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HR priorities in the times of a pandemic

2020 was the year that undoubtedly will stand out in the history of humanity. Since the very outbreak of the pandemic, almost every country, society, and industry has been adversely impacted. Businesses are the worst affected not only on account of disruption in the demand and the supply chain but also because of worries over the future of work.

According to a survey conducted by Gartner of around 172 HR leaders conducted earlier this month, 52% of the HR’s reported reduced business operations in their organization amid the pandemic. The global pandemic has not only changed the way we live but has additionally impacted the way we work. COVID-19 has accelerated some of the significant work-life transformations. The way people work, learn, communicate, collaborate has seen a 360-degree shift and are likely to remain the same for an unforeseeable future.

Since the transformation is the only way out, HR leaders will now be required to play a critical role. HR leaders are facing issues, including preserving the company’s culture, maintaining employee satisfaction, keeping a check on employee’s productivity, and equipping them with new skills and training. Thus, HR leaders are continuously shifting their priorities. And are going to do so for the rest of the year.

The disaster management plan of top companies with their HR managers taking the lead role is in place. Amid the pandemic, employees are concerned about their physical safety and how their work is going to be disrupted.

Here are some insights as to how the HR priorities have shifted during the pandemic:


1. Local HR Managers taking the lead:

Though the pandemic is spread worldwide, some regions are affected more severely than others. This calls for the local HR managers to take the lead and react independently as per the situation.

The global HR is required to share the relevant information with the ground HR teams on time. Global HR managers too need to transfer the authority and control to local HR’s. They should be allowed to evaluate the ground reality and make time-sensitive decisions that can prove to be critical for the organization.


2. Ensuring the safety of the employees: Continuing business operations is essential, but the same should not be achieved at the cost of employee wellbeing. The situation is critical for everyone, including the employees. Some of the major organizations have delegated the task of employee wellbeing, and continuity to the HR Department.

For instance, Infosys enabled 70% of its employees to work from home to maintain social distancing and follow the new normal. Companies are also extending their support to the community by doing their share of philanthropic services. Infosys opened platforms in the U.S. for the teachers to help them continue teaching students from home.


3. Up-skilling the employees: Since the onset of COVID, employees are required to take up new skills to adjust to the new normal. According to the study conducted by Gartner, 40% of their workforce had to use new skills in the pandemic-ridden work environment.

To adopt a more dynamic approach, HR’s continuously need to identify significant areas of top priority and chalk-out the changes required in the employees’ skill set. Up-skilling, motivating and influencing the employees through more personalized learning options is yet another priority for the HR leaders during the pandemic.

To further motivate the employees for taking up and learning new skills, organizations should open doors for internal movement. Instead of putting a halt on promotions, the HR’s should lay down certain specific add-on skills for employees to grab the new role.


4. Handling the change effectively: The work situation is changing drastically both for organizations and employees. In such a scenario, the management needs to shift from top-down change to open-source change. In the top-down approach, the change is led by the seniors and is communicated to the employees.

On the other hand, is an open-source change approach, where the employees are involved in designing the change. An open-source approach calls for a two-way dialogue between the employees and the management.

This requires HR leaders to take extensive actions to make two-way communication possible. An open-source policy increases employee engagement and the employees are likely to stay in the organization for a more extended period. 


5. Empowering the employees: Top organizations are providing timely updates to the employees regarding the disease. They are communicating self-prevention measures with them.

HR managers are also empowering the employees by collecting their views via questionnaires. For instance, Covestro (China) is collecting the views of its employees on WeChat Corporate Channel on topics concerning health conditions. The analysis of employees’ response will help provide management significant support in taking decisions regarding resuming work.


Bottom Line

COVID-19 is taking a toll on the lives of many people, hampering the businesses at the same time. The current pandemic led world has thrown many challenges at the organization’s HR leaders.

The priority of HR managers is shifting more towards employee productivity and motivation. Apart from ensuring smooth working while adopting the work from home culture, HR’s are also required to look after employee satisfaction, employee safety, and employee engagement. At the same time, training and retention of employees is another challenge for HR’s that needs attention.

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