence corporate empathy and generosity where possible, while handling unpredictable calamities. The center focus of HR is building trust among their communities, and most HR professionals internationally did just that.