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The Essential Role Of Human Resources Amidst COVID-19

The role of the human resources teams has never been more crucial to drive positive sustainable business value for the tourism and hospitality industry.

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The global pandemic led to the tourism and hospitality industry facing unprecedented challenges, for both their business and their people.

As more people stayed home, travel spending saw drastic reductions. However, this also fuelled a significant transformation and growth in the way people have adopted a digital way of life. The pandemic has, today, changed the way people work, learn, communicate and in general, conduct their lives. Health and safety have taken priority, remote work has become the norm and more people have embraced technology in their daily lives.

This has accelerated the need for businesses to pivot swiftly to align to the changing realities by utilising technology for operational efficiencies and becoming more empathetic towards the welfare of their workforce.

While, the pandemic gave more flexible work opportunities for staff (viz., work from anywhere), it also gave challenges for an HR manager. Earlier metrics for evaluation of an employee’s output had to be aligned with the work from home culture. What became critical for the HR was to ensure productivity, manage employee’s stress, continue the engagement and team work.

Changed landscape in the new normal

Given the environment of uncertainty, not only were fresh hirings delayed last year, many organisations reduced workforce too, to stay afloat. This has led to transitioning to leaner and more efficient operations for, where a balance between smart and skilled labour is now sought after. HR, during such times played a critical role of keeping the morales of its staff high and instilled the idea of multi-tasking more rigorously.

Last year, many front-line and temporary staff migrated in large numbers to their native areas, with few of them returning with alternative daily jobs in other industries. In some states, the impact has also been felt by permanent workers where companies have had to cut costs. This could potentially lead to a mass shortage of skilled and temporary workforce which may not recover unless confidence is reinforced by industry leaders and governments alike. The role of the human resources leader has become paramount, with the need to adopt a more compassionate approach towards the workforce. By demonstrating care and empathy, coupled with business confidence from management, human resources leaders encouraged staff loyalty, thereby creating a better value proposition for their employees.

Adapting in uncertain times

HR leaders have been concerned about health and well-being of staff in a world where new variants of the coronavirus pandemic keeps challenging their ways of working.

Many HR departments have swiftly pivoted to embrace technology to keep their staff motivated, productive and engaged by offering flexible working hours and conducting online team building activities. Furthermore, healthcare of workers has undergone a rethink, where standard care duties for organisations have been supplemented with insurance and other benefits. Contingency plans have been revised to provide for situations where certain workers with specific critical skill sets may no longer be available.

As more companies in the hospitality and tourism industry transition and adapt to these changing trends, it is also important to review human resources strategies when it comes to retaining skilled employees, managing operations as well as considering hiring staff as they recover during this year.

Reviewing strategies & showing empathy

The human resources function needs to care for their people and associates so that they can care for customers, in turn building loyalty. Continuously building motivation and instilling positive sentiment among the workforce is critical for staff retention and performance.

Companies in the hospitality industry often compete for talent against employers in other industries for similar skilled talent. With mass migration of workforce particularly in a post-Covid19 world, human resources teams need to cast a wider net and look for talent from other industries. As such, attracting talent can become difficult if companies are unable to demonstrate positive reputation as employers. A strong employer brand can give HR leaders an edge when times are tough.

With gradual unlocking in various states post the second wave, tourist places have also started opening up. Most hotels have started vaccinating their staff and needless to say, HR is playing an important role in this regard.

Saving costs in the short-medium term but optimise for the long-term

Managing cash flows during such times became the lifeline for many players to survive, in the short-to-medium term. However, this was done in a way that allowed many companies to recover swiftly once demand revived. Since staff costs is one of the higher contributors to operating expenses for the hospitality industry, the role of the human resources team is critical in aiding this process.

Identifying core staff and optimising overall labour force can lead to improved productivity, especially when coupled with a humane approach. As the world  opens up, the HR function needs to re-adjust their hiring plans with tentative re-opening and ramping up of occupancy levels. They need to re-train staff, particularly those that require specific skill sets in different functions. This is crucial lest businesses end up facing acute shortage of labour which could otherwise lead to increase in labour cost percentages.

Training of staff has a positive impact through better customer experience and revenue growth through upselling, while at the same time also enhances employee productivity. Upskilling and retaining current staff to make operations leaner is better than trying to minimise new hire costs, in the longer-term.

The role of the human resources teams has never been more crucial to drive positive sustainable business value for the tourism and hospitality industry. While challenges persist, there also opportunities to get creative with a combination of compassionate approach, operational efficiencies, re-skilling and training of staff that can drive better customer experiences, thereby ensuring successful business continuity.

The author is Vice President & Company Secretary, TFCI Ltd.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Sanjay Ahuja

The author is Vice President & Company Secretary, TFCI Ltd.

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