By Wayne R. Bodie, MBA, SPHR
No matter how prepared we think we are, life has a funny way of teaching us exactly how much we truly don’t know. Although a lifelong learner with extensive postgraduate education, I gleaned my most important lessons from the school of life, not from a formal university. As a native Floridian, I’ve experienced countless hurricanes. Never once, in all that time, did I ever feel compelled to evacuate.
That is, until now. Along with 6.3 Million Florida brethren, I faced evacuation, but the prevailing question was, “Go where?” Especially since Hurricane Irma’s massive “cone of uncertainty” covered the entire state. The one and only reasonable action, flee Irma. That meant leaving the state with 1.5 million other Floridians residing in mandatory evacuation zones. The biggest hurdle was there are only 3 major arteries out of Florida and only one direction out (North).
During our exodus, we encountered 874,000 other cars, a plethora of car crashes, gas outages and 150 plus cars lined up at the pumps. A huge problem emerged post-storm that I had quite frankly not anticipated. Trying to get back home. The volume of those displaced, the road closures, flooding and fuel delivery delays, all significantly impact the speed Floridians can return home. Additionally, of those that chose to shelter in place, a major portion of this population have no power, no internet/phone service, and must make critical food and fuel rationing decisions.
My friends and family sought shelter in Tennessee. We all have already have been contacted by employers in one way or another inquiring as to when we can safely return to work. Some of us have even received their 2nd phone call with slightly more demanding tones. During breakfast this morning, I overheard a close family friend displaced from Miami, several months pregnant, and without a vehicle hang up on her employer stating, “I’ll return when I can.”
From a Human Resources perspective, it’s reasonable for employers to expect an employee’s prompt return to work contingent on when it’s safe to do so. The primary goal for any for-profit organization is to ensure the financial success of the business and ensure stakeholder protection. But, there is a fine line between “reasonable” and “unrealistic” expectations. To date, I have never truly understood the complexities of such a large-scale evacuation, nor have I understood the intricacies of trying to return home post such an incident.
It is my responsibility as a Human Resources representative to adequately prepare and implement policy on how to handle such matters. Just as important as developing policy, is the importance of maintaining open lines of dialog with operations and executive management prior to an incident to set definitions of what’s realistic and achievable. Without a strategic partnership between human resources and operations, communication post incident to employees may come across far less empathetic than desired.
Having a seat at the big table in an organization is critical to Human Resources. While it is easy to focus on the bottom line in terms of the production of widgets, it can also be easy to overlook the critical needs of our organizations “internal customers”. Our employees are the lifeblood of an organization, and without them, no business can succeed. This is one of our critical roles in Human Resources, and sometimes a gentle reminder to key decision makers on the human condition is required by human resources for a balanced business plan.