On 26 Nov 2012, 102 service leaders from a local transport operator refused to turn up for work in protest against what they felt was discriminatory remuneration practices. Singapore’s first industrial action in more than 20 years caused disruptions to up to 10% of bus services, leaving many commuters inconvenienced and delayed duing the morning peak hour.
The cost of the incident was significant:
- up to 10% of services were disrupted – resulting in loss of revenue for the company;
- businesses around Singapore suffered economic losses due to delayed arrival of employees;
- the reputation of the organization and of the nation suffered as a result; and
- it is likely the company will incur significant costs to repair its relationship with its employees and stakeholders.
The incident brings into focus one of the most neglected roles of HR Managers everywhere – the need to have a business continuity plan for HR. Manpower can be disrupted for a variety of reasons – pandemics (such as SARS, H1N1 etc), political upheaval (such as closing of borders, civil strife, etc), industrial action (such as strikes, work-to-rule action etc), or accidents and incidents at the workplace.
To guard against manpower disruptions, HR practioners should look into the following:
a. Build Flexibility – multi-skilled employees are more flexible and can be re-deployed to different roles as needed to fill gaps and meet surges in demand. This is especially useful to meet short term manpower fluctuations or spikes in business volume;
b. Promote Diversity – a diversified workforce comprising employees of various nationalities, backgrounds, and qualifications improves resilience and allows the organization to weather shocks resulting from manpower disruptions affecting specific segments of the workforce;
c. Enable Satellite Working Environments – although many organizations (especially in Asia) prefer to centralize all of their employees or staff in a single location, more and more businesses are embracing satellite working environments. Satellite working environments allow employees to work from any location, so long as they are connected through the internet and via phone. Such arrangements allow businesses to continue operating even under adverse conditions when offices are shut down (due to accidents or incidents), or when there is a need to keep employees physically apart (for example to prevent the spread of contagioous dieseases);
d. Maintain a Pool of Contingent Workers – a pool of contingent workers provides operational flexibility and can be used to meet unexpected shortfalls in manpower. Contingent workers can be semi-permanent in nature (eg by constantly having a perentage of the workforce staffed by contract or temporary staff), or ad-hoc in nature (eg by maintaining a pool of ex-employees or trained casual workers who can be activated on short notice). Such arrangements allow businesses to meet short and medium term manpower shortfalls quickly and efficiently, without having to suffer huge start up costs in terms of training and capability building; and
e. Build Buffers for Critical Positions – notwithstanding the concepts of lean management systems and labor productivity, it is sometimes essential that capability buffers be built up for key and critical positions. Additional employees trained to perform key and critical functions will allow business to continue operating even if the key personnel is unavailable.
Contact us to find out more about how you can build a HR business continuity plan for your organization.