19th Aug 2020
3 Min Read

Storms ruthlessly exploit lack of preparedness

Lindsay Kohler
Lindsay Kohler
Strategy

The pandemic and its impacts on employment has HR strapped to the helpdesk like a captain to a ship’s wheel in a storm. It raises key questions about what employees will expect from HR beyond Covid-19.

There are choppy seas ahead, but while we’re managing through and planning beyond, we’re also faced with an opportunity to redefine and recalibrate.

We need to really open our minds and innovate to meet the challenges of the changing needs of employees in these testing times. Plans need to set for a future that turns the EVP from an also-ran to a dead cert - in the shape of a compelling and sustainable advantage, that does what it’s supposed to do, stimulate performance - and keep talent and skills compelled to stay.

As we all know only too well, engagement cannot be demanded, but it can be motivated, through an EVP that is created with true empathy and an understanding of employee needs.

The pandemic is a game changer and HR’s strategy needs to evolve and fast. The first and fundamental question is, what new benefits will people want, as we move back to normality? Onsite gyms might have tempted people in the past, but increasingly, demand is for more practical, brass-tacks support such as; childcare, healthcare and flexible schedules. Meanwhile, telehealth technology can enable real-time collaboration and a commitment for supporting mental health.

There is no doubt that mental health has been thrust into the limelight and, in context with the pandemic, the lockdown and growing anxiety, this is a hotspot that cannot be side-stepped. So how can businesses support these vital needs empathetically, what can we offer beyond the Employee Assistance Programme and what new schemes will emerge in response? Increasingly, it’s a case of imagining what will happen in the new normal and how employers should meet the changes appropriately.

There are other issues, for example, recognition for great performance, when the dynamics of the workplace remove the usual line to sight. Even under normal circumstances, employers are unsure about how to recognise employees, or mistakenly believe that recognition takes too much time, energy and money. Yet, a quick acknowledgment at the start of a team meeting or a casual compliment can do wonders and, incidentally, reviews of studies investigating if financial incentives are tied to performance, generally show no connection between the two.

So it will pay to consider what can be taken forward from your recognition and communication during lockdown, in terms of activities, to incorporate into an evolved EVP? Santander, as an example, created a microsite to offer uplifting wellbeing support for colleagues in branch, working from home and on furlough. This included a mechanism for colleague shoutouts which helped to make the site hugely popular with colleagues at all levels and looks likely to have a life beyond lockdown.

But you don’t need to create a new channel, many collaboration platforms have “praise features” that can be used informally, on top of more structured programmes.Trust, of course is an imperative and notably, with the remote working cat out of the bag, it’s going to be difficult to use that as a differentiating perk.

At some companies, this shift has churned up trust issues - particularly but not surprisingly, in cultures soaked in a ‘physically visible = performance’ mindset - which has resulted in strained relationships between employees and managers. Colleagues may feel more pressure than ever to be constantly ‘on’, to the detriment of performance and so it’s high time to critically evaluate performance management criteria and decide whether to introduce different metrics. Trust also extends to keeping employees physically safe.

As some businesses rush back to office life, there is a subset of employees who will feel reticent to return. They may have legitimate questions. Clearly, how firms manage and support the health risk-averse who don’t want to return to work, will be significant to outcome.

These are hard questions, but ones HR professionals must bring to the table. The ability to figure out what employees will value most and bring that to life at work, will become the true differentiator

This article was originally published in THEHRDIrector, issue 190, August 2020. Reproduced with kind permission.

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