The Way Forward – Top three HR Learnings from COVID-19 Crisis Management

In June we had the pleasure of hosting a follow up webinar with the Mitsubishi UFJ Group on some of the key HR learnings and initiatives in Japan over the last few months. A big thanks to Angus MacGregor, Deputy General Manager of Global Human Resources for opening the door into how MUFG has been operating and for leading the conversation. We were also grateful to have the additional perspectives of Taeko Kawano, Director and Corporate Officer, Human Resources and General Affairs – Japan, Baxter Limited, David Karpelowitz, Senior HR Director, Western Digital, and Yoko Shiroyama, HR Projects Director, Zurich Australia.

Although each presenter had their own unique systems for tackling the pandemic that was specific to their industry or employee populations, there were key underlying themes that could be felt across each company.

A focus on Health and Wellness

Physical and mental health ranked as a top priority across the board for both employers and employees in all companies. Whether it was workers transitioning to fully remote work and what that meant for their mental health, being home all day every day for an undefined period of time. Or the physical health of employees on the manufacturing side who needed to be reassured that everyone was kept at a safe distance, and knowing what to do in the case of infection. This meant having well thought out guidelines and “decision making trees” so that employees could know how to respond immediately given any unfamiliar situation. For home-based workers, things as basic as a proper table, chair and internet connection and budgets for such things were discussed. For some companies in Japan, working from home didn’t exist pre-COVID-19. Many of these companies have now taken the time to reflect on these policies and realise that a physically and mentally healthy employee population also means a more productive one.

Learning, learning and learning

Another key factor across all companies was the investment or focus on learning and development of their employees during this time. The mindset has really shifted from a very numbers-driven, KPI-tracking, business as usual style to one more of a nurturing, giving and a reflective style. This has been a silver lining as a result of the pandemic for HR and L&D professionals everywhere, but they have also been busier than ever as a consequence! Some HR leaders reported working longer hours than they ever had before in their careers. Educating employees to brush up on skills they have been meaning to do for years, or taking online courses to get the competitive edge, or simply education on how to be productive working from home, were some of the core L&D initiatives. In the context of Japan especially, many employees had never even used digital meeting software such as Zoom. The technical aspects of this, let alone creating an inclusive and engaging virtual meeting with the team have been enough to keep everyone busy.

Doing less with less

Recently, the market trend in Japan has not been one of talent acquisition, but more a focus on retention. The reduction piece has, fortunately, so far been focused on a reduction of unnecessary expenses, out-dated business tools, and not focused on headcount cuts. This has meant that organisations have had to be more productive, more effective and more succinct with fewer resources and capital than ever before. For HR leaders and their counterparts, they have had to consider things like what is the best way for employees to stay connected and be efficient? What systems and tools do they need to be most effective? What systems and tools can be removed to reduce clutter and communication gaps? With the focus now on how to do less with less, each employee (especially the knowledge worker) needs to ask themselves how they are contributing to the organisation as an employee, and as an individual. No doubt these are tough questions for tough times, but with an added focus on health, wellness and learning there has arguably never been a better time to focus inwardly and reflect on the value that we are providing to our companies and the greater society.

This session was informative and fun, but most of all it allowed all of us to connect and shine some light on the fact that everyone is going through similar struggles right now in the HR community. Once again, we would like to give a big thanks to all the presenters for opening up and sharing their learnings from this uniquely challenging time in our existence. Certainly, the way forward to the “new normal” is something that will be created by people and driven by courageous HR leaders and business leaders alike who are not afraid to show that compassion is greater than profit.


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