HR - Human Resource Contribution to Crisis Management

By Marc Ronez, Managing Director, Asia Risk Management Institute
05 December 2008

A Key Role in Employee Protection and Business Sustainability

Crises can occur at any time and HR has to take the lead in protecting the welfare and safety of affected employees.

Natural disasters such as the Asian tsunami, oil spills, political turmoil, corporate frauds, terrorism, workplace accidents and health concerns such as pandemic flu are some threats that could affect your organization and employees and in turn cause disastrous impact on your business.

The challenge of identifying, preventing, and managing crisis events has become a critical concern for many organizations.

Don't wait for something terrible to happen to learn just how unprepared you and your employees are. There is always a human side to a crisis as people might get hurt physically and/or psychologically. Unfortunately, one of the critical errors in crisis management planning is the strong tendency to focus attention and efforts on systems, operations, infrastructure and public relations, with people coming in last on the list of concerns and hence often ending up neglected.

This is a serious problem as organizations need to pay greater attention to the impact of critical events on employees, their families and the community as a whole for one simple reason: business recovery cannot occur without motivated employees.

For organizations with inadequate HR crisis plan in place, the effects of any crisis on your workforce could be catastrophic and might include:

  • Loss of key staff and knowledge
  • Absenteeism & high turnover
  • Underperforming staff with lowered morale and lack of motivation
  • Rocketing health benefits costs
  • HR-related legal concerns and costly litigations
  • Negative publicity for the organization and badly damaged reputation
  • Immediate emergency guidance, aid and assurance of safety
  • Clear information, leadership and reassurance
  • Understanding and ongoing psychological support during and after the crisis
  • Post-crisis support for rapid return to normalcy
Looking at the Human Side of Crisis Management Is Good For Business

Today's business environment requires a robust, enterprise-wide plan to deal with crises. Company reputation and brand, as well as the trust and loyalty of stakeholders, are all critical factors at stake during a crisis.

Crisis management is a major issue that HR leaders should take charge proactively of because they are the primary caretaker of employee welfare and motivation. HR is in the best position to ensure that an organization’s human capital can be preserved and can continue to create value under any circumstance.

HR can play this strategic role in organizational sustainability through advance preparation which includes safety and security initiatives to help prepare and reassure employees, leadership development, talent management and solid communication plans to support effective crisis management.

Defining HR's Role in Crisis Management

HR leaders have a strategic role and responsibility to ensure their organizations are aware of internal vulnerabilities on the human side to different types of crises and to ensure their crisis management plan covers all potential risks and concerns.

To be included as a strategic partner in crisis management, with other functions such as risk management and business continuity management, HR professionals have to understand and speak the "lingo" of crisis management.

HR has the opportunity to ascertain that the human capital is taken care of in all crisis management and business continuity plans. HR could offer real value protection or enhancement through deliverables such as crisis communication plans, crisis resource planning, safety and security training, talent management and succession planning.

In partnership with other organizational leaders, HR can develop an infrastructure for crisis management by motivating the company's human capital to support what need to be done. The support and commitment that an organization will need from its employees during and after a crisis can only be facilitated by HR professionals who understand the business and employees’ concerns.

Hence, HR professionals can influence the organizational culture and capabilities to provide effective leadership before, during and after a crisis.

Preparing Human Capital For Crisis

Effective crisis response requires an understanding of what people need from management, and how to provide it. Following a disaster, beyond the obvious basic survival, employees and their family members need:

In developing a crisis management plan to provide for these needs, HR directly creates value for the bottom line by minimizing potential damages and downtime.

Some recommended strategic and practical steps regarding crisis management planning: Action Purpose Set up in advance a Humanitarian Response Team To ensure adequate attention to human needs in the wake of a disaster Establish a diagnostic of the human side vulnerability of your organization to crisis To identify and prepare specifically for crisis scenarios affecting employees Develop HR policies and procedures specifically related to crisis management To avoid panic ad hoc actions and to ensure effective delivery of crisis-related human services Provide training to address specifically, and only, the human side of what happens during a crisis To provide employees with an opportunity to understand and learn to cope with the effect of stress and traumatic events Conduct crisis simulation exercises To train and program employees to know what to do during a crisis Establish an online resource with information about crisis management, employee benefits and other employee-related policies and programs linked to crisis. To provide employees with 24-hour easily accessible information and communication means

Additionally, a number of other activities may be necessary such as to protect and backup HR records, to identify and reserve emergency office space and to provide sufficient manpower for business recovery.

Where Do You Start?

To be most effective, HR leaders should work collaboratively with other key organizational functions involved in crisis management such as risk management and business continuity management, build the case and obtain top management commitment to support the development of enterprise-wide crisis readiness plans that fully integrate the human side of crisis.

Marc Ronez is the Managing Director of the Asia Risk Management Institute (ARiMI). He is an expert in risk decision-making and crisis management.