Employee Relations

Aug 25, 2021 10 min read

HR at New Normal Work Stations


Since the arrival of the Covid19 Pandemic, the industrial landscape in India has been witnessing unprecedented changes in respect of carrying out business processes differently. The virus at its onslaught, not only crippled the Nation but also threatened Industrial communities and its stakeholders by eroding the revenues, heightening psychological fear among workforces, uncertainty regarding the return of normalcy in near future. The threat to public sector undertakings in India was of a little different nature. Unlike other business houses like Software, BPOs, Telecom etc., these multi-product multi-divisional undertakings were engaged in mammoth manufacturing activities, procured raw materials from a basket of countries. In respect of its very nature of carrying out business transactions, fewer people working in these undertakings had the exposure of working remotely and running the businesses from home which the visionary leaders of PSUs identified long back. This understanding was translated into action by converting the PSUs into information system savvy organizations. Various tools like very private network (VPN) connections were provided to employees to access company portals from home and access to SAP, strong policies on subsidy/loans for buying desktop/laptops were devised, mobile application-based software for employees was launched, online-based approval systems for expenditure etc. has been placed. During the last couple of years, we have seen Maharatna PSUs devising self-learning portals, organizing web-based functional quizzes, recognizing learners at different forums. Investment of Capital in form of constructing world-class learning and development centres with video conferencing facilities were executed to carry out cost-effective functional meetings across the country and to connect employees and learned faculties across educational institutions for online classroom exposures.

Against this backdrop, the Covid19 pandemic hit India with unprecedented ferocity and PSU workforces responded to this threat with the utmost professional and competitive way.

An aspect of Conduct and Discipline

Successful adoption of new normal norms arising out of a pandemic by the majority of workforces is the success story of a resilient HR of Public Sector Undertakings. With the proven capability of carrying out work from home by the majority of the employees, the new Mantra of Flexi home working has come up with new opportunities and challenges for Human Resource practitioners. The attractive proposition that the business can be performed cost-effectively while working from home had made management thinkers excited enough to devise new ways and means. But with the heightened opportunities, the danger is also lurking in the dark.

It begins with the fact that like all real-life offices, work from home set up is also required to conform with accepted conduct and discipline norms on part of both employee and employer, between peers, colleagues, members of a team, manager-subordinate etc. in a day to day working. Keeping in mind that discipline is a controlled behaviour and conduct is related to the act or method of controlling, PSUs must be future-ready to include provisions of approved behaviour and misconduct suitably in their Conduct, Discipline and Appeal Rules.

To understand the conflict situation at the virtual office, we need to delve into the psychological aspect of people while working from home. The reference point of evaluating each other takes a new dimension when the setup of real-life office shifts to the home front. A few causes of conflict ( depicted as challenges) are,

Challenge 1: people experiencing social isolation at home.

Challenge 2: manager, subordinates not sure of productivity levels.

Challenge 3: distractions in a home office.

Challenge 4: merging boundaries between home and work life.

Challenge 5: workers not fully attuned to the ‘work from home’ concept.

Challenge 6: undue long hours of work.

Challenge 7: the notional aspect of  people  not really ‘working’ at home.

Challenge 8: mental harassment and biases against selective employees.

The Conflict

The level of conflict arising out of the above factors can be very damaging for the organization as it will lead to unwanted IR issues and low employee morale. As the Corporations are presently not ready with the draft of adequate monitoring of WFH approved behaviour and remote working rules, this may only complicate the issues of alleged harassment. The identification of mental harassment in a virtual workspace is a gargantuan task because it is sometimes subtle and implied and difficult to prove in a quasi-judicial Inquiry process. The terms like ableism (discrimination in respect of abilities), ageism ( discrimination in respect of age) are fast getting popularity as harassment tools in the digital workspace.

Adoption of new technologies may be somewhat slower for older employees, which can invite ageist comments and harassment and sometimes failing to work remotely due to lack of working tools or installation issues may bring bullying remarks comparing someone with a disabled person. This is where the human resource functions of PSU 2.0, should act proactively with a mind of compassion. It has become the need of the hour that the mindset of the remotely conducted meeting manager, group members are to be shifted radically in line with the compassionate psychological traits. 

What we can change

Confusion and misplaced ideas can only be eradicated by organizing extensive digital workshops on the subject of expected behaviours in a virtual workspace. Breaking the prototype wherever possible by intermittent ice-breaking sessions can include a silent member of a group in the mainstream discussion. This will lessen the tension in a group by leveraging the potential of the left-out members who earlier perceived themselves as side stage actors. This will create an equitable structure where everyone can place their story without fear of harassing remarks

Prioritizing work-life balance by promoting a sense of autonomy and trust is the need of the hour. Almost all employees work more effectively when they feel a sense of autonomy and trust.  The concept of availing entitled leaves gets blurred while working from home. It is where HR is required to intervene to ensure that leaves are availed by employees and they are not overworked. Creating a culture where employees generally communicate in public, open channels increase accountability and reduces the likelihood of harassing actions or comments. Similarly including more people in video meetings and email threads can make sure that technology itself is as inclusive as possible to employee needs

Along with cutting down the root causes of conflict, the future HR must devise new systems and procedure to effectively deal with disciplinary issues arising out of these conflicts. The stepping stone would be to suitably include work from home and digital harassment clause in the Conduct Discipline and Appeal Rules. The necessity to be an information system based HR is the need of the hour to place a trouble-free, well-monitored, all-inclusive digital propriety platform for all functional group.

At the end of the day, Human Resouce for PSU 2.0- leading with compassion is human first and resource later.



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Comments (1)

Roshan Charles Minz

Very nicely written.....

  • 01 Sep 2021

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