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Posted by on Feb 21, 2013 in Personal Growth, Talent Management in Asia | 12 comments

Disruption To Business: Did You Strike Out?

imagesSo far in 2013, Pakistan has seen numerous strike days and days in which, due to security reasons, mobile phone networks were shut down. No matter what the reason is for the strike (and I have full sympathy for the reason behind the strike that struck Karachi this week) the consequences and disruption to businesses are severe.

Unfortunately, living in Pakistan we have learned to deal with security threats and strikes. The normal modus operandi is for employees to stay home, as they are either unable to leave their residences (as whole neighborhoods are in lock down) or want to make sure that the situation in the city is safe and their lives are not in jeopardy.

Of course safety of lives and property is sacrosanct and businesses make sure that as a result their operations, and of course bottom line, is accepted. I often ask myself, is that how it is supposed to be? Are businesses and their owners the ones that should take the biggest burden of strikes?

I have been struggling with this question ever since I came to Pakistan. Of course as an HR Director and now as an Entrepreneur, personal safety is priority number one and I left it to employees to assess their circumstances and make the decision whether they would come in to work or not. Employees often took the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach and stayed home more than they came to the office. I sometimes wonder, is the situation such that prohibits people from coming to work, or are they just using the always famous ‘my driver couldn’t come today’ excuse.

I had been trying to come up with a balanced approach that would equally distribute the consequences of strikes across employees and employers. I had never been able to find the right middle ground until I visited a client in Dhaka last week. Bangladesh has a similar penchant for calling strikes for big or small issues. It’s the favorite political arm wrestling game. Businesses there have responded differently to the frequent ‘hartals’ (strikes). However, my client’s business didn’t stop because of the unrest. The company has adapted and found various solutions around these issues. For example, they had set up a whole system to transport foreign visitors and expats in ambulances to and from the office.

-1Furthermore they have developed a policy in which employees are given the following options:

  • If there is a strike you have the responsibility to come to the office
  • If you are not able to come to the office or if you think it is not safe to do so, you are obliged to work on a weekend day
  • If this is not possible then you have to take a personal holiday day
  • If you have consumed all your holiday days then you can apply to work from home

I think such a policy would make more sense as it puts a level of responsibility on the employees and balances the consequences of situations that neither employer nor employee can influence. We can debate whether the ‘work from home’ option should be the only solution, but organization leaders and employees should have a discussion on the topic as to not just let the employers take the brunt.

Let me know what is happening in other countries in these situations.
As always, I am open to your views!

– Paul Keijzer

  • http://www.getreal.pk anonymous.

    I understand the idea but do not agree at all with how you want to go about it! With salaries being so low, and expenses being so high, and most benefits (i.e. Leave allowances) being few, it is incredible unfair for the employee to have to suffer for something that isn’t their fault.

    As a businessman, who probably makes at least 4 times the amount his highest paid employee is making, it is your responsibility to deal with the repercussions of working in an unstable nation/society and economy. Why should the employee have to take this burden too?
    Coming to work on a weekend because they decided to stay home to protect their lives? Completely and utterly ridiculous from ALL standpoints, let alone HR.

    A well known company that I have consulted for, has given their employees laptops and EVO’s so they may work from home ‘safely’ in times like this. They have a system where they log-in at 9:00 a.m. and their internet activity is monitored (not in detail, just enough to know that they are working). These people have taken it upon themselves to be accountable for their work and so far it is a successful way to work through strikes. Productivity in that company has gone UP since this change.

    If you can provide pick and drop, security and assurance that nothing can/will happen to the employee, then and only then should they be required to be at work in a situation where the city is shut down. Also considering that most of your staff is female (this I’m gauging from your website), it is even MORE ridiculous to expect them to show up on a day when NO ONE in their right mind will be leaving their homes.

    Lastly, I’d like to reiterate, that the employer SHOULD be the one to take the brunt because it is THEIR business, THEIR investment, and THEY are profiting from it. Other people just work there; be it for a salary or to further their careers – if you want to put your life in danger to ensure the success of your business, fair enough. But to expect your employees to do so… is a bit shocking coming from someone in your position.

    • Asim

      I believe Its a give and take situation,where the employer and the employee should share responsibilities with maturity. I mean what they owe to each other.Unless this sense does not prevail, no matter how hard or strict rules are, they will be destined to be broken and harldy followed by both ends.

  • wajid

    We all have to understand that, employers pays to employees from what they earns from business, good employers are accommodating employees in current law and order situation but If the same situation persist then we all have to think that how we survive, Ok given laptop and internet connection option is good for support staff but what about production people, they have to come on work on alternate days and then it becomes irreverent whether its holiday or not.

    IF we decided to live in worst law and order situation, we may have to find ways to live and there will be lot new so many new idea like Bangladesh adopted for the security of foreign visitors.

  • Sehrish Ahmad

    to say it is YOUR business, YOUR investment really reflects how you think of work. Atleast for myself and many others, even though we work for an MnC we dont look at it as their loss or THEIR problem, it is OUR problem as everyone combined is working for the same goal. In a country where the economy is only going to the dogs, it is the educated lot that should be willing to make a compromise somewhere. Noone will leave the house if there is fire being set on cars or firing on the roads, but lets be frank there are MANY MANY strikes that are unnecessary and completely useless, work cannot stop. Im sure youd think the same if it were YOUR business. Employees SHOULD take responsibility, that is ofcourse if they have that sense

    • http://www.getreal.pk I’d like to remain anonymous.

