What is human resources? Before the pandemic, this was a much simpler question to answer. Since early 2020, HR has taken on greater significance and greater responsiblity. Now, Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs), Chief People Officers (CPOs), and other HR leaders focused on learning and development (L&D), diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and even mental health and wellness are recognized as vital to the business, especially in these uncertain times.
Human Resources continues to be the department responsible for recruiting and hiring talent, devising and doling out compensation and benefits packages, focusing on retention and policies regarding employee relationships, schedules, etc. They build the team and try to keep it going. They are the backbone of the organization.
However, HR historically has faced criticism from the employees, who viewed them as beholden to executives alone. Many employees failed to report violations or struggles to HR because they did not trust them. That old map has been ripped up. The modern HR department still must align their talent objectives with business goals. However, they also are elevating the employees. They must balance their priorities between those of the executives and shareholders with those of the talent they are managing.
Workers Rise Up
Businesses learned the true value of the people, who help them do everything from on the lights to innovate during the pandemic. Now that these Human Resources management leaders are taking a seat at their desks in the C-suite, the majority are aiming to put the human back in HR. Those who are forward looking are taking a human-first approach.
At the same time, the talent also recognized what they bring to the table, and they decided to use it to their advantage. They had demands, and if they were not met, they quit. In fact, more than 47 million people voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021, the era dubbed as the Great Resignation.
Many workers, who opted to stay, have unionized. Amazon, Starbucks, and others have made headlines for the unions their workers are forming. This revitalization of organized labor fits with the trend of employees having leverage in the job market.
READ: Your HR Guide to Unions
The pandemic helped people revisit their priorities and change the way they think about work. As a result, employees’ expectations and needs began evolving. Above all, they want better work-life balance, competitive compensation and benefits that provide dignity, and physically and psychologically safe workplaces.
As the people’s priorities shift, so do those of Human Resources professionals.
Employee Engagement and Experience
Employee engagement and experience is now paramount. It is the ultimate goal of HR professionals to ensure productivity, collaboration, and innovation. When the pandemic forced companies to shift to remote work, HR shouldered the burden of both overseeing the logistics and tech requirements but also keeping everyone connected.
The first step to keeping employees engaged is understanding what they need. In a survey, Gallup found the following were the most important factors for employees:
- Increase in income and benefits (64%)
- Greater work-life balance and better personal wellbeing (61%)
- Ability to do what they do best (58%)
- Greater stability and job security (53%)
- COVID-19 vaccination policies that align with my beliefs (43%)
- Organization is diverse and inclusive of all types of people (42%)
Engaging employees is pivotal in remote and hybrid workplaces. Michael Arena, a columnist for HR Exchange Network and a veteran in HR, who has worked for companies like Amazon Web Services, has conducted much research.
While many continue to take one side or the other in the never-ending debate about return to office versus work from home, Arena has shown evidence that it is not an either/or discussion. It is more nuanced and there are times for gathering with co-workers and times for working autonomously from home.
Income and Benefits
A survey of U.S. companies showed that employers budgeted for an overall average salary increase of 3.4% in 2022. A number of media outlets have reported that even with the wage increases and hiring and retention bonuses some companies gave out at the height of the Great Resignation, most did not provide salaries that kept up with high rates of inflation.
Benefits, however, are more promising. In an attempt to attract job applicants and retain workers, employers are rethinking the benefits packages they offer. One of the major trends is to make benefits more like an a la carte menu, so individual employees get personalized attention. Benefits to address reproductive rights, fertility, transgender rights, and more are among the unique offerings. Pet insurance, enhanced medical insurance, and retirement savings that include greater matching by the employer are among the other benefits many are including now.
A big part of employee engagement and this new approach to the employee/employer relationship includes diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy. Many are now using the term DEIB to emphasize the importance of giving employees a sense of belonging. DEI or DEIB is about providing fairness and equity in pay and opportunities to co-workers. It’s also about providing people with security and comfort and making them feel valued.
REPORT: The Business Case for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
No longer is DEI seen as a luxury or an item on a checklist or an afterthought. Now it is a must have. DEI, in fact, is the key to creating loyalty and justice in the workplace. Many organizations still house DEI in the HR department. Some, however, are making separate departments for this important task. Regardless of how DEI is delivered, it is connected in some way to Human Resources.
GUIDE: HR Guide to DEI
DEI leaders help organize supportive employee resource groups (ERGs), track recruitment and retention numbers to ensure a diverse talent pool, train the team
Mental Health and Wellness
The new business leader has empathy. They communicate well and can support their staff in good times and bad. They know how to connect with people on a human level. During the pandemic, when people were isolated and times were uncertain, many realized that employers needed to support the wellbeing of their workers. If people were anxious, stressed, or faced a diagnosed mental illness, the pandemic exacerbated it. Also, whenever anyone is mentally distraught, they cannot focus on their work or be as productive as they should or could be.
Now, companies are offering wellness apps, meditation and yoga courses or retreats, access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), and other means for healing the mind and body. For many years, employers had focused on the physical health of employees by offering gym memberships and medical insurance. Today, employers are tending to the mental health of employees as well.
HR is at a crossroads. With a potential recession looming and leaner economic times, many are questioning what will come of these people-first approaches to talent management. However, the pandemic unleashed fast-paced change, including advances in technology. There’s no turning back now. The new HR, the new workplace, is continuing to evolve. It’s a work in progress, and it may morph to adapt to the times. But it will never be the way it was before COVID-19.
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