IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON;

In the second conversation of our reflectional series about the impact of COVID-19 on our ways of living and working, Re!gnite Africa hosted Mr. Joseph Ajal, a Human Resources Professional and CEO of Precision HR and Secretary-General of the Human Resources Managers Association of Uganda, to discuss the current state of human resources and explore opportunities employees and organizational leaders can make use of. Given the future uncertain for many employees, and many struggling to keep organizations running, are there human-resource-related opportunities for those in employment and small businesses? Mr. Ajal helps us make sense of this and more through the recommendations below.

For many of us, when talking about human resources, our mind quickly runs to that department that carries the most blessed or wretched news in any organization. We tend to look at it from afar forgetting we are the human resource. The human capital on which the organization/company runs. Since the time of lockdown, we have been forced to take on new forms of work. To some, work is at the workplace which means, you cannot carry it home. To others you had to carry you tools-of-trade home with you. By tools, I mean that laptop, tablet, or phone that you use to do your work. To others, the essential ones, you have to show up for work.

However, this new normal also affects the employers as much – or even more – as the employees. They too are home. This means if work is at the workplace, they too are not working which raises many questions.

The number one struggle for everyone in all this is to stay healthy and alive. Even with the targets at hand, the magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis is still a shocker. Everyone has been affected by the lockdown. We need to be empathetic.  The first target now is to make sure that everyone is safe wherever they are along with their families. It is important, for every employer out there, to check in on their staff on a daily basis.

Mr. Joseph Ajal

Joseph Ajal

There has never been a better time than there is now for all employers, at all levels to be very honest with their employees. No matter the situation at hand, let them know, they too understand.  Like they say, with every cloud is a silver lining. This pandemic too comes with a silver lining. For employers, it is the best time to adapt to technology at all levels. This pandemic has made it a reality that not all work requires one to physically show up at their desk. Some work can be done effectively but remotely. That should be a new normal.

  1. Employees have a chance to prove that they are tech-savvy too. If your employer provides you the tools-of-trade, then it is your turn to make maximum use of them. That calls you to be at the top of your game to give results and not reasons. If the tools have been provided, make maximum use of them for the job productivity.
  2. Employees in the essential workgroup have been presented with a challenge of proving their work readiness amidst all circumstances. Skills such as digital, marketing, branding, e-commerce, and all the platforms where other people Aare running to have been presented with an opportunity to put their best foot forward. There is a huge demand right now for such services.
  3. However, it goes without mention that this is the right time for you to add on to your skills. Use this time to learn a thing or two on tech or anything in your line of work because unlike before, we all have some extra time on our hands, use it to better yourself.

What do you need to adapt?

When it comes to Human Capital/ Resource, you cannot do away with agility. Not every industry is essential during this covid-19 time. The aviation industry has been affected the most. It is on a total close down. This means that all the other service providers which feed on the aviation industry are equally on a close down from ticketing and booking to tours and travel and the entire hotel and leisure industry. The industry was having issues before the pandemic, it is now worse. In the US alone, over 33 million jobs have been lost so far. Agility calls for the ability able to find alternatives.

How can small businesses negotiate current challenges to keep in business?

For those running small businesses, it is prudent that more than before you become extra frugal and pragmatic with your payments. For you to stay in operation for now and the unforeseen future, you must be ahead of your game. The biggest impediment to all businesses right now is cash. This is the time to make sure that your expenses are lower than your inflows- if you still have them. This is not the right time to go in for debt unless it is unavoidable.

But before you go into debt, consider the following options:

  • Negotiate with your landlord for example to allow you pay in the future.
  • URA has a provision for delaying tax payment. This does not mean evade. You can only delay your payment.
  • If you have to get credit; do not go to money lenders. Go to established financial institutions and check with the various options available.
  • Involve your employees in the goings-on in the company. Let them know. In case you are not able to provide for their full salaries, talk to them and make the effort to meet their other expenses like medical, counsel and check on them.
  • You need to do a cost benefit analysis on whether to let your company collapse or liquidate your fixed accounts. Do not commit to a financial suicide by insisting on paying employees if your industry has been affected. Instead of committing to full payment, negotiate for a reduced salary payment. That is better than laying them off. Remember they too understand what is going on.

What best practices can organizational and business leaders adapt during this season?

Have meetings with all the employees on a daily basis. If there is reduced or no work, ask them to take leave and negotiate on the pay. The most important thing is to make sure no one loses their job that could have been saved.  In case you are laying off people, do it the right way. Follow the laws for guidance.

Do not make the mistake many are already making of contributing to charity without paying the employees. There is nothing wrong with charity. In times like these, companies are being tested through their CSR. Companies should however get their priorities right. Before you go for charity, you have an obligation to your employees. If you contribute to charity before paying their salaries, you are getting priorities twisted. Donate what you can afford but meet your staff obligations first.

If you provide essential services, the employer should provide a safe working space fully equipped with safety measures like sanitizer, masks, gloves and all manner of gear to make it a safe working place.

For those looking for new opportunities, this too is the right time. Make yourself available. Go to where you can be found. The internet has you covered. If it is a professional job, you are looking for, make sure you have an updated LinkedIn account. If you are running a business with products to sell or a service you provide Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will do you well. Social media is the new business directory.

As a business, investing in HR is not a choice. Invest in your staff even in this season. Mentor them, help them grow. Employees are better with you when they are better themselves. No one knows when life will return to normal- if at all it does. But one thing is for certain, the time to be tech-savvy as an individual or entity is now. Utilize it to the best of your ability.  Be agile.

Do not be resistant to change. Look out for opportunities. Find out extra income streams, use the time for learning. Invest in your mental health and physical exercise. Do whatever you can to stay safe. Noah was on the ark for a whole year, he had to adapt to living with all those animals on a daily. Adopt a positive mindset to stay alive. Avoid the stress that results in fighting. In all things, make peace with yourself. Invest in a healthy state of mind, pick up your phone and talk to someone today.

This interview was transcribed by Kangye David.

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