The new coronavirus puts disaster plans top of mind for all business leaders, none more so than HR. Large-scale outbreaks of such dangerous diseases threaten employees directly — as individuals and cumulatively as a workforce.
The top priority for HR: Put people first. As in the SARS, MERS and H1N1 outbreaks, the latest coronavirus generates uncertainty, fear and anxiety — especially if employees think they could be exposed at work.
HR leaders can’t wait for a crisis to develop to start responding. You need answers now to questions you’ll face.
“When SARS spread to four continents in 2003, executives at several companies told us that managing employees’ concerns and questions was one of the most time-consuming associated activities,” says Brian Kropp, Distinguished Vice President, Gartner.
Employees worry about more than their physical safety; they worry about the potential disruptions to their own work and wonder how the organization plans to manage its operations.
Let local HR managers make decisions
The outbreak of this coronavirus (named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization) may never become a pandemic, it remains a major disruption that can affect your global operations for months. Still, outbreaks affect some regions more rapidly and severely than others, so give local HR managers leeway to react independently.
It’s up to global HR to provide timely and accurate information to local teams, but let local HR teams evaluate triggers for actions and make their own time-sensitive critical decisions, such as office closures.
Also pay special attention to the role of HR’s global mobility and expatriate services teams. When crises occur, these teams may be called upon to repatriate employees, either temporarily or permanently. Set expectations for communication and response times, and define clear roles for each member of these teams during a crisis. Many organizations periodically run crisis scenarios to evaluate their readiness before a real event occurs.
Know what's needed to keep the lights on
Any outbreak strikes directly at your most valuable asset — your employees — and could last for months, so at the very least, plan for absenteeism. When your organization develops an impact analysis, work with your partners in risk management and business operations to determine which roles are necessary for the organization to function. Two key steps to take:
Be prepared to answer these 10 questions
HR leaders can’t wait for a crisis to develop to start responding. You need answers now to questions you’ll face in the event of any large-scale outbreak.
Prepare to answer basic employees questions about the threat: What is the nature of the disease? How is it transmitted? What are its symptoms, and what healthcare precautions are appropriate? Have answers for logistical questions, such as whether employees can work from home or what to do if an infected employee comes to work?
More broadly, to ensure that employees, shareholders and other stakeholders believe the organization is prepared to handle a crisis, make sure you can answer these 10 questions:
The original article by Brian Kropp, distinguished vice president at Gartner, is here. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HR&DigitalTrends. Photo credit: iStockphoto/Yurich84