The changing face of HR

In time, we will recall this period as one with enormous change, faced on a global scale. Some consider change a good thing, whilst others are in the opposite camp or are happiest sitting on the fence. Regardless of where you stand (or sit) it is generally agreed that change is rarely easy.

It is human nature to be resistant to it, because of the focus on what may be lost rather than what can be gained. Where this was different was that the change was sudden and unavoidable and took control from the individual. The decision to make a change was enforced and the disruption that followed impacted all of us.

And now we are working in ways we never thought possible. It is generally accepted that an unparalleled crisis heralded a new era for work. We took a step into the unknown and have travelled a long way in terms of workplace change and adapting to very demanding circumstances. It was a period that has transformed the face of work and phrases like the “new normal” and “hybrid working” now seem well worn.

For the HR team in particular, keeping on top of new practices and supporting employees on shifting foundations threw up challenge after challenge. Whatever the individual take-away from recent months, HR is now focussed on the future shape of work as we start to experience life beyond a lockdown. Equality and diversity, a gender pay gap, employee retention remain key issues for HR and rightly so; but these will be challenged for priority by the enormous strain that has been placed on employee health and well-being.

To protect employee mental health, consideration must be given to individual experience, as home life now interacts directly with work on a daily basis. The seismic shift to home working gave employers greater visibility of personal lives with the increasing realisation that supporting an employee’s work/life balance has a direct impact on their well being and, consequently, ability to perform. The advent of “e-presenteeism”1 is an indicator that the pandemic increased feelings of insecurity amongst employees and this must be faced head on. Employees need boundaries and for those boundaries to be supported by their manager and HR.

The expectation that an employee is always available can be detrimental to well being. Where the focus is on efficiency and control, an ‘always on’ attitude can easily take hold with the employee wanting to prove their value and secure their role as job losses loom. On the surface of it, an “always available” team may not be seen by some as a problem; but presenteeism can be just as damaging for an organisation as absenteeism. It can lead to stress, burnout and mental health issues that create major problems for both employee and employer further down the line.

Engaging with technology for a positive outcome

Whilst routine process still has a place in the day to day management of HR it can be left to technology; using specialist software to manage the ordinary and report on the extraordinary. What is important is to support the individual as they adapt to change with positive outcomes and HR should consider a holistic approach to employee management, health and well-being. Consideration for the entire life/work experience is now high on the HR agenda.

1 Presenteeism has risen rapidly during lockdown and, given its remote and digital nature, the phenomenon has been dubbed ‘e-presenteeism’.

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