India Inc battles Covid absenteeism

Mumbai: As Covid numbers rise across the country, organisations are dealing with unusual absenteeism at work. This is because a section of employees is either down with the disease themselves, or are on ‘care giver’ leave for a family member who may have contracted the virus. Business continuity plans are being put to good use with a backup for every role and work being prioritised.
Companies like Kellogg India gave out a call to action — ‘There to Kare – Step up, Step In’ — where every employee goes a step beyond their responsibilities to be there for their peers and colleagues and help deal with the challenges of additional workloads. Dabur India, on the other hand, is covering up for absenteeism through job enlargement and managing workload through cross-functional teams. Many firms are also using temp workers to fill in for staff who may be on leave due to Covid.
Kellogg South Asia director (HR) Nimisha Das said, “To fully gauge the impact on the organisation, we have been tracking not just Covid-positive cases but presumptive cases as well, where employees’ family members are affected. In either case, this requires time away from work and downtime for people to recuperate. Last month, at the peak of the second wave, at a given point in time a part of our workforce, including extended workforce, was impacted and away from work. Since then, this number has come down to 5%.”
Given this scenario, Kellogg crafted a two-level business continuity plan designed by the leadership team to look at how the organisation can operate in a ‘worst case’ scenario. This plan factored in contingencies to the second level if one person were indisposed.
“Our actions were focused on two aspects. The first one was to bolster organisational capacity by ensuring that we have a backfill identified for every critical role. In certain cases, we even explored opportunities where external consultants could be brought in to supplement the organisational capacity. The second focus was what we call ‘60-Day Prioritisation’. It was a bottoms-up exercise done to ensure that we focus on only core work and reduce work and meetings by 30% starting at the leadership level down to the frontline workers. This created space and energy for our people to manage core work with full safety, while letting them take care of themselves and their families,” said Das.
As the severity of the Covid situation increases, Dabur India has put in place a series of measures so that business remains fully functional. Dabur India executive director (HR) Biplab Baksi said, “At Dabur, we have a sympathetic and collaborative work culture with support coming from all layers in the hierarchy. We are trying to cover for absenteeism through job enlargement of other team members for a specific period. Besides, the workload is being managed with cross-functional support and pooling of resources across functions. In some cases, we have enhanced working hours and added fixed-period temporary resources to manage deliverables.”
Max Life Insurance follows an agile business continuity programme that is tailored according to varied functional needs. “To ensure that business processes remain unaffected due to the current situation, we have introduced focused business continuity programmes that enable employees to put their health first with a minimal effect on day-to-day organisational activities,” said Max Life Insurance’s chief people officer Shailesh Singh.
A number of companies today offer Covid or vaccination leaves. Some even offer unlimited leaves to employees to manage their work-life balance in a stressful environment. Given the stress, it also means employees are taking more ‘mental breaks’ than before, adding to the absenteeism due to Covid.
According to a recent survey by HappyPlus Consulting, a tech-enabled happiness solutions provider, amid concerns of rising number of corona cases and the soaring number of deaths on one hand and the inability to manage work-life balance on the other, employees across organisations are working under immense stress. The study, which covered 2,500 respondents, said nearly 54% are often in the stress zone, while around 39% need immediate attention to manage their anxiety and stress.