What has HR learned after 2 years since the first COVID lockdown was announced?  

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Yesterday, March 23 marked the two-years since Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that the UK will be shut down due to the coronavirus. After two years of pandemic what lessons can HR carry with them into the life after Covid?


Managing crisis


The necessity of crisis management has been one of the most important lessons learned. HR has had to learn to be in a continual state of readiness as a result of many lockdowns – and fake ‘ends’ to the pandemic.


Being prepared for a crisis has become crucial to HR’s everyday existence, according to Liz Sebag-Montefiore, director of a HR consultancy firm.” A robust crisis management strategy is vital. Stressed managers may make rash or unwise judgments, and stressed staff may retreat into rigorous rule-following or sit on their hands in fear of exacerbating the situation.”

“A plan provides structure, consistency, clarity, and confidence to everyone; everyone knows where to go for direction, advice, support, information, and leadership.”


The rapid adjustments that HR has had to supervise in reaction to these crises, according to Martyn Dicker, director of people at children’s charity Unicef, have emphasised to HR just how crucial a flexible strategy can be.


“The phrase pivot has come up so much – and it’s completely accurate. We’d been doing things one way for a while and then abruptly changed our minds. Organizations used to believe that onboarding, recruiting, and interviewing have to be done in person.Many of the things we’ve done over the last two years are perfectly acceptable to do remotely.”


Culture and trust are two important factors to consider


According to Dicker, the pandemic has expedited a number of fundamental changes in the corporate sector, including gaining employee trust. “It’s an acceleration of emphasis on performance, on outcomes, and less on presence or input,” he explained. This is especially true of office employment, he noted.


“One of the lessons is that you don’t have to come into the office to do [the task].” You don’t have to appear in front of the appropriate people, and you don’t have to show up at nine o’clock.”


“Many individuals are hesitant to return to an office atmosphere where their tasks are micromanaged by observing their every move,” Sebag-Montefiore continued.


“Many have worked independently for months at a time away from the office and have shown to be reliable, successful, and prolific.”


HR can develop a culture that appreciates workers’ independence, responsibility, autonomy, and creativity by learning to promote trust inside their organisations, she added.” Employees want to be trusted, so be reasonable about continuing to offer flexible work schedules and refrain from micromanaging and monitoring employee conduct.”


Wellbeing


While HR moved quickly to protect people’s physical health during the pandemic, many people faced a steep learning curve in knowing how to protect their mental health.” The pandemic has brought the problem of employee wellness and health into sharp focus, and with good reason,” says Amanda Manser, director of operations at wellbeing and performance business GoodShap.


“While Covid’s impact on workforces was unavoidable, it was poor mental health that caused the most of missed working time last year – 17% of all staff absences throughout the UK (Continuing a 40% spike since 2015).”


Organizations have learnt to take a more human approach to business, according to Perry Timms, founder and chief energy officer of a HR consultancy firm.  “Not benefits,” he explained, “but moments that count.”


We’ve seen more symbolic gestures from leadership than ever before, thanks to increased compassion and common knowledge of the issues of self-care, according to Timms. “Duty of care took on a new meaning […] our aim is that this translates into hybrid working patterns and methods, as well as a sustained understanding that a wellness approach truly does make a difference to people’s dedication and togetherness in uncertain, tumultuous times,” he added.


“The pandemic should serve as a clear reminder that wellness is no longer a nice-to-have policy, but a real business agenda push,” Manser said.


“It is critical that companies continue to be devoted to their employees’ well-being in the future.”


HR’s Role in the Workplace


The pandemic, according to David Blackburn, chief people officer at the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), has not only taught HR a lesson, but has also offered other business units a great insight into the importance of HR. “The pandemic highlighted the critical relevance of the chief people officer and their teams in every organisation,” he added.


According to him, the diversity and intensity of the difficulties HR has encountered have been front and centre for the whole organisation. Supporting employees on the front lines or in their homes while preserving relationships and productivity in a whole new world of work is possible with remote working.


“We proved that we’re not simply people leaders, but also business leaders, strategic advisers, and creative thinkers,” he continued.


“We didn’t simply provide answers; we provided better solutions.”


“This is a fantastic opportunity to seize that advantage and guarantee that, in the future, HR leads the business agenda rather than simply responds to it.”


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