The 5 reflections of an HR manager in times of crisis

"Staying in touch with employees who have been at home for almost six months when we are allowed to work again, that is quite a challenge."

All catering locations closed in March. Everything seems to open again on 1 September - almost six months later. What challenges and concerns does this pose for an HR manager? We speak to Monique Bruininck, Manager HR manager of CIRFOOD.

How have you experienced the Coronia period until now?

At first I - and many with me - were baffled. It is bizarre what can change in a short time, you have never experienced anything like it before. Our parent company is Italian; so we saw closely what happened in Italy and what the impact was of the lockdown there. We quickly accepted the situation - what else can you do - and we all put our shoulders to the wheel to leave all our locations tidy. I thought it was nice to see that there was such a great sense of togetherness to finish everything in a few days before everything locked. The resilience of our people made me proud during that period. In the world of catering, the moment you welcome a new customer, you also take over the catering staff who worked in the catering for that organization. On April 1, just a group of 63 employees started, despite Corona we managed to welcome every new employee to the CIRFOOD family.

What occupies you most in your position at the moment?
  • Finance is also an important part of HR. During this period - in which all our employees are at home - we are of course looking into where we can save costs. For example, we entered into consultations with the Works Council and together we looked at the possibilities, such as deploying days off during the Corona.
  • The run-up to September 1 is a topic that everyone within our organization is currently busy with. This is not just anything; most of our people - after almost 6 months at home, you have to check! - return to work in a world that has completely changed.
  • In addition, our communication facilities in these times, I am very busy. The Fan Scan that we did recently revealed a need for more information from the head office. We are therefore very conscious of providing our people with frequent and correct information.
  • What keeps me busy is: how can we use this period to train employees and managers, even if they are at home? How can we use the time people now have to make them more skilled than they already are?
  • I am also concerned about making good use of the time that is now available in more areas. This is an excellent time to conduct feedback conversations, give extra attention to our people and engage in competence and skills development.
Do you notice that your HR budget is frozen because you have to pay more attention to costs? 

Luckily not. Our big advantage is that we have a strip card at Fan Factory, which means that during the year we can call in help for employability, training employees or simply sparring together. I also notice that there is a great need to start working at the locations again. We want to manage this together with colleagues and our customers. If we can do what we are good at again, we want to be ready for it again, which means that we also invest in new employees. How do you deal with educating people during this period? Training where physical presence is required is postponed. On the other hand, we are now very active in developing a training offer that can also be followed online. We are now developing training courses that are made available online, some also with a trainer online, so that people can start at home. We have also brought the free training courses that the SVH offers to our people together with the SVH; this is also widely used.

Your total population of catering staff has been at home for months. What keeps them busy?

Our location managers speak to their people relatively often. If one can do something, one would like to do this. Locations are visited and maintained and cared for every week, in case we can open again later. But this is not comparable to the pre-Corona period. Throughout this situation, our employees are often focused on their home situation or their immediate (family) environment. And not with their work. That sometimes worries me. Time passes and the world around us changes. And that will also change for them when they are allowed to work at the locations again. I imagine this raises questions, "What will our work look like from September 1? How do all government regulations deal? Do I have to work with a mask on, and with gloves on? "So mostly practical questions, to which we often do not yet have an answer.

Our employees naturally look to us at the head office to answer these questions, which makes sense!

From HR we try to provide our managers with the right tools and to inform the employees as well as possible and to prepare them for "the new world" when the locations are allowed to open again. The only problem is that the new world has not yet crystallized for us either.

How are you going to tackle the latter, boosting motivation after such a long period at home?

The Fan Scan showed that our people are especially attached to their working environment and colleagues. They feel good about it and are proud of it. As an organization, we mainly want to respond to this by making short films and mini e-learning. Employees are eager to be with colleagues again, but ignorance of the situation can hinder motivation. That is why we need to remove as much uncertainty as possible and explain step by step what is going to change. If we communicate well and provide people with information, I am sure that we are ready for the openings of the locations and in good spirits to receive our guests again.

So remove barriers and manage concerns. What else is important in the start-up phase?

Communicate frequently about what is changing and do this in detail. What are we doing as an organization? Where are we going? When you go to work, what will you find? What do we expect from you during start-up? How do we shape the service and what role do our employees play in this?

We do not want to leave room for ambiguity, but we want to give space to our colleagues to receive our customers hospitably again at the locations in the “new world”.


Do you wanna know more?

Want to know more? Please contact Marthe van der Kint .