So far in 2013, Pakistan has seen numerous strike days and days in which, due to security reasons, mobile phone networks were shut down. No matter what the reason is for the strike (and I have full sympathy for the reason behind the strike that struck Karachi this week) the consequences and disruption to businesses are severe.
Unfortunately, living in Pakistan we have learned to deal with security threats and strikes. The normal modus operandi is for employees to stay home, as they are either unable to leave their residences (as whole neighborhoods are in lock down) or want to make sure that the situation in the city is safe and their lives are not in jeopardy.
Of course safety of lives and property is sacrosanct and businesses make sure that as a result their operations, and of course bottom line, is accepted. I often ask myself, is that how it is supposed to be? Are businesses and their owners the ones that should take the biggest burden of strikes?
I have been struggling with this question ever since I came to Pakistan. Of course as an HR Director and now as an Entrepreneur, personal safety is priority number one and I left it to employees to assess their circumstances and make the decision whether they would come in to work or not. Employees often took the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach and stayed home more than they came to the office. I sometimes wonder, is the situation such that prohibits people from coming to work, or are they just using the always famous ‘my driver couldn’t come today’ excuse.
I had been trying to come up with a balanced approach that would equally distribute the consequences of strikes across employees and employers. I had never been able to find the right middle ground until I visited a client in Dhaka last week. Bangladesh has a similar penchant for calling strikes for big or small issues. It’s the favorite political arm wrestling game. Businesses there have responded differently to the frequent ‘hartals’ (strikes). However, my client’s business didn’t stop because of the unrest. The company has adapted and found various solutions around these issues. For example, they had set up a whole system to transport foreign visitors and expats in ambulances to and from the office.
- If there is a strike you have the responsibility to come to the office
- If you are not able to come to the office or if you think it is not safe to do so, you are obliged to work on a weekend day
- If this is not possible then you have to take a personal holiday day
- If you have consumed all your holiday days then you can apply to work from home
I think such a policy would make more sense as it puts a level of responsibility on the employees and balances the consequences of situations that neither employer nor employee can influence. We can debate whether the ‘work from home’ option should be the only solution, but organization leaders and employees should have a discussion on the topic as to not just let the employers take the brunt.
Let me know what is happening in other countries in these situations.
As always, I am open to your views!
– Paul Keijzer