LEAVE… LEAVE IT (to me) amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

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A Thiru, ex-President – Corporate HR at JK Organisation (EZ) joins Cadila Pharmaceuticals Limited as Global President- Human Resources.
A Thiru, ex-President – Corporate HR at JK Organisation (EZ) joins Cadila Pharmaceuticals Limited as Global President- Human Resources.

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting many lives worldwide and India is no exception. While the Government of India and the various State Governments are doing their best enabling the people to adjust and learn to live with the Corona, this article attempts to discuss Leave facilities of the fortunate people who still are having their names in the payroll of their respective organizations.

While there is a huge issue of migrant labor which is getting addressed by various governmental and non-governmental agencies and steps are being taken for a smooth return to their workplaces, treating this period subject to a limit as Days Worked for the purpose of leave eligibility for the next year can be a good gesture.

Special Care vs. Cost Control

Some of the State Governments have considered special Sick Leave with pay for 50 years plus employees exhibiting care and concern. This is indeed a welcome move and timely help. On the other hand, in another State, it is learned that the encashment of earned leave has been denied and postponed to show off their financial prudence. Some meddled with DA as well. Cost compression initiatives are fine in general, but not necessarily at this juncture.

Pay Cuts and Withholding Increments

Some companies have started involuntary separations giving just bare minimum pay in lieu of notice and some force their employees to resign. Pay cuts are becoming the new normal and imposed ruthlessly even at the bottom of the pyramid.

While survival of the enterprise is a must, leaders at the top and CHROs must think through and implement pay cuts only as a last resort. Pay cuts can be made voluntary also and instead of deferring the increments, one can look at offering controlled merit increment instead of deferring the increment and adjust the balance in the future once back to normal.

Forced Leave

As employees are learning and adjusting to work from home due to the pandemic impact, causing severe adjustment issues at home, a few not so employee-friendly companies have started imposing “forced leave” so that the accumulated leave over the years is drained out completely and they are fully ready to work without taking any leave next year.

This is unlikely to create the right impact as the individual employee has no option but to comply with the requirement. This also can possibly create a feeling that one has suddenly become worthless and expected to be trustworthy and value creator for the future. While individual employee loses his/her respect for the time being, the organization loses its reputation forever. Therefore, one needs to be extremely careful in imposing these kinds of temporary solutions and miss the forest for the trees.

Customary Benefits

While organizations need to adhere to laws related to Earned Leave, Sick Leave, Casual Leave, Maternity Leave etc., some organizations who have given leave over and above the statutory requirements have started thinking of pruning those. These should not be touched as any customary benefit given, can’t be unilaterally withdrawn. While such withdrawals can give a sense of ego satisfaction and one can win a few minds temporarily but lose several hearts forever.

Exploit Potential, not Situation

During the Financial crisis last decade, as a member of the Executive Committee at Vedanta Resources, I was part of the various deliberations including pay cuts and while I emphasized that if needed to be done, it should be above a certain level and should be voluntary and be treated as confidential.

The Chairman commented, “I do not want families of our employees to suffer“ and diverted the entire discussions towards how to make significant savings through re-negotiating contracts signed for our ongoing large projects rather than insignificant saving through salary cuts. This propelled us for assembling high potential young teams and empowering them to deliver. Thus the potential of employees was exploited; hidden gems unearthed and empowered resulting in significant achievements which created a greater impact.

No Easy Way Out

While employees by and large are reconciled to the current situation that while several others have lost their jobs and livelihoods, at least we have a job and should be content to swallow whatever amendments are being imposed, the CHROs should not take the Easy Way Out by amending the Leave Rules in a manner that is not fair to employees. The real differentiator is going to be, even during tough times how one can be empathetic and find solutions to the problems in an unconventional manner so there is no dent in the organizational image.

Best Way Forward

The best way forward is to trust employees and allow them to decide at least for the next 12 months, which suits best for them and the organization at large. Instead of imposing compulsory leave, let the benevolent mindset of employers prevail over frugal cost-cutting exercise and involve employees to resolve the issue with a progressive outlook keeping in mind, Country First, Company Next philosophy.

“Voluntary surrender is an option wherein employees are not compelled but inspired to surrender their leave at their will. The organization should not by design compare and evaluate employees based on this data.”

Donating leave is another option where some progressive companies encouraged this even before Covid-19 days. This will reinforce a collaborative work culture and unpatrolled team spirit which cannot be bought or outsourced.

Thus if the organization desires a fixed number of days to be conserved for the future, they can very well adapt the above mutually beneficial arrangement.

Double the Paternity Leave

One can go a step further to enhance Maternity Leave during this period and more importantly double the Paternity Leave. This will be considered as a model to emulate in view of the restrictions on travel – be it overseas or interstate /intrastate e pass related problems being faced. This timely help will be remembered for decades not only by the employee and his family but by the society in and around. I would genuinely recommend this at this critical juncture.

Outward Focus

The top management and CHROs need to focus on much larger issues on how to become more agile and innovative while embracing the inevitable New Normal and yet be globally competitive, rather than scratching the surface like leave rules and pay cuts.

As mentioned above, we must focus our energies on exploiting the true potential and moving in the best way forward rather than exploiting the situation and taking an easy way out.

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