Surviving Round 2: Human resources mitigating the impact of the pandemic

This pandemic, unlike the last global recession over a decade ago, is primarily a human crisis. And the reaction to it, therefore must be people-first


As the COVID-19 Pandemic continues to ravage across the country and cries for assistance ring through our social media, there is a looming sense of isolation and helplessness in both personal and by extension, professional lives too. This pandemic, unlike the last global recession over a decade ago, is primarily a human crisis. And the reaction to it, therefore, must be people-first. 

The unprecedented magnitude of the pandemic has inadvertently jumpstarted many developmental and digitization plans that would have normally taken many more years to become industry norms. From a headfirst adoption of technology, digital learning, prioritizing employees’ emotional and mental wellbeing to introducing greater flexibility in working styles and hiring to name a few.   

How to process the Second Wave?  

With restrictions on mobility and travel, the hospitality and travel industries have been worse hit. Reports on the Impact of the Pandemic on Hospitability Industry in July 2020 showed that 60% of the hotel operators surveyed believed that it would take 13 to 24 months for their portfolio to bounce back to 2019 RevPAR (revenue per available rooms) levels. It becomes important to note, that these predictions were made before the more punishing second wave of the Coronavirus in India.   

Talking to BW People, Jacob Peter, CHRO of Sterling Holiday Resorts anticipates the struggle for the hospitality industry will be long and hard on revenue and operations. He said,

“Another major challenge that we could expect in the foreseeable future is the increased cost of revised operations. Considering the new norms of safety, hygiene, re-designing of in-room and outdoor activities, sanitation, and new practices like contact-less service, these factors will create a strain on the already shrunken revenue until the demand for travel is back.”  

On the other side of the spectrum, the increased digitization helped Neobanks flourish. While their learnings might not have been revenue-pressed, organizational culture and employee wellbeing have become important concerns.  Chitbhanu Nagri, Senior Vice President People Operations at Razorpay expects that this challenge will continue into the second wave, and we should be prepared for it. 

He added,

“We have been equally surprised by the impact that "wave 2" has had on the emotional wellness of employees. It is high time to move beyond "corporate wellness/counselling programs" and leverage direct managers and human resources teams as flag bearers of advising employees on their emotional wellness. More than professional competence, we need genuine empathy and a personal touch which only a direct colleague can offer.”  

Lessons Learnt  

The Future of Talent survey by LinkedIn revealed that many companies are warming up to the idea of a remote workforce, changing the traditional workforce structure. Talent is no more limited by geography and the reduced costs seem sensible to many. Almost 50 per cent of companies believed a hybrid workforce will help future-proof their organisation against future crises and help save fixed costs. The priorities in a mix of remote and in-office employees are more towards productivity and mental wellbeing.   

Keeping the above conditions in mind, Nagri pointed out two key learnings - 

“I believe we were collectively overoptimistic after ‘wave 1’ tapered down. There was a general assumption that COVID was on its way out. Hence, the general precautions and employee advisories got relaxed over time. Big learning has been to be prepared to assume a "worst-case" scenario and not let the guard down. The second important learning has been to put a much more concerted focus towards optimizing productivity in a remote-first environment. There is a lot of anxiety around higher work stress and extended working hours… I believe organizations need to skim beyond the surface and resolve (or at least improve) the root causes leading to higher stress and burnout.”  

Jacob Peter too echoes the sentiment that the pandemic has shifted focus to people.  He said,

“One thing which could have been addressed better earlier was the importance of mental health of employees across sectors…Organisations would be better advised to proactively create a positive environment and provide resources that allow the staff to consistently manage their stress and build resilience to nurture an optimistic mindset”  

The road posts the first pandemic might be riddled with lessons but it is not over. And Human Resource Departments are uniquely positioned to lead this change of pace for the ‘Future of Work’. The pandemic presents an opportunity to rebuild and redesign HR and shape the future of talent and operations.  


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