Team Namibia member, Outsourcing Solutions, a Namibian owned company that specialises in tailoring world-class human resources services to the needs of Namibian businesses, states that flexibility, innovation and collaboration are what will see Namibian employers and employees survive the current economic crisis.
“As the saying goes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and that is exactly what is required now. Only those businesses that adapt rapidly will survive the impacts of the prolonged economic downturn and the further shocks caused by COVID-19”. These are the words of Sidney Hanstein, Managing Principal of Outsourcing Solutions, who says that the survival of businesses requires that employers and employees realise they are equally vulnerable during these times and their chances of overcoming the crisis are better when they act as one. “Gone are the days when unions and employers could have prolonged standoffs on conditions of employment. Now is the time for all parties to agree on terms that will see them through the crisis. Sacrifices need to be made on all ends as the environment within which businesses operate has rapidly changed.”
Hanstein reports that most of their clients have been severely affected, irrespective of the nature of their business. “Whether you are a manufacturer which can no longer optimise operations due to social distancing and other regulations; in the services or tourism industry where clients have evaporated overnight; or a retailer buckling under the growing disparity between the cost of doing business and the shrinkage in disposable income, the principals remain the same – adapt or die.”
To assist with such adaptation in the age of COVID-19, Hanstein shares the following tips for employers and employees:
1. Streamline, streamline, streamline
Streamlining does not necessarily start with staff cuts as many businesses may have assumed when the lockdowns started. Staff cuts should be one of the last considerations. What could instead be considered simultaneously with other business reduction techniques are remuneration or working hour reductions. Pension Fund contribution holidays – which are allowed for up to six months – are another option. We found that the staff of most of our clients would rather embrace across-the-board reductions than risk some losing their jobs. But this does require that unions or workers councils and employees take hands with employers, to agree to sustainable employment terms.
2. Cutting down on office costs
Introducing shift work or letting vulnerable staff members work from home, along with those who are capable of doing so, may reduce insurance costs as well as other related office expenses. However, having staff work from home requires looking at new and creative ways to manage performance. Our traditional performance management approach oversaw staff punctuality with clocking in and out times, attendance and loyalty to ensure there were no conflicting interests during working time, but this is a dying technique in business today. Reducing staff working hours and salaries without updating policies and disciplinary measures is like being forced to wear a mask with little to no ventilation. Performance measurement for staff working from home is unique, but may be comparable to managing the service-level agreement (SLA) of an external contractor.
3. Union and management collaboration
This is the time for management to put the union representing their staff to the test. By working in good faith towards both employer and staff, and demonstrating their ability to fight for the staff they represent, unions may use their influence to assist management survive this storm. Likewise, management should engage in open communication with unions whereby the nuances of the situation and their intended solutions, are explained. Unfortunately, during these unprecedented times, we have seen many staff members worse off after the union tried to fight for them, instead of talking directly to management to reach a win-win agreement. Unions that are unreasonable or unwilling to do their part should be reported to the Labour Commissioner. Team Namibia may also be able to advise its members on steps to be taken, if necessary.