From Key Person to Key Workers

Across the nation businesses of all sizes and all sectors are gradually returning to operation – albeit in a socially-distanced manner – and it now appears that the worst of the recent coronavirus crisis is behind us.

So, with the benefit of hindsight now at least partially available to us, are there any lessons for Human Resources (HR) professionals to take from these strange and worrying times? 

To my mind there are three useful pointers which could help HR specialists better support their businesses in the future:

1)  Ill-health & your key-people

An early lesson from the crisis was that illnesses are no respecter of status or seniority.  The COVID19 virus was rife within Westminster at an early stage, and at least three of the daily briefing team (including both The Health Secretary and The Prime Minister) contracted the disease.  And, in the case of the PM, it was serious enough for his admittance to intensive care also.

This alone should act as a timely reminder to employers to review their business protection insurances for any employee deemed of major importance to the business.

Now pretty much every organisation has at least a few of these “key” people, ones who would be very difficult to rapidly replace without at least some significant damage to the employer’s business plans.  That harm might be in the form of lost revenues, lost relationships, lost skills, or possibly all of the above. 

So it follows that such key individuals should be protected by at least one of the range of business protection insurances which are widely available to employers.  These policies are designed to protect the employer rather than the employee, and are a vital item of risk planning for employers of any size. 

So I would strongly encourage HR professionals to undertake a full review of such offerings to ensure that their business is financially protected from such a potentially significant risk.

2)  React quickly to a changing situation

Another area to look at is speed of reaction. 

In the case of the UK’s coronavirus response – and specifically the initial entry into lockdown – there has been some informed speculation that an earlier response might have saved a significant number of lives.  Of course, we will never know for sure, but the clear learning here is that it’s usually best to take decisive and rapid action to stop a visibly bad situation getting worse.

This maxim can, of course, apply to just so many other situations around employment.  Bold decisions made for the right reason are often better (and easier to defend) than necessary decisions being delayed.  HR professionals could do well to keep this in mind for future reference.

3)  All workers are key workers

It took the crisis to open the nation’s eyes, but for the first time in many years there has been some much-needed recognition of lower-earning employees across the country.  Such individuals often fill the more routine or mundane corporate jobs, yet many were pivotal to looking after and feeding the nation during the long weeks of lockdown.

This should come as no surprise to anyone.  Low paid does not equal low skills or low importance.  The bottom line is that each and every employee represents an important cog in a corporate machine, even if that role often goes unnoticed.  It follows that businesses need to look after such workers and, where necessary and possible, aim to level-up employee benefits offerings at the next available review date.

The three lessons above are doubtless only the first of many that commentators will identify and promote in the months ahead.  The important thing is that we all look to learn from those recent – and rather extraordinary – months. 

If we can all manage that, then we will be better placed to deal with the challenges of the future. 

For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options. For the latest details on COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision please visit Howden’s coronavirus hub.

(Published 18/06/20)

Steve Herbert

Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.

Steve Herbert

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