The devastating effects of the earthquakes in Nepal recently have been felt far and wide around the world, not least in the Middle East. In such a culturally diverse region of the world with the expatriate population often outnumbering the local population, it is interesting to note the seemingly minimal forethought by GCC companies towards the impact on local businesses caused by disasters in other parts of the world.
Over recent years many companies have taken on large numbers of Nepalese and other sub-continent workers, often making them significant portions of the company’s workforce. It is only at times like these, when a disaster has struck and these workers are placed under considerable added stress from their homelands, that the strong ties and dependencies between our two economies are highlighted.
The impact on operations, due to the pressure on the Nepalese workers to return home and help their families is significantly magnified within certain companies in the GCC. In particular, companies who have recruited large sections of personnel from only limited areas within the affected regions. It is not uncommon, and indeed often encouraged to recruit teams of employees from the same villages and surrounding areas. Recruiting in this way can often ease the stress for employees working overseas, away from families and friends and may also offer a much simpler recruiting process for employers. Though it is during times of disaster such as these earthquakes that a recruitment policy like this may be called in to question, as certain companies will potentially have a significantly higher proportion of affected workers.
Good business continuity practice says organisations should meet the needs of their personnel first, letting them deal with their family and emotional events before they worry about the needs of the business. In reality it is not as simple as that, as companies have contracts and deadlines to meet. It may mean for some companies losing a significant portion of their workforce in a very short space of time, which is just not practical. Sourcing replacement staff will also incur potentially large costs and may also bring about other issues including where these staff should be recruited from. Often staff have been recruited from certain areas of the sub-continent as these areas offer the most competent and skilled employees to complete a particular task. In the time of a disaster, recruiting similar staff, with similar backgrounds and training may not therefore be an option. In this case, Nepal is probably not currently an option, as Nepal will want and need as many of their able bodied citizens on site to help with the clearing and rebuilding of damaged property. As with many staff, there is also likely a skill levels and understanding which has been built up with their employers, which cannot just be replaced from people off the street without impacting deadlines and workmanship.
Standby is aware of one company in the region who have been able to send home their impacted Nepalese personnel. No doubt that has created issues when meeting project deadlines and ensuring consistency of quality, but I am sure that the benefits this company will see from such a selfless action will far outweigh the initial costs. There is plenty of evidence that in a disaster situation, companies have to meet their staff’s wider personal needs, even at some extra cost and inconvenience. The cost implications of these efforts are often made back later on through loyalty and support to the employer by their employees and also the surrounding community.
With Business continuity in mind, it would be very prudent for many companies to reassess some of their recruitment policies and take a good look at the implications of employing expatriate staff from only one or two villages or close by areas.