HR Expert May Nyaga Talks Impact of COVID-19 on Sector, Career Journey…

April 14, 2020

May Nyaga is a seasoned HR expert and is currently the head of HR at Copy Cat Group, a leading systems integrator in East Africa.

She talked to Daily Nation about emergent issues in the sector following the coronavirus pandemic.

Are pay cuts the best way to handle the disruptions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic?

The respiratory disease has thrown businesses into disarray and severely impacted their budgets, revenue streams and continuity plans.

The management and boards of companies find themselves having to implement bold measures to protect the future of the business until normalcy returns.

Reducing salaries temporarily is one way of reducing operational costs. Managers take pay cuts in turbulent economic times as a show of leadership and responsibility.

This helps to lay the ground for the implementation of new strategies to keep the business afloat.

Are employees obliged to follow suit?

A lot of consultation goes on before such a decision can be made. Employees in lower income brackets are often spared, unless the situation demands that everyone surrenders a percentage of their pay.

Are employees protected by any law from being laid off during such times?

The Employment Act covers this. Companies must follow due process and offer an objective and valid reason for terminating anyone’s contract. Failure to do so may expose them to litigation, which may hurt the business even more.

Many view HR as a department that merely advances the interests of management. Is this the case?

The HR function has changed greatly in terms of its roles and overall impact in shaping organisations.

As we all battle this pandemic, HR officers have been working hard to ensure that employees are safe by proposing and implementing business continuity plans, creating safe working environments, and circulating information about the disease.

Is Kenya keeping pace with the rest of the world in its response to this crisis?

The response to the threat of Covid-19 by local businesses has been impressive.

Many organisations quickly adopted measures to allow their employees to work remotely as a way of preventing the spread of the virus.

I recently took part in an online global conference as a panellist to discuss my work experience in Africa.

One of the topics of discussion was how HR has become proactive in meeting employees’ needs by adjusting and supporting the ever-changing tastes of the workforce, and by leveraging on them to achieve organisational goals.

Today’s professionals are more focused on work-life fluidity as opposed to just work-life balance.

How can one create a good work environment amid all these challenges?

The rule of the thumb is to align oneself with the management, and to have a clear understanding of the role of HR and its impact on the organisation’s bottom line.

I always strive to prioritise inclusion and diversity. I promote structures that support adaptability, collaboration and good decision making.

I’m constantly expanding my knowledge to better understand and respond to the fast-changing business landscape, and while at it, I advise the company on how to effectively adapt to these changes.

Looking back at your career journey, what are you most displeased about?

I am here because of all the experiences I recorded along the journey.

Working in different industries has exposed me to different HR dynamics, and I have recorded a number of successes and a few struggles too.

To flourish as a professional, one must be willing to learn, to relearn and to unlearn at all times.

If you could restart your career, what would you do differently?

I would follow the same career path. But with the experience and skills I’ve gathered along the way and the readily available information on self-development, I would focus on being more agile and conscious to change.

Any popular advice about careers that isn’t necessarily true?

Career advice comes in many forms and shapes. As such, there’s a thin line between what’s genuine and what isn’t.

Filter out and adopt what is realistic to your case. Proceed at you own pace while managing your expectations. If possible, have a career coach to help you along your journey.

Is consultancy the ultimate destination for professionals?

Those who have peaked in their careers naturally go into consultancy. Being your own boss and devising niche solutions to support start-ups and established businesses is not only fulfilling, it also allows professionals to independently practice what they are passionate about.

What do you do for personal development? How do you unwind?

I’m constantly learning new things, such as the emerging technologies in my area of work, to keep abreast of trends and to assist my company in planning for strategic growth in areas such as recruitment and talent management.

I have a young family, and I seek to spend quality time with them. I also like to read books and informative online articles.

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