We’re living through a redefining era for leaders across all business functions, and HR is no exception. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to shift our understanding of “normal.” and we’re in the midst of a movement towards social justice not seen for a generation.
The power of moments like these comes with defining what matters, and organizations have never been clearer on the need for our people to be at the center of all that we do. Our people are the lifeblood of our organizations. HR leaders have known this all along but this has been our moment to rise to the occasion and be seen as one of the most mission-critical functions within an organization.
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Though external forces have created intense pressures for HR leaders, it just proves that our roles are more important than ever. As HR leaders, we must focus on trust, transparency and agility within the ever-changing landscape of business. We must also be aware of the trends that are becoming critical to the HR job function and mindful of how we respond, rather than react, to support our people.
Put on your own mask first: Why wellness and self-care matter
This is not only a timely message when we think about the world wearing masks but is something we are used to hearing during air travel. The concept of putting on your own mask first so that you can help those around you has become more important for leaders today. We’ve heard it a million times: Leaders lead by example. If employees are seeing their leaders taking care of themselves, they are more inclined to feel empowered to do the same. Self-care has played a crucial role with mandatory work-from-home orders taking their toll on many of us, and the percentage of workers reporting negative mental health up by 50% in April 2020 from the year before.
The impact is particularly felt by those living alone or struggling to juggle work and childcare. Regardless of the specific external circumstances faced by our employees, it is critical that we lead with empathy, provide the right support and create a sense of belonging.
Health and wellness initiatives play an important role in helping workers to deal with periods of isolation, depression and uncertainty. This aligns with a rise in demand for health and wellness support, identified as now the most-requested benefit in a poll of almost 4,000 people by Hootsuite’s founder and chairman, Ryan Holmes.
Looking ahead, we’re going to see organizations invest in programs that prioritize mental health, like Headspace for Work, and initiatives that champion the power of human connection. These might include dedicated support forums and Google Hangout meetups for working parents and their kids, or informal “planned randomized interactions” as highlighted by Harvard Business Review.
Employees as decision-makers about where they work
We must find ways to make remote work “work” because the reality is it’s not going away. A recent Gartner study found that 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after the pandemic, compared to 30% pre-pandemic. Some companies, including Twitter and Facebook, have announced that employees can continue to work from home indefinitely.
For many others, a blended approach will be more favorable than going “all in.” This will alter the traditional work/life balancing act, and that’s a good thing. Instead, employers should encourage employees to find harmony in work/life integration: a blending between the two spheres of work and outside life.
Keeping the door open to remote work also has the potential to drive improvements in diversity. By leveraging a global remote workforce, it’s possible to find a diverse set of candidates who are excelling in their fields but who previously found themselves outside of the talent pool for a wide range of geographical and socioeconomic reasons.
It’s important to foster the connections that will enable remote workers to thrive. HR leaders may want to open a line of communication with their social marketing team—if one doesn’t exist already. A key attribute of social media is the ability to engage, have a conversation and develop relationships—and the good news is that almost two-thirds of remote workers already use social media to communicate with colleagues at least once per week, according to Hootsuite research. However, this figure drops significantly in the 45-plus age group, signaling work needs to be done to ensure access is scalable and inclusive.
Working with your company’s social media experts, you may also consider launching an employee advocacy program—proven to boost employee engagement and feelings of inclusion in areas like understanding company direction.
As for planning the future of in-person interactions, there is increasing talk of “temporary colocation events,” where workers are invited to spend a few days with their colleagues. While these might not be possible quite yet, now is the time to start planning. Google announced in September 2020 that it had begun reconfiguring its offices for these “on-sites”.
Prioritize change management to navigate a time of uncertainty
Change management—the approaches that prepare, support and help individuals, teams and organizations make change in the workplace—has always been a reality but the events of the past year took the need for it to new heights. Organizations have reckoned with blanket remote-work policies, state and county health regulations, business-continuity plans and a new level of radical candor around racism and inequality.
It’s critical to have strong change-management practices in place to navigate these situations as successfully as possible. Good change management is all about taking your people on the drive with you, pulling over every now and then to explain the journey and letting them see the key points along the way.
This approach involves giving employees a view into your decision-making progress, ensuring they have time to opt in and opt out of changes, and acclimate. As stated at the top of this article, the key is to focus on trust, transparency and open lines of communication.
What’s next—and why we’ll be better for it
Last year sparked new and important questions in society—in HR, we thought about mental health, employee centricity in how and where we work, and managing change in ways we may not have considered if not for the crisis. The opportunities are there to create more positive, diverse and unified workplaces; it’s just up to us to make them a reality.