Employers’ responses to the threat of bio-terrorism are reinforcing the
current trends in employer-employee relations.
Anthrax scares are clearly driving a wide range of further economic
corrections. Lay-offs, falling turnover, and economic uncertainty all have an
impact on how employers view employees and vice versa. Furthermore, since the
late 1990s, the workforce has become globally mobile and universally impatient.
As a result, employers no longer feel a compulsion to completely embrace the
employee, and that feeling is certainly reciprocated, so both have become
disposable to one another.
There has been a sea change in what defines a retaining work environment. For
example, in dealing with mailroom staff amid the anthrax threat, there is afine
line between protecting employees and opting to outsource.
In this climate the HR professional must stay in front of both the CEO and
employees, showing that the company does care, that the company does not take
its obligations to deliver a safe workplace lightly. At the same time, there
has to be a clear understanding that there is only so much a company can do.
Business must go on.
Companies must visibly demonstrate a level of care and concern. This can
manifest itself in a variety of ways – from how you handle employee time off to
risk assessment; from how you deal with the high-potential exec who now wants
to home-school his children, to employees who no longer want to travel.
HR is once again handed an opportunity to seize that elusive "seat at
the table" and show leadership in connecting people with business
One way of protecting people and facilities, while running a tight business,
is ensuring you have the right people on board at the right time. Companies are
increasingly going to tightly manage their workforce in reaction to both
security issues and economic changes.
While tribal memory can be lost in this model, the growing sophistication of
knowledge management systems will ultimately serve to offset the loss. For
employees to accept the approach, it has to be clearly articulated, and
expectations set and managed. The key is to make the risks and rewards visible
to your staff.
There is no doubt that 11 September has brought about a fundamental shift in
work culture. HR teams must show their agility in ensuring the delivery of
appropriate safety precautions, must show their prescience by closely managing
to ensure a retaining work environment, and must show their business savvy in
tightly managing the workforce.
By Lance Richards, Member of the SHRM Global Forum Board and globalhr
Editorial Advisory Board