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Businesses bear the brunt in COVID fight

The crisis has made employee health, morale and engagement the top priority over the next 3-12 months for 46 per cent of the companies surveyed by IndusGuru

As India battles a more ferocious second wave of the pandemic, India Inc is bearing the brunt. Nearly half the companies are seeing COVID-19 infecting more than 5 per cent of their workforce, according to a small-scale survey of 50 companies by IndusGuru.

With more than 2.54 crore cases of coronavirus infection, India's case load accounts for 1.9 per cent of the total population. In comparison, companies' case load average of 5 per cent is nearly triple the national average, the study pointed out. Unlike the first wave when senior citizens with co-morbidities were the most impacted, this wave has mostly affected the younger population that forms a chunk of the 47 crore-strong work force in India.

The survey of more than 50 senior business and HR leaders (CEOs, CXOs) spanning 10 broad industry groups across start-ups, SMEs and large corporate was conducted between May 6 and 13 when the second wave was at its peak.

The findings by IndusGuru, an online curated business platform that connects independent freelance experts and organisations, reflects the larger trend in india Inc with most firms in India - small, medium or big - across industries being forced to announce a mix of initiatives to help employees tide over the crisis.

Apart from fighting the virus themselves, employees have also had to deal with multiple family members falling prey to the virus. This has made the pandemic a human crisis of a never-before scale for businesses, the study said.

"The fundamental difference between the first and second waves is that this time the business operations have continued almost normally. But the bigger crisis this time is around employee health and the need to protect not just employees but also their families because the two cannot be isolated. This has led many organisations to put up a parallel healthcare set-up for immediate crisis care and broader support such as mental health and wellness programmes," said IndusGuru co-founder Deepak Malkani.

The crisis has made employee health, morale and engagement the top priority over the next 3-12 months for 46 per cent of the companies surveyed. This is directly proportional to the organisation size, the study found, with larger firms concerning themselves more with this aspect.

To this end, two-thirds of the respondents said enabling vaccinations for all their employees and strengthening health and safety protocols was their top priority amid fears of a third wave gaining ground and a sluggish national vaccination program.

Meanwhile, mental health support, flexible attendance and leave policies, supporting families of deceased employees are emerging concerns, organisations said. Beyond the core people agenda, businesses said digitisation is a top priority as a means to build resilience.

The study also found that larger organisations (headcount greater than 1,000)) show a distinctly higher adaptation in their COVID-related HR practices such as new remote and online working environment, driven by the need of a larger workforce and a more mature HR capability. Crafting employee-friendly and supportive policies has clearly been mission critical for these large organisations, with flexible work timings and home office set-up assistance ranking among the top HR strategies/policies that have been adapted to the new normal, the study said.

The definition of employee welfare and HR is getting expanded, Malkani said. "In the past, HR's role was to take care of immediate employees and at the workplace. Now, the concept has expanded to families of employees and even beyond just workplace because of work-from-home. So, there is a fundamental shift with mental health playing a crucial factor."

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