[Blog 31] The Chief Guru Chronicles 107: When The Going Gets Tough, Hang In There

Crises can happen anywhere and at any time, even when you least expect it. Whether it comes in the form of an unrest or conflictual scenario, it is never a pleasant ordeal. Taking the welfare, safety and health of employees into consideration, dealing with a crisis requires HR practitioners to let your heart talk to your brain, recover from the storm and subsequently function business as usual.

To go on an industrial strike—a forceful approach for trade unions and labor associations to be heard. Otherwise known as the HR’s nightmare. During a time when industrial actions were taking off and in vogue, my team and I were the new owners of a 5-star deluxe hotel situated in a bustling metropolis. We arranged for a meeting with the management team and trade union officials first thing as soon as we touched down. This was followed by an intimate lunch with various key officials who greeted us with much fervor and warmth. Everything seemed to be going smoothly up until we were told that the union had gone on strike. This piece of news came from the duty manager that same afternoon as we were preparing for the walk-about within the property. I immediately got in touch with the President of the omnibus union who informed me that the union had actually gone out of their way to delay the strike for the sake of receiving us with the highest levels of hospitality, despite having prior plans to hold the strike for an entire day. There were absolutely no major issues or unhappiness, other than the union just simply exerting their rights to strike at a given opportune time. In fact, it was a welcome memo of sorts as if to lay the grounds on who’s the ‘real boss’ around. The point here is that if a strike ever hits, maintain on neutral ground and manage the situation more professionally with less personal feelings involved. Conquer all union busting and lingering animosities without hostility if possible.

Other times, lending a listening ear might be the means to survive especially when handling extreme threats. One night, following a long and arduous meeting that stretched till late, I received an unexpected phone call from the regional sales office. To my alarm, it was my HR Manager, who sounded very unsteady and nervous. He took a few moments to compose himself before pointing out that there was a staff standing right in front of him who was threatening to pull the pin of a grenade. Just earlier, this staff was fired for partaking in illegal narcotic activities, particularly selling drugs to his colleagues in the office locker room. To paint a clearer picture, this incident occurred in a state that was experiencing immense unemployment rates as a result of ongoing vices. Holding a job was to have it all, hence losing one simply meant you have hit rock bottom. Filled with remorse, he begged to be reemployed and expressed that he’d rather much die than face his family bearing such dreadful news. There was very little that I could do—given the circumstances that I was halfway across the world in Singapore—except to advise the HR Manager to stay calm and put on his sympathetic hat and work out a solution together with the staff. I figured that if he really had the intention to end his life, he would have already done it by then. Furthermore, he showed no signs of objection when the HR Manager made the phone call to me which was only telling of his distraught state of mind and rash actions. Under frustration, he probably needed someone like the well-liked HR Manager to talk to sensibly. Thankfully, I received a phone call again an hour later—and on a much lighter note this time—from the HR Manager who reported that the staff had left the office grounds peacefully after both engaged in conversation. In the case that one might have the foresight to see such a thing coming in the future, one way of preventing the situation from escalating is to maintain your composure in all circumstances, be patient, listen much more than you talk and help the employees understand that their feelings matter. Maintain an honest and open flow of communication to show that you care and empathise how they are feeling and assure them that you would help them to get through the difficult time. It’s easier said than done but it is your life that’s at stake!

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This article is part of a series of accounts of The Chief Guru Chronicles, a monthly column which recounts our Founder & Chief Guru Tommy Ng’s experience and encounters in HR management across various countries and industries. The purpose of this column is to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed, and to educate readers through challenges experienced. It should not be perceived and used as a professional advice. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, races, ethnic group, organisation, company, individual or country. In addition, we do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of the information. As a disclosure, some names, information and situations were intentionally concealed or edited in order to protect the identity of the involved parties. Except as expressly consented, the contents may not be reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without HR Guru Pte Ltd permission.