Much has already been written about how disruptive the events of 2020 have been – that’s not a news flash. The impact on organizations, careers, and personal lives has been substantial and is still being sorted through. In the heat of the moment, HR and organizational leaders were forced to react and make quick decisions to keep pace with rapidly changing events. Businesses scrambled to respond, making changes to policies and practices that affected employees’ schedules, workflow, safety, and wellbeing.
Now, for the first time in over a year, with the escalating rollout of the COVID vaccine in the U.S. and across the globe, the wave appears to have crested and leaders can begin to assess the situation more closely. Were changes in the broader economic and social environment transitory or will they remain? Which new workplace policies or practices should remain in place? Are there former policies that should be reinstated? And of critical importance, what are the needs and interests of the most important workplace asset – the employees – that need to be addressed?
Over the past 15-20 years, HR and organizational leaders have focused on the importance of employee engagement, striving to help workers make a meaningful connection between their work and the purpose and mission of the organization. And while engagement remains important, there is growing evidence that employees are seeking something different from their employers – a desire to be “heard” on a range of issues, often not work-related. Several trends that emerged in 2020 will continue to be important in the years ahead:
In the context of these trends, the role of the HR function is also being questioned by employees. While HR has always straddled the line between employee advocacy and management support, it has historically been viewed as a “management” function – and employees, increasingly, are asking if the HR function can or will advocate for their interests and needs. Many employees have an increased focus on purpose, personal values, and living in alignment with both, which has implications for the work they do and what they expect from their employer. How will HR assure employees that their health, well-being, and psychological safety are of paramount concern to the company? Will HR understand and accept that employees want to bring their whole, authentic self into work—and will HR programs and policies foster a work environment that encourages this? Can HR credibly balance their employee advocacy and management support responsibilities?
As HR leaders begin to assess and plan their talent and workforce engagement strategies for the post-pandemic world, it will be important to address this misalignment in the perception of HR’s role. What steps can HR leaders consider?
The confluence of COVID-19, economic, and societal issues is a “sea change” moment that will fundamentally alter how employees want and expect to interact with their employers. And like any healthy, mutual relationship, it all starts with listening. Merriam-Webster defines hearing as “the process or power of perceiving a sound.” Listening, on the other hand, means “to hear something with thoughtful attention and to give consideration.” So, HR leaders – are you really listening to your employees?
Vice President, Senior Executive Services