India Inc operations under pressure as more employees catch COVID

Employees or their kin are falling sick raising the workload of other staff, but productivity has not been impacted

Sulekha Nair | Updated on: Thursday, May 06, 2021, 02:11 PM IST

Pedestrians wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walk past a sign asking people to social distance, on Oxford Street in central London on December 20, 2020. | AFP Photo
Pedestrians wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walk past a sign asking people to social distance, on Oxford Street in central London on December 20, 2020. | AFP Photo

When the lockdown was announced in the first phase of COVID, companies managed to run operations smoothly resorting to Work From Home and other measures. However, the second wave, which has seen daily infections crossing 400,000, is putting to test that arrangement too.

An employer loses 32-working days (including days to recuperate) per employee if the individual is affected by COVID, said Shivakumar N, Co-Founder and MD, ResouceTree, a consulting firm that helps international firms and startups to incubate. “Even if you look at 17-20 percent employees that are affected not just by COVID but also viral flu, for instance, that would put more pressure on the remaining 80 percent of employees. With no work boundary where work from home is concerned, employees work from 9 AM to even 12 in the night in such circumstances when a few employees are COVID affected. The work pressure goes up even higher,” he said.

Leaves by employees have gone up considerably during 2021 with the second COVID wave. In 2020, during the first wave, the absenteeism was much limited as the lockdown was pan-India and more importantly, COVID did not impact the employee or his immediate family and friends, said S Anand, the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of PaySprint, a fintech venture.“ This time, the situation is very different with a lot of employees or their family and friends getting impacted and a dire need of employees to support and assist. The peak of absenteeism was seen in April”, he said.

Fynd, an omnichannel platform, had around 26 out of 300 employees themselves/their family members affected by COVID in April. “Employee leaves were at peak in April. Many of our people lost their loved ones to COVID,” said Farooq Adam, Co-Founder. The number of people affected by COVID in 2021 at Fynd is much more than 18-19 cases in 2020. In 2021-22, absenteeism in Corporate India could be around 0.75 percent of the GDP, said a consultant.

Nearly 20 percent of employees have called in sick last month-April but productivity has not been impacted, said Sandeep Singh, President and co-founder, Khabri-digital audio platform providing content in the regional language. The work handled by the affected employees are shared by the others in the team. “COVID has revealed a great teamwork among employees as each one understands the gravity of the illness,” he said.

"Team members of one startup had COVID-19 and were hospitalised for two weeks.", said Anchal Taatya, Co-founder & CEO, Sparklehood, New Age Startup School for working professionals. That has slowed the progress of startups and there will be momentary slowdown in business traction for startups, she added.

New Covid leave policy

India Inc has come out with several policies to help those affected by COVID and their families too. For instance, some organisations are providing leaves under a COVID leave policy for the affected—this is separate from the company sick leave policy. Upasana Raina, Vice President and Head- Human Resource, GI Group India said that the company allows those who have fallen sick or are finding themselves caring for their loved ones to take days off before they are fully recovered or available. “Considering that each person will have different circumstances and different recovery periods the company adopted a policy of being versatile and allowing each person as much time as they need, rather than specifying a specific time,” she said. Sub-K Impact Solutions has started a new policy of ‘unlimited’ sick leave for employees who have been affected by COVID. They are also signed up for COVID insurance policy to cover their medical expense, said Sasidhar N. Thumuluri, the CEO and MD.

The pandemic has changed employer-employee relationships in some cases. “It has become more emotional now,” said Sandeep Singh of Khabri. As an organisation, we help our employees in arranging for whatever resources they need when impacted by COVID and the employees also pitch in and help. The relationship has become more emotional and personal,” he said.

Shifting operations

IT services major HCL Technologies is engaging closely with clients to prioritise work, and shifting some workload from India to other geographies to ensure business continuity as the country grappling with record-high COVID cases.

Speaking to PTI, HCL Technologies President and CEO C Vijayakumar said the company is working with clients to prioritise important work."We have a global organisation. We already have almost 30 percent of our workforces present outside India. Some geographies have stabilised and their vaccination levels are very high, so they are taking a little more load. Everybody's very understanding of the situation, clients and our employees in other geographies," he added.

Rising unemployment

Unemployment touched 8.6 percent for the week ending April 11 2021, from 6.7 percent two weeks ago, according to the data by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. According to Statista, specializing in market and consumer data, people between the ages of 15 and 39 were most impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown in India between April and July 2020, in terms of job loss. Those between 25 and 29 years old alone accounted for about 46 percent of all job losses. On the other hand, older Indians, close to nine million gained jobs during the same time.

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Published on: Tuesday, May 04, 2021, 10:17 PM IST