      Yes if it was my business, I would definitely do things differently. For e.g. if an employee says they couldn’t come in because their driver didn’t show up, I’d go pick them up myself. NOT expect them to risk their lives by coming over in a taxi or driving themselves.
      Of course on the days where the strikes hold no danger to anyones lives, everyone should be at work and luckily I have not seen that issue where I am at. The days that are safe, every one is here. The days that are not, they aren’t. The person who runs the business, runs it for profit. If it was a non-profit or social organization, yes I would care more. But I’m not going to make it MY problem since hey, I don’t get 900K a month to worry about such things. But on the otherhand – the business owner does.

  • Riaz A. Qureshi

    not a feasible idea since there are many assignments which can be done only while in office and not from home. Yes you can deduct a leave from casual leave balance and if that has exhausted than you can deduct from available annual privilege leave.

  • Muhammad Omaiz Ghori

    Industry in Pakistan is not working at its 100% Capacity. Business and Organizations that belong different industries(e.g : banking, Insurance, Production , Health Care , Education) are utilizing 50-60% of their overall capacity that they could have achived from the current setup and current level of operation.

    As a matter of Fact economies in general suffers much for such disturbances like strikes when they have achieved 100% capacity utilization.

    No Doubt it creates a sort of anxiety among businessmen but they are going to compensate it in rest of the working days of the week.

  • Muhammad Omaiz Ghori

    The world is fast shifting towards I.T .. Our future is the same as the guy have discussed above about laptop and internet.
    Only Laborers should go to the production area.while most of the admin and managerial staff should remain at home. One Day shall come when employees except factory workers shall have a separate virtual office at their home and they do not need to move outside.
    This shall reduce the loss as the number of affected employees or workers decreases because only the factory labor work force is going to face the disturbance not the admin staff.

  • Muhammad Omaiz Ghori

    As I said in my last post that managerial and admin work force should remain at home and work through internet except of very few admin staff who may be required to leave for the office.For the rest of Factory labor work force we can create a work scheme like some workers work all 2 to 3 shifts for three days and during this period remain at the factory premisies then they shall be given rest then comes the 2nd team or group of people who work the same way the 1st group have worked (2-3 shifts for continously three days) then comes 3rd team and then comes the 4th team. During the period of a team they rest of three shall remain at home and enjopy their holidays.your turn shall be coming after 3 teams have woked.(i.e : 9 days).

  • Samya

    Hi Paul,
    Reading your article was a quick reminder on how to mold our own strategies against the odds which are completely uncontrollable and unpredictable. If you are interested to know if any company in Pakistan effectively implemented its strategy around the serious city situation like this then its 360training.com (a.k.a. Softech Corporation Pvt Ltd). I have worked with this company for more than 3 years (there are a few who worked more than 7 years and still working… very strange and surprising for a private limited company to have employees with such long tenures though..) where employees have different options to work around e.g. either work from home (almost all employees have VPN connections) or working on a weekend or working extra hours throughout the week to meet deadlines or come to office while weighing their security options etc, or utilize their leave qouta etc. Managers have the sole responsibility to coordinate with their team members, assign the priority tasks and follow through with the activities. Since the monthly and weekly tasks and deadlines are already set by the managers (from the top to bottom.. i.e. from CEO to Clerk level) that everybody knows what to do on daily basis with limited or very less supervision unless required by some critical or adhoc task etc. This company has been surviving and thriving during all odds and employees or management never create fuss about any such strike day etc as everybody knows what to do.. rest is smoothly taken or directed by the responsible managers who are not only connected with their teams and local management but also with offshore team members in US and Philippines. I dont say that the business is run without any issues or losses but atleast nothing gets stuck! and since I have worked in HR team , I observed that almost 70-80% of the employees use to complete their tasks and run all business activities during these troubling times instead of a complete shutdown.. (isn’t it Great!?). I am not saying that this company is perfect or is the only company which is implementing this strategy (there might be other companies doing the same thing ) and is all perfect … but its something positive and there is still long way for such companies to move ahead more effectively to deal with such local situations.

    Ad Yes, one of the most important things that makes these employees well connected with the company goals and feel their own share of responsibility is that the management cares about its employees and carefully devised policies and reward systems around the business strategies and Company Values. Rarely employees there talk about the company as ‘Their business, Their goal, Their loss’.. people talk about ‘We’. And if I see this all in a nutshell… we all are connected (withing Pakistan or with this world) in some way or other… we must all strive together to make this country a better place… and this does not come with only being self – centered… but coming out of our comfort zones and take the lead in even very small ways.. as it does effect ourselves, our social groups, our companies, and ultimately our country in some way positively.

  • Naveed

    If you are a small enterprise providing the door step pick and drop to your employees, I can assure u of a 70% attendance even in times like these from my own personal experience

  • Masud

    Hi Paul

    Good to see this article on strike which is a very timely one as we had 4 strike days out of 5 workday this week here in Bangladesh. So we are trying to be more innovative in accomodating strike in our worklife while maintianing our workflow as smooth as possible. We have arranged a hotel for those who works in essential services like network monitoring and fault handling (24/7, in 3 shifts) near our office so they can commute easily. We have declared Saturday as a workday where all essential service like pickup-drop, daycare, canteen services will be provided to the employees who wants to work on Saturdays. But still some of us are facing tough times in meeting business goals like facilitating in regional TDP forms. I think the business leaders should exert more pressure on political parties in finding alternatives to strike as a political tool as general people are severly pissed off and praying for a solution to this “strike” problem which drags down the promising economies like ours.

    Masud/GP