In Times of Crisis, HRO Has Your Back: Part 1

Linda Merritt, HRO Research Analyst, NelsonHall

Whether it is a hurricane, typhoon, blizzard, earthquake, or flood, the weather can create a crisis for businesses, customers, employees, public organizations, and service providers alike anywhere around the world.

The latest natural disaster in the U.S. is Superstorm Sandy and it has severely impacted millions of people across several states. Early estimates are upwards of $50bn in damages. The cost assessment does not begin to account for the loss of life, loss of a family’s home and personal belongings, or the impact on small and large businesses in the area. Our hearts and prayers go out to all of those impacted.

I reached out to several HRO vendors including Aon Hewitt, Mercer, NorthgateArinso, and Xerox on how they support clients in times of emergencies and how they ensure services are provided when they are also impacted.

Be Prepared and Proactive

Some disasters, like hurricanes, allow time for specific contingency planning in addition to the established business continuity protocols. One of those preparations is to consider the HR service cycle and what is occurring during the impending crisis.

For vendors providing benefits administration services, Sandy was heading into heavily populated business centers during annual benefits enrollment. Examples of actions taken included:

  • Contacting clients: Jocelyn Purtell, U.S. Operations Leader for Mercer, said they began pre-storm planning the Friday before hurricane Sandy made landfall. Mercer considered the impact on its clients and whether the storm would hit its client service center in the Boston area. They then reached out to the clients most likely to be impacted to let them know their plans and preparations.
  • Extending open enrollment periods: Aon Hewitt, Mercer, and Xerox all collaborated with clients on extending the annual enrollment period. One client wanted to quietly allow an extended “correction period,” others extended open enrollment and asked for assistance in communicating with employees to get the word out. Pat Quenan, Aon Hewitt Practice Leadership V.P., reported that 40% of its benefits administration clients extended open enrollment.
  • Amending policies or standard practice: Mercer has been able to make suggestions to clients on how to handle crisis exceptions (e.g., what to do if a short-term disability is in process or ready to expire; how to handle commuter benefits in urban areas affected like New York City; etc.).
  • Providing information: Aon Hewitt knows that retirees may be concerned about any delays to pension check delivery and provided information on its voice response system and website about possible delays in mail delivery by zip code. 

Asking about business continuity and disaster recovery is standard practice in an RFP, and it is important to know a HRO service provider’s capabilities. The reality is something more and is embedded in the strength of client-vendor relationships and culture that values dedicated customer service.

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One Comment on “In Times of Crisis, HRO Has Your Back: Part 1”


  1. […] HR Outsourcing success through data-based insights from industry research firm NelsonHall « In Times of Crisis, HRO Has Your Back: Part 1 […]


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