The HR dilemma

The last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic have seen multiple changes in the field of human resources (HR). This has happened at local, national and global levels. The problem is that with the confusion created by a term like “global HR”, the reference to global HR is often a generalization of the experiences of a certain part of the English-speaking world. But the blinders many people wear only allow them to see change in the areas that matter, not always in the areas that support them.

Overall, we look at a small window. In reality, the world is bigger than ours. The business sector represents a small percentage of the employability scenario. The data that people work on is often drawn solely from this sector. This is how generalization is based on perceptions. It is not necessary to dispute this, but it is necessary to understand that the word “global” is used in a loose sense.

There are other problems of definition and understanding. When we talk about employability, we must bear in mind that a large part of the rural and agricultural sector earns its living independently. Much of the service sector, such as blacksmiths, mechanics, shoemakers and even domestic helpers, is in freelance mode. There is little data on this.

Second, what has changed in the HR scenario often focuses on business changes and challenges. Few experimental data are available. The changing HR scenario is a broader issue. Take the hospitality industry. Some of them are located in prime locations in multi-storey buildings in major metropolitan centers. Using this example, empirically, one notices that many hotels housed in these places have a fractured existence. They have outsourced catering, laundry, transportation and sometimes even medical care. There are occasions when a client who falls ill has to find a doctor for himself. Such cases have been rare in the past. Clearly, much of the hospitality industry is changing. What hurts profits and what cannot be absorbed has been changed. Empirically, this creates unusual experiences for the user.

One wonders if despite the adversities, there were disguised opportunities during the pandemic that could have benefited certain groups. The truth is that there is no total opportunity or total loss. In the worst situations, there is always an environment where benefits emerge. Also with the Covid pandemic there are benefits, but often in a limited sectoral sense. They often manifest themselves in terms of profitability and growth. For example, the pandemic has benefited the pharmaceutical sector and the e-commerce industry. After nearly two years of spending on video conferencing and online meetings, the first experience of physical meetings is viewed differently. In fact, no situation was a total winner. The same goes for the pandemic. Some facets of the business have won and others have lost.

An example in the IT sector may be useful. The question is the future nature of this sector. Will distance always be taken into account in sales, time investment? The second question is that of HR. Will it be changed? In reality, nothing has changed except the location of employees during working hours: Do they work at home or in the office?

The third issue may be the system of evaluation, performance and interpersonal exchanges. Companies should examine the structure of the system. It is obvious that the valuation assumptions will have to be re-examined. The focus will have to be shifted to a new work environment.

We often hear that the HR sector must change when the Covid-19 takes hold and then readjust with the lifting of the pandemic. However, the disease is here to stay. From pandemic, it can become endemic. People will have to get used to it.

The disease affected organized work style in several ways, including job design. Employment externalities have changed in many ways. Those who are not savvy, intelligent and familiar with electronics are abandoned to work-ghetto spaces. This is a significant proportion of the workforce. Simple things like the number of documents that now need to be uploaded for each online service are exponential. Such a push to make money on the electronic platform is immense. It gives the aura of movement in the right direction.

In this context, the upcoming 49th IFTDO World Conference, taking place in New Delhi in May, is a very valuable effort that should be watched and replicated. The HR fraternity is big and we talk about scenarios that number in the thousands and counting. While it might be said that the HR fraternity is too big a scenario for a single conference to answer all the questions, such efforts are helpful in keeping the issues alive. Hopefully the conference will have an impact. The impact on the business world will be significant.

The 49th IFTDO, due to its global nature, involved experts from the United States, North African countries, the Arab world, Australia, to name a few. The perceived impact at this stage is ambitious. However, it will be a forum to raise several topics of interest. What is important is that it would be an opportunity to interact globally and to bring back a message.

In summary, as the pandemic tends to become endemic, it is clear that the focus of many management functions like HR will need to change. Design issues will arise and livelihoods will be affected. The facets are many. We must resist the temptation to generalize. It will be an ongoing situation. It will be necessary to ensure that a new type of poverty does not replace the existing deprivation.

(Views expressed in the article are for BW People publication only by Dr Vinayshil Gautam, FRAS (London), IFTD President Emeritus, Steering Committee Chair, 49th IFTDO World Conference.)