HR Role in Disaster Management

Flood, fire, earthquake, tornado and windstorm are some ‘Natural Disasters’ that affect thousands of people every year. We need to be prepared to protect ourselves, our family and our organization from these risks. The recent flooding in ‘Chennai’, the capital city of the Indian state of Tamilnadu and the on-going flooding in Britain are some natural calamities our people across the globe are facing now. From a personal perspective there are tremendous losses and difficulties that an individual faces during a natural disaster. Caring for the aged and children, access to household essentials, loss or damages to vehicles, work-related stress, families affected in the neighborhood, all take a severe toll on the mental condition of the individual employee. It is not only the employees who are affected by the natural calamities. Organizations have their own set of difficulties and issues to deal with after a disaster.

Listed below are some of the issues organizations across the globe face after a natural disaster occurs and also some quick solutions which HR can adopt to manage the disaster well. First and foremost issue is “Establishing Communication with Evacuated Workers”. When a calamity strikes, people flee to a place of safety. They would have just carried with them the basic necessities. The communication network would have been damaged across the affected areas and there will be no possible way to reach out to the employees to first check if they are safe. ‘Establishing a Communication Plan’ is the foremost job of the HR when the communication lines are down. They will have to identify ways to keep the lines of communication open with the employees even if power is out in the local community. One way could be to maintain a database of the primary, secondary, and other contact numbers of your employees. They could also consider establishing a toll-free phone line, through which the employees can obtain updated information regarding the company’s status during an emergency.

Also Read: How to choose the right HR Software

The next important issue that organization faces will be related to the ‘Payment of Wages’. The employers could choose to continue their payment of wages to the employees or they could also make a fixed one-time payment to the affected employees. The HR team should clearly communicate the terms of such payment to the employees to avoid confusion. The organization could decide to give the pay as charity during time of distress or an advance amount from the future wages. Whatever it is, communication of the terms is very essential to clear misperceptions as wages are very important to the employees now than any other time.

A well-equipped ‘Business Continuity Plan (BCP)’ is a must to be maintained by the HR team to continue the business operations from different locations that are safe. Employers should consider shifting the affected employees to safer work locations, so that valuable skills and experience are not lost. When employees are forced to shift to different work locations away from their family just to support the business requirements, an additional pay as perk to the employee should be considered, as such a gesture will definitely boost the employee morale and employee engagement with the organization.
‘Medical Insurance Coverage’ is yet another important aspect which the HR team has to focus on. Many affected employees use medical insurance to assist them with the recovery after disaster. The HR team could make the important benefit information easily accessible to all the employees by flashing the information in their company website or make it available through communication centers in places where the employees are working.

The ‘Leave Policies’ crafted by the HR should be ‘Flexible’ enough considering the physical and mental trauma the employees must have undergone during the natural disaster. The leave policies should be crafted with extreme care so as to provide the employees the confidence that they will not lose out on their job if they are not able to return to work immediately soon after they are affected by a disaster. On a brighter note, they could also encourage the employees in other non-affected areas to donate their few days of leave to the affected employees. This way the affected employee will get a paid leave, the organization will not face much of a business loss and its non-affected employees will also have the satisfaction of helping their co-worker.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) can also be planned. Most of the employees who have been a victim of the natural disasters would have gone through both physical and mental trauma. To help them overcome the trauma and return to normalcy in their personal as well as professional life, the assistance program will be of great help. The HR folks should ensure that their employees are aware of such facilities in their organization.

Natural disasters and other major crises not only disrupt the operations of a business, but they also have a huge impact on the lives of employees. In most organizations, crisis management focus on systems, operations and infrastructure rebuild with people last on the priority list. My humble thought is that HR team should consider the employees as their top most priority as they are essential for business recovery. Not only that, employers have a moral duty to protect their employees as well as the integrity of the business.

Employers can encourage employees to volunteer in disaster relief and rehabilatation programs in the vicinity. Even an hour of community service will help the neighbourhood return to normalcy soon. Employers may also suggest financial and material contributions from employees to aid the displaced and provide an equal match to encourage giving.

Have you been in a crisis situation recently? What other steps would you recommend to organizations and individuals to deal with disasters and recover quickly?

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