When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit Hong Kong early last year, HR teams had to move fast to devise and implement contingency plans which could keep employees safe, yet still allow day-to-day operations to keep running with minimal disruption.
Doing this presented all kinds of challenges. It involved everything from switching to work-from-home arrangements to introducing new health and hygiene protocols and setting up online training courses.
In many cases, of course, it also meant having to review terms and conditions in a way that was generally fair to staff, but also took due account of the pressures facing employers during these unprecedented times.
To recognise these efforts and the support they provided for employees, their families, businesses and the wider community, Classified Post decided to organise the “HR Appreciation Awards 2020”.
There are three main categories focusing on compensation and benefits, training and development; and impact as a business partner. There will also be a Covid-19 special award for notable initiatives or extraordinary work done in dealing with the direct effects of the pandemic.
Overall, the judges will be looking for proactive approaches, effective solutions, and examples of best HR practice. They will assess scores for nominees based on four key criteria: creativity and innovation, sustainability, contribution to business performance, and benefits to stakeholders. Each will be given equal weight, and the company with the highest score in each category will be named as the Grand Winner.
For the compensation and benefits award, in particular, the judges will pay close attention to the basic elements of different reward schemes. They will consider how these contribute to recruitment, performance, engagement, and general employee satisfaction. And, in light of everything that has happened over the past 12 months, they are expected to take special note of things like flexible work hours, employee assistance programmes, leave benefits, well-being classes, and comprehensive group insurance coverage.
One of the judges, Felix Yip, Associate Director (Consultancy Service) at the Centre for Human Resources Strategy and Development at Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Business, will be looking out for new trends which have emerged during the pandemic.
He is aware that numerous employers have switched certain staff from fixed to variable pay in order to maintain flexibility. Others have gone from guarantee-based to discretionary recognition of good performance at year-end. And there are plenty of instances of basic remuneration and rewards becoming more “person-based” rather than job-based to better reflect individual contributions to a business.
“Compensation and benefits (C&B) are equally important elements when it comes to motivating and recognising staff,” Yip says. “Getting them right certainly facilitates employee engagement, but only when fully integrated with other sub-functions of human resources management. It can be dangerous to focus on C&B in isolation because that may lead to too much stress on achieving short-term results and have an adverse impact on ‘internal equity’.”
For fellow judge Virginia Choi, Managing Consultant and Country Manager for Tamty McGill Consultants International, it is clear that HR teams have made major efforts to respond to changing needs since the coronavirus struck. Where necessary, they have engineered cash allowances, improved staff insurance programmes, granted extra leave for employees in frontline jobs which became high-risk, and hired more part-time staff to ease the pressure on colleagues bearing a particularly heavy burden.
“We can see that HR departments have played a big part in communicating with staff and managing employee expectations,” Choi says. “Also, they have often taken the lead in organising surveys to get a better understanding of staff needs. This has helped with present decision making and plans for future training, development and talent management.”
For Eliza Ng, Chief People and Culture Officer for the Hong Kong Productivity Council, operating the virtual environment has been a real test for many companies, but it has also been a great chance for them to innovate. For instance, she has seen or heard about virtual health talks, parenting workshops, parties, volunteer projects and even walkathons, which all now come under the umbrella of benefits.
“We no longer handle work and well-being as separate entities,” Ng says.