American University of Beirut

Managing HRM in times of crises: Challenges of the Lebanese economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic

​​​​​​​​​​In the last quarter of 2019, the October 17 revolution marked the beginning of a turning page in the history of Lebanon. Although the Lebanese economy has been struggling for years, it is then that the major financial restrictions started to be imposed on individuals and organizations alike. Organizations struggled to continue with their day-to-day business operations and consequently, some serious decisions had to be made. Many employees couldn't get to work, many lost their jobs, and many had to share their jobs with others. On March 12, 2020, the World Health Organization announced COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic, further exacerbating the dire economic situation in Lebanon. With these new restrictions particularly on employee mobility, employers had to shift their focus to how jobs will be performed remotely, with very little time to prepare for this major change.  

As part of the Master's in Human Resource Management (MHRM) program's Roundtable Discussion Series at OSB, Dr. Lina Daouk-Öyry and Dr. Yasmeen Makarem hosted four leading HR professionals from Lebanon: Ms. Nada Genadry, Human Resource Director at Liban Post, Ms. Roudaina Haddad, Human Resource Director at AUBMC, Mr. Fadel Makki, Director of Human Resources & Organizational Development at Laceco, Ms. Jessica Menassa, Human Resource Business Partner Client Services at Murex to address the challenges arising from the Lebanese economic collapse and the COVID-19 pandemic and to share their thoughts and experiences in managing people in these times of crisis. We summarize below the key takeaways for managing human resources in times of crisis.  

1. Manage with flexibility and empathy

With the imposed restrictions on mobility, employees had to shift to working from home. The onus is on organizations to help make this transition a successful one. The transition is not only about doing the same work from another location, but also about managing homeschooling and all other distractions that accompany national quarantine initiatives. Rethinking KPIs and objectives, for example, is necessary to ensure employees can still meet their goals in a realistic manner that is in line with the limitation of the surrounding context. Here concepts such as Management By Objectives (MBO) that focus on clear weekly or monthly deliverables, may allow employees to have clear objectives while providing them with the flexibility to manage their own time at home as they see fit. Whether it is MBO or any other approach, being empathetic is the most important mindset that can help managers make decisions that take the new realities of employees into account and result in more realistic and manageable expectations.

2. Prioritize employee wellbeing
Employee motivation, engagement, and satisfaction have long been a top concern for organizations due to their impact on performance. In Lebanon, however, the economic collapse followed by the COVID-19 pandemic have put a lot of pressure on individuals regardless of their position, role, or level within the organization. Levels of anxiety and stress have drastically increased lately and are having their toll on employees' wellbeing and performance. It is critical that managers play a role in alleviating part of this pressure today by providing employees with the opportunity to share concerns, problems, and solutions as a collective, on a regular basis. Taking care of employees is not only a humanitarian issue, but also one of sustainability because in these tough times, it is the collective effort and psychological resilience that can pull us through these crises. 

3. Live up to your values

Core values are often times delineated in strategic documents, showcased on organizations' walls, and translated into actionable behaviors for employees to exhibit and uphold. Today, the uncertainty accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic and the inevitable disruption it's causing on some of the major operations, have shifted attention towards organizational leadership to uphold these values when taking care of employees' basic needs. This is necessary for providing employees with a sense of certainty and showcasing the commitment the organization has towards its own values. It is in these trying times that it becomes evident whether organizational values are a true reflection of the organization's ethos or just words that simply decorate walls.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate
In times of uncertainty, employees need to be reassured. If they don't hear from management, they can only speculate what management is thinking and doing. Speculations can have a negative impact on individual and organizational performance. Regular communication with employees is key for addressing their fears, strengthening the trust in your organization, and refocusing energy on getting the work done.

Managers in Lebanon are faced with unprecedented challenges that require them to be creative in the measures and practices that they adopt to ensure that their organizations can still deliver on their purpose and mission. Collectively, as academics and practitioners, we should be mindful of the speed of change and its inevitable impact on our work, which makes it the most important time to rethink the way we manage people. ​

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