India/ Bengaluru

Can government not publish HR standards?

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There are material standards, quality standards, accounting standards, then why not human resource (HR) standards?

Understanding HR as a practice

HR being a subjective concept, it is a completely non-uniform practice across the globe, and not just in India. This is largely on account of the variations in cultural and geographical practices. Every country has a set of labour laws that are aimed largely at preventing the exploitation of labour and thus ensuring certain standards in wages and the working conditions, which is the major objective of the labour laws. Companies devise their own policies, from an operational perspective to make sure there is an HR operation inside the company. This also gets reflected in one of the laws which are called standing orders. Practices like why and how you treat a person, and when he gets to take his leaves are centered around the concept of exploitation of labour and ensuring minimum standards of working conditions and wages. None of the policies venture beyond that.

Companies have their own way of devising what an employee should be looking forward to; such as what should an employee do to progress in an organization, and what are the minimum expectations with respect to a particular job role. For this, the companies will form their own policy regarding the code of conduct, the dress code, the usage of assets, interactions with colleagues, maintaining confidentiality etc. Therefore, this concept is not merely the prevention or exploitation of labour, but is also an assurance of certain benefits and working conditions to workers while involving them in all operations of HR.

To get there, each company devises its own policy and the government does not really bother about it. However, if we observe a similar practice in accounting, there are a set of standards which the government has recommended on how books have to be maintained. Thus, there is an obligation on the part of the company. Some of these are mandatory, while some others are voluntary. Similarly, HR standards being developed that address the behaviour within the organization, administration of employees, career progression, grievance management etc would make it a better procedure.

We use the word standards instead of rules because compliance is best when it’s voluntary. The government’s job is not to merely enforce rules, but also to facilitate the standards through voluntary compliance. Voluntary establishment of standards can be audited through a third party, like an HR auditor, which will enable the company to get into a self-governance mode. The benefits intended through legislative protectionism could become the culture of an organization if standards become the order of the day. That is the perspective with which HR standards need to be established.

What it would mean to establish this?

There are many organizations across the globe spread across geographies. The flexibility for a particular method of operation or benefits allowed within a region could become a benchmark for them, wherein they comply voluntarily because the region expects it and not because of the fear of authorities. A case in point is that of the maternity benefit bill, if and when it becomes an act should be voluntarily complied with and should not be only an obligation.

HR laws should be thought out rationally. For example, with reference to health benefits, can there be a health insurance which is inimical to the size of the company, turnover, volume etc. Can a Rs 500-crore company dole out a Rs 1.5-lakh medical insurance policy versus a company that has a Rs 5-crore turnover. These are such things that the government should promote. Benefits and HR standards that is to be maintained for the operation of human resources is a sensitive issue. If it can become a standard, it can become a voluntary compliance, coupled with an audit from a third party which can be part of the board report. Therefore, the board can say that what we do is akin to what the industry does and acceptable to the local authority.

The way forward

Capitalist economies had seen the Industrial Revolution. There was no equity in distribution of money and hence, exploitation of labour became a rampant phenomenon. Labour laws, wages, benefits, conditions were all set against this backdrop and companies hesitated to do anything beyond that. The idea is when you’re extending a benefit, it is not to say that you should extend only that which is given by the government. Benefits commensurate with the size of the agency and the amount of work one does should be take into account. While the government has given some minimum standards to be followed like benefits and wages, then why not encourage a system of voluntary compliance by a company that can say that they observe HR standards at a much higher level, for example.

Why can it not be seen as the observance of a standard mechanism which could promote the health of a company and the harmony with the work force? The idea is to make sure that somebody belongs to a company not merely because of the wages, benefits and working conditions it offers, but also because he identifies with the company, the culture, honesty etc.