The past decade has propelled organizations towards preparing for the VUCA world - a world which is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The true test, however, of that preparation has come in the current times through the COVID pandemic. Employees had to suddenly start working from home. Organizations and HR Leaders had to plan for this without a clear view of the duration of this phase.
In a pre-pandemic world, the employee expectations were focused primarily on equitable rewards, fair promotion and a great workplace environment. Post the pandemic, the expectations have shifted drastically and organizations as well as HR Leaders have to re-assess and re-align their approach.
A survey conducted through FYI, which is a health-tech product, by MindMap Advance Research sheds light on what those expectations are.
Measures related to employee health and well-being
The survey shares that 93% of the employees are stressed about returning to the work place. The biggest expectation that has arisen in these past few months is that their organizations should be providing the best solutions for protecting the health of their employees, and ensuring a safe and sanitized workspace. There is also an expectation that the Leaders should be communicating the health guidelines they have implemented before the employees are asked to return. In addition to that, measures such as regular work-from-home provisions, rotational presence in office premises and routine check-ups are also expectations from a growing set of the workforce.
Awareness of this expectation is the first step. In addition to that, HR Leaders and organizations need to proactively identify how they can implement these measures. Finally they need to communicate how they understand these expectations. A few organizations such as Mahindra, pre-empted these to some extent and started extensive employee wellness within a few days of the lockdown. These include sessions with a nutritionist, exercise approach, emotional well-being and so on. Also in order to prepare for the return of the employees many organizations such as Maruti Suzuki, Hindustan Unilever, ITC and several others have develop and launched their in-house apps. These apps are designed to allow them to assess and declare their health status and contacts.
Hindustan Unilever’s HUL COVID-19 Preparedness app went live before the official lockdown in March. Similarly HR teams in Reliance are monitoring employee responses related to their health on a daily basis. Such measures create a higher level of confidence within employees about how their leaders and organizations are committed towards creating a safe and healthy workplace.
Relevance of existing employee benefits
With organizations facing a large degree of economic crisis there have been severe cost optimization measures that are being undertaken. One of the areas that is being revisited is employee benefits. A survey by Ekincare showed how only 50% of the responding organizations felt that their current set of benefits was helpful during this pandemic. Employees expect relevant and new-age benefits in the current situation. There is a need to include benefits that are connected to overall mental well-being and also accessible virtually. There is a need for the current workforce to understand the investments organizations are truly making towards them.
Citi India has initiated COVID-19 support for its employees by providing Rs 18,000, subject to income tax, to each of its employee whose annual base salary is up to Rs 10.8 lakh. In addition to that they have revamped their benefits to include expenses incurred on the treatment of Covid-19 for employees as well as enrolled dependents under insurance, with some provisions. Organizations such as Intuit India, have moved a step ahead by providing specialized learning programs for the children of their employees, since schools are not functional. These are the kind of benefits that employees truly value as we shift into a new world.
The rise and continuation of remote working
When the announcement of the lockdown took place, not many companies were prepared for their entire employee population to work remotely. In the past few months, the individuals as well as their organizations have discovered the positive aspects and benefits of flexible working. That has led to an expectation that there will be changes in policies and practices in the long run which will foster a culture of work-life balance. In many cases, being able to work remotely has allowed the employees to spend time with their families in a more significant way. They will want to be able to continue with that. Employee productivity has also remained high. Some companies have taken cognizance of this and already made announcements. For example, TCS has shared that by 2025, 75% of its current workforce will be working from home. Several organizations have put specific details in place such as infrastructure needed, internet support and other elements, to help employees shift to that model seamlessly. The impact of this need is such that a survey by JLL India, shared how 13-14 % of corporate workforce may continue to work from home permanently even after the pandemic and 65% of the employees responded that they wanted to be able to work from home as well as office. This indicates a paradigm shift in the mindset of employees which is guiding organizations to also adopt future-focused policies.
HR Leaders and organizations, have to begin by understanding these changed expectations. They need to review the entire set of policies, programs and practices they have currently. There are some big aspects to be aware of as they realign the above – the guidelines issued by local and central authorities with respect to employee safety and health, and the presence of a robust business continuity plan. Protecting the core of their business, which is people, has taken precedence and leaders have to create cultures of empathy and acceptance. In addition to that, transparent and frequent communication is a key area to work on. There are several dimensions of employee well-being such as financial, emotional, physical and social which are getting severely impacted. HR Leaders and organizations need to be aware of these dimensions and rework the people strategies to incorporate them.