Charting uncertainty

The workforce today is truly interconnected. Companies have staff working in various countries and regions. However, keeping them safe amidst natural disasters such as those in Japan is something HR departments have to increasingly face. What can HR do to mitigate these risks?

In the past few years, the world has been hit by one crisis after another – tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, stock market crashes, and now, even an impending nuclear disaster. This all goes to show how important it is to be at least remotely prepared to handle the situation.

In the business world, the HR department must be strategically and actively involved with other departments in the preparation, testing and execution of an organisation’s continuity of operations plan in the event of disasters – both natural and man-made – likely to occur within the company’s geographic region(s). “To do nothing is almost criminal,” says one HR consultant in the US.

Business travel

Recent events in places like Japan, New Zealand and Australia in terms of natural disasters, as well as the Middle East and North Africa in terms of security show HR and corporate travel departments the importance of keeping records of employee movements as well as comprehensive contact details. Accurate and up-to-date travel management systems enable companies to keep a record of where staff are travelling and will allow them to pull staff out if necessary.

Current events also highlight the need for companies to review corporate travel insurance policies. The validity of some insurance policies becomes void if an employee travels to a country where a travel advisory has been issued suggesting people to leave the country. Latest developments highlight the need for companies to revisit the coverage of their policy to ensure they can claim for expenses associated with getting a person out of an emergency situation who is there on business.

For companies with staff based in countries where evacuation advisories have been issued, the importance of registering with local consulates of their home country is clear. For example, when many countries chartered flights to assist their citizens in locations such as Egypt and Libya, the first people to be made aware of these arrangements were people registered with local embassies.

Repatriation policies

Recent developments highlight the need for companies to have contingency measures in place in the event of a crisis. Many crises have no precedent, so some pragmatism will be required as part of the crisis management process. However, procedures help.

For example, set guidelines regarding partial or full evacuation of the employee and accompanying family, choosing evacuation locations (e.g. home country or if too far a nearby location), what assistance can and will the company provide during an evacuation and so on. Finally, the best evacuation procedures are often those which HR and the employee work together on to decide what’s best. Most of the time, an employee is the one who is best placed to make a decision regarding what to do, as it is he/she who is facing the challenge. HR or the business line imposing their decision without consulting the employee may actually be counter-productive.

Location/hardship allowances

Companies often debate whether they should increase the location allowances which they may provide to staff for assignments to some locations. A location allowance is not compensation to staff for any increased risk that he/she may face. In situations such as that in Japan, the best thing that a company can do is take appropriate measures to safeguard the security and well-being of the employee. Although it is arguable that the deterioration in the quality of living in the host location caused by a natural disaster or a threat to public security would qualify the location for a higher hardship allowance, a higher salary will be cold comfort for an employee stranded in an unstable environment whose personal security is very much endangered. In cases such as these, the best response of the company is typically those which are non-monetary.


Contributed by

Lee Quane

Regional Director – Asia

ECA International

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