HR home working

A holistic approach to HR

Last year will be remembered for the enormous challenges that presented on a global scale. For HR, it was the year that changed the familiar face of work.  Some consider change to be a good thing, whilst others are in the opposite camp or on the fence between the two; but, regardless of this, it is generally agreed that change is rarely easy.  It is human nature to be resistant to change because of the focus on what may be lost rather than what can be gained. Where 2020 was different is 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 has impacted us all.

As the anniversary of the first lockdown approaches, we are working in ways we never thought possible.  With months of home working behind us, we accept that an unparalleled crisis heralded a new era for work. We took a step into the unknown and, as the dusts settles, we see how far we’ve come in terms of workplace change and adapting to often demanding circumstances.

Whatever the individual take-away from the last 12 months, HR is now focussed on the future shape of work as we glimpse life beyond lockdown.  Equality and diversity, the gender pay gap, employee retention and talent management remain key issues for HR; but these will be challenged for priority by the enormous strain the experiences of 2020 placed on employee well being.

To protect employee mental health and to avoid another (albeit different) health crisis, there will need to be a shift from managing an employee in the workplace to managing their life experience. 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, their ability to perform.  The advent of “e-presenteeism”1 is an indicator that 2020 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. An expectation that the employee is always available is as detrimental to their well being as a perceived lack of trust to be left unsupervised.  During the early weeks of transition to home working, there was an assumption that the employee could not be productive as they navigated a new normal outside of the workplace.  Where the focus was on efficiency and control, an ‘always on’ attitude took hold; the employee wanting to prove their value. On the surface, this may not be considered a problem, yet presenteeism can be just as damaging for a business as absenteeism. It can lead to stress, burnout and mental health issues that create major problems for both the employee and employer further down the line.

Alongside all these issues, process and automation still have a place in the day to day management of HR. However, the routine can be left to technology; the use of specialist software to manage the ordinary and report on the extraordinary.   For now, the move to a more holistic approach and consideration for the entire employee life experience should be high on the HR agenda.

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

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Article originally published on HR Grapevine March 2021.