Clive Wright, Hyperion HR Ltd
Last week the media was full of details of the air pollution in England, especially in and around London. People taking exercise or biking into work suffered with breathing difficulties, sore throats and tight chests. This was especially concerning for people with asthma and it is possible that it could have caused serious respiratory problems. But the pollution in London is nothing compared to Beijing and Shanghai. In these Chinese cities the pollution has, at times, been five times the dangerous levels that we experienced in London last week.
A recent survey of multinational companies based in China indicated that whilst this is a serious concern for the companies they had no plans to introduce any special programmes or make any changes apart from perhaps issuing facemasks and improving the filters on air conditioning systems. This was until Panasonic announced that they are introducing a pollution allowance for staff assigned to these cities. This has caused a lot of interest and we’ll have to see how other companies react.
This leads me on to think about other natural disasters and whether we should consider what we would do for our employees in such circumstances. For instance, did you allow employees whose homes had been flooded during the recent rainstorms have time off to cope with the disaster? Did you provide any help for them to deal with the water damage in their homes? One company I used to work for had collections to help employees who had been affected by natural disasters around the world. All employees were invited to contribute and many did so. The amount collected was then matched by the company up to a certain level. Which meant that the people who suffered due to forest fires in Australia or California and employees who were affected by the tsunami in Indonesia were given financial help in dealing with the catastrophe caused by the disaster. Not only did this give the employees real assistance during a time of personal tragedy, but it also led to a wider feeling of being part of a family within a company, rather than one that just operated for a profit.
Environmental and weather experts predict that we will experience more disasters like these and that weather will become more extreme in the future. And this is likely to lead to more emergency events such as those we have experienced over the last couple of years.
I am sure that in these circumstances we all consider the impact on the company and how we are going to deal with it. I remember well all the planning that went into what we would do in the case that bird flu had become an epidemic and spread beyond Asia. But if we want our organisation to be seen as a progressive company that values employees we should be considering the impact that disasters might have on them, what the implications might be and what plans we can put in place to support and help them. Do we need to consider how our medical cover would help and maybe develop new plans to help in the case of emergencies? Should we be looking at employee assistance programmes and concierge services to include cover to assist employees where they are the victims of a natural disaster? Should we be putting into place special programs or equipment such as masks or temporary home working facilities to enable people to contribute, even though they may not be able to get into the office?
And finally, what would the implications of a disaster be on reward programs? For example, the impact on the achievement of performance targets, or, like Panasonic, the payment of a special allowance in the case of employees affected by an environmental or natural disaster.
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