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Too hot to work - where is HR?

Thermometer

Unsurprisingly, heat stress is a phenomenon that is recurrent in many countries during the summer period and beyond, where the ambient temperature can reach highs of 40°C and are putting employees at risk.

With the implications of climate change at our doorsteps, we expect worsening heatwaves around the world, with Europe particularly impacted. Working in hot and humid conditions are likely to cause heat-related illnesses, particularly when they involve heavy outdoor activities, requiring equipment and protective clothing. It is critical to understand the serious consequences of working under extreme conditions. But economic considerations are in play too.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the duty of HR managers to keep employees healthy, maintain their morale, and manage flexible working arrangements. The mandate to look after the health and wellbeing of employees requires HR managers to design policies and implement practices to enable safe working during heatwaves. They should use the current extreme scenario to scrutinize the boundaries of flexible working arrangements, and find means to support employees’ health without compromising on organizational effectiveness. Even if unexpected barriers to working under extreme heat surface, HR managers may be more inclined than before to search for new avenues to capitalize on flexible working arrangements to foster sustainable management practices.

For example, organizations may embrace greater flexibility in working arrangements, such as allowing people to work from home, provide first aid kits, drinking water, and a means of preventing direct exposure to sunlight. A careful look at countries that are used to extreme heat may also provide useful lessons moving forward.

Dr Washika Haak-Saheem

Associate Professor in Human Resource Management
Published 19 July 2022
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Leading insights