The Financial Express

Service sector: High time for new HR policies

FE file photo used for representation FE file photo used for representation

The economy of Bangladesh has been enjoying a gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate at over 7.0 per cent over the last four fiscal years. Economists have pointed towards several reasons behind the consistent growth rate.

Primarily, a number of steps were taken by the government to facilitate certain export sectors like readymade garments, leather and others. Additionally, the migrants working and residing abroad are being given several facilities, thus encouraging them to remit more foreign currency to their loved ones back home.

The industrialists and businessmen have also taken measures, come up with strategies and imported the best machinery that ensured products that are at par with global standards. Due to these and other factors, the government is eyeing more than 8.0 per cent GDP growth rate for the ongoing fiscal year.

It is claimed that the economic growth could be higher if the services or tertiary sector is given more attention and a number of reforms are brought to it. When most of the government aids and subsidies are given to secondary (industries) and primary (agricultural) sectors, the tertiary (services) sector are not getting the same amount of attention despite making the highest contribution to the GDP growth rate, at over 52.18 per cent according to government statistics.

The most important component of the service-providing firms and companies are their workforce. These are mostly white collar employees who work 9:00am to 5:00pm daily. In some sectors like cargo and freight forwarding, travel agencies, real estate and others, these employees work more than eight hours, at times around 12 to 14 hours.

Because of the burgeoning middle-class population and the number of fresh graduates that the public and private universities are churning out every year, the demand for such jobs are far higher than the supply. As a result, the services sector of the country has been suffering from an employers' market for the past three decades.

The concept of having a "Human Resource Department" seeped into this sector around the early 2000s by replacing the lone "Establishment Manager" position. However, in most firms and offices, the officials from the HRD and employees tend to have a "cats and mice" relationship. This is not healthy at all for the said firm or company.

There is also the fact that most of these offices are still following age-old HR practices. While the amount of salaries, increments and some benefits have changed periodically while keeping in line with the inflation rate, the provisions have remained the same since the 1960s. And this is not helping at all. Especiallyduring a time when the Western countries along with some of our South Asian neighbours like India and Sri Lanka are experimenting and afterwards implementing new HR practices almost every few years.

Already, effectiveness of most of these practices and policies have been proved in different cultures and settings.

a) TAILOR-MADE RECRUITMENT PROCESSES: In Bangladesh, most offices and firms still have two to three level recruitment processes. These include: short-listing of the applications, written examinations and viva leading up to the negotiation phase. Only in the case of some senior positions, the number of levels may be higher. Due to these run-of-the-mill processes, the offices most often end up selecting the wrong person for the job.

This is where creativity can be of use. In some cases, the viva voce interviews can be replaced with case studies that should be solved. These can be related to the role the candidate is vying for. Instead of written examinations held at the office premises, the same can be taken online in the websites of the companies. Or, the candidates can be given a question and asked to submit the answer via email within a deadline.During the interview phases, candidates can be provided with quizzes or puzzles on a laptop or PC to check their intelligence quotient. This will help the HR officials understand how fast and effectively the candidate can solve problems during certain scenarios.

These processes are likely to require more resources including time and capital. However, in the long run, a suitable candidate will reap more benefits for the organisation than a candidate who has very good grades but not much experience or the emotional capacity to handle day-to-day problems at work.

b) PROVIDING ADDITIONAL PERKS: In Bangladesh, government jobs are very sought after because these provide a security unlike the private sectors.

Tertiary sector firms and offices can make a difference by providing additional perks to the employees. Provisions for performance based bonus, aside from usual festival bonuses, share options, provident fund, health insurance and others can be offered to employees. Big companies in the West and in India even provide loans to employees for purchasing a house or a car or other expenses.

Such perks can allow the employee to feel like he/she belongs to the organisation. These employees will be more at home at their workplace rather than to think that they may be fired or laid off whenever the organisation faces a problem.

Fortunately, some offices in Dhaka have begun to provide such perks. It can be hoped that others will follow suit.

c) PERFORMANCE-BASED COMPENSATION:Efficiency in most private offices are still equated with the number of time an employee is spending at the office. This makes it easier for some employees to get promotions or other benefits despite performing the same or less than others who finish the work early and/or provide extra hours at home or elsewhere to complete the tasks.

The Human Resource Departments of offices should come up with strategies through which they can measure efficiency, motivation, accuracy, leadership and other qualities of the organisation's employees. These should be used as yardsticks before evaluating the raise an employee will get. If such a mechanism can be implemented successfully, efficient employees will not be frustrated with a broken system and leave the companies, while the inefficient ones stay behind for years.

d) WORK FROM HOME OR REMOTE LOCATIONS: Some offices in the Information and Communicational Technology (ICT) as well as the social development sectors of Bangladesh are allowing employees to work from home or from remote locations. This allows the professionals to work on their laptops or PCs and deliver the task, report or project via email.

This practice became popular around 2014 when transport communication became awry for months because of political agitation from opposition parties. The provision can do wonders even when employees are stuck in traffic and need to send in a task as soon as possible.

Such a provision can also help out single parents and parents with little children or babies who need constant care.

e) ENCOURAGING EQUALITY: Bangladesh faces a perennial problem with the employment of the physically-challenged and visually-impaired people. The government has taken various steps to encourage the employment of these people. Still very few professionals with disabilities can be found in the private sector. This needs to change. In many workplaces in the West, people with disabilities are provided equal opportunity to apply for different jobs.

More and more women are joining the country's workforce every month, armed with the academic background, skills and expertise. Most employers are also warming up to the idea that most of their female employees work harder than their male counterparts. These are very positive developments.

On the flipside of this coin is the detail that the growing number of female entrants into the job market is allowing some employers to give the female employees lower salaries and benefits than their male counterparts and colleagues, though they have the same positions and responsibilities.

While the HR professionals of a company can ensure equality in these areas, they should also encourage open channels of communication with each and every single employee of the office. This will allow the HRD to remain informed about any incidents of misconduct including corruption, sexual harassment and other problems, and investigate these. In a such a way, a healthy working environment can prevail.

f) BOLSTERING TRUST: Perhaps the most unique of all the policies is the Flexible Paid Time-Off (FPTO) policy, a practice that has become very popular in the West and is fast spreading in Europe, Middle-East and Asia. Under the FPTO, there are no casual, earned and sick leave days per year for employees.

The basic idea behind an FPTO is that a well-rested employee will be motivated to work hard and will continue to be efficient and creative. There will be greater teamwork between different employees. Such employees will also be healthier as they will know when and how to turn off the stress.

This does not mean, however, that the policy will allow the staff to take months and years of vacation-time. In fact, several studies have found that under the FPTO, employees became more responsive and responsible than under fixed leave policies.

Furthermore, in the case of the latter, the HR department has the headache of tracking the number of leaves being taken by each worker in a year, how many leave days will be carried forward to the next, how many are earned leave, if sick leaves have been exceeded etc. As a result, under the flexible leave policy, there is one less administrative task for the company's management.

By implementing such a policy, most companies are also strengthening the bridge of trust with their employees. These professionals will be more motivated to meet targets and continue with the company in the long run.

There are many other practices that have not been discussed. Already some of the mentioned policies are being practised by a few small and medium-sized companies in the ICT, non-governmental organisations (NGO), foreign missions and other sectors of the country. Managements of local companies can take a leap of faith and experiment with some of them.

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