COVID-19 has thrust human resources management (HR) into the spotlight. The pandemic has forced HR professionals to make tough staffing decisions, cut costs, restructure the workforce and institute new remote work models and technology. What’s more, HR must also train and re-skill remaining employees and leadership in these new systems and responsibilities.
Employees are facing many challenges during the pandemic. These include weathering financial hardships and learning remote work models, as well as balancing work with family responsibilities and coping with stress that affects their physical, mental and emotional well-being. HR must support and guide employees while still managing productivity and efficiency.
In these unprecedented times, HR professionals must be creative, incorporating new models of talent management and communications, and leading through change. Coursework for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s online Master of Business Administration program with a concentration in Human Resource Management offers students in-depth study of these pressing topics. This program’s online design also gives students firsthand experience with remote work models and the opportunity to integrate learning into their work in real time.
What Challenges Does the COVID-19 Crisis Present for HR?
Economic downturns and stay-at-home orders brought on by the crisis resulted in lost revenue and the discontinuation of most in-office work. These factors forced mass layoffs, furloughs and temporary worker acquisitions and training. These changes tend to be time-intensive and emotionally taxing for HR departments.
Shutdowns also led to the widespread shift to working from home. HR employees needed to rapidly implement complex remote work models, including secure remote communications systems, virtual and collaborative software platforms and productivity monitoring tools. Training and reskilling employees to adapt to these systems compounded HR challenges.
HR has had to balance meeting organizational goals, managing monetary resources and empathetically addressing employee needs, while concurrently learning the above processes at a rapid pace. These cross-functional responsibilities require an astounding amount of multi-tasking, agility and adaptability.
Could the Pandemic Uncover Positive Opportunities for HR?
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced dramatic organizational change in beneficial ways that one might not expect. As Maya Hu-Chan put it in an article for Inc., “In every crisis, there’s opportunity to engage, innovate, and connect.”
The pandemic has highlighted how integral employees and their well-being are to an organization. To remain productive, all operations have had to shift to prioritizing employee health, engagement, teamwork and connection. These aspects of the employee experience have been central to HR efforts for decades, but never has prioritizing these factors been so top of mind.
Current circumstances have also led bottom-line-minded leadership to recognize that improving the employee experience relates directly to maximizing productivity and profits. A people-first focus can help with recovery and long-term plans, improving resilience, company culture and employee engagement.
Embracing remote work is also an opportunity for HR to innovate. Fully remote or hybrid work models can improve productivity and work-life balance. Plus working from home opens