In a world where terrorism, political unrest, and extreme weather events are in the news daily, duty of care is taking center stage. Keeping employees safe at work—even when their work takes them to other countries—is integral to an organization’s ability to attract, retain, and support their precious talent resources.
Duty of care defines the responsibility to protect employees’ health, safety, and wellbeing when they are required to travel on behalf of their organization. But as business becomes more global, the world has become more dangerous, making duty of care more challenging to fulfill. Major incidents such as terrorism are on the rise, with a fivefold increase in fatalities since 9/11. Extreme weather events are also increasing in frequency, scale, and economic impact. Even comparatively minor issues such as travel delays can impact employee wellbeing, and according to the Travel Leaders Group survey of travel agents, flight delays have increased significantly to become the top concern for business travelers.
The Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management Global Benchmarking Study, conducted by International SOS, the world’s leading medical and travel security risk services company, revealed that in the past three years, nearly one in eight companies had to deal with kidnapping, coup d’état, war, hijacking, hotel fires or airline catastrophes. And at least one half of the companies surveyed had experienced travel delays, illness while on assignment, lost luggage, ash cloud, opportunistic crime, workplace accidents, road accidents, and lack of access to quality medical care abroad.
Yet while the risks are increasing, many organizations aren’t doing enough to protect employees. The survey indicated that levels of awareness about duty of care are only average for the majority of organizations.
Who takes responsibility?
Most businesses see the deployment of duty of care programs and requirements as HR’s responsibility. The benchmarking study, which included responses from 628 companies worldwide, indicated that HR currently has key ownership in all three areas of duty of care, including primary responsibility, coordination, and decision-making. But the study also flagged that one of the biggest challenges facing companies is that everyone needs to play a role if duty of care is going to be effective. Rather than being relegated to just one functional group, the skills and knowledge required to ensure duty of care need to be developed and supported throughout the organization, including employees involved in security, risk management, senior management, and travel.
Supporting best practices
So how can HR do a better job of supporting duty of care when so many roles touch this vital business requirement?
Competencies can help. By identifying the competencies that support effective duty of care and including them in the job profiles of employees who are directly involved in keeping employees safe in a work context, HR professionals can start to build a pervasive culture of diligence and care.
The International SOS benchmarking survey indicated 10 best practices that address the gaps in duty of care delivery. Each of these best practices maps to one or more competencies, and those competencies can be used to translate general best practices into specific workplace behaviors that employees at every level of the organization need to model:
- Increase awareness >> Health Safety and Environment Awareness and Communication, Commitment to Health and Safety
- Plan with key stakeholders >> Emergency/Crisis Management
- Expand policies and procedures >> Health Safety and Environment Standards Enforcement
- Conduct due diligence >> Occupational Health and Safety, Ensuring Accountability
- Communicate, educate and train >> Health Safety and Environment Awareness and Communication
- Assess risk prior to every employee trip >> Project Risk Management
- Track traveling employees at all times >> Process Management
- Implement an employee emergency response system >> Process Management
- Implement additional management controls >> Process Management, Internal Controls Assessment
- Ensure vendors are aligned >> Vendor Management
With the potential to impact an organization’s bottom line, public perception, and ability to sustain employee trust and loyalty, duty of care has become a key element in virtually every organization’s HR strategy. While a piecemeal approach can undermine the effectiveness of a duty-of-care initiative, competencies provide a holistic framework for supporting appropriate levels of care throughout the organization.
Browse HRSG’s competency dictionaries to see the complete list of general and technical competencies.
Download a free ebook that explores the role of multi-level competencies in strategic HR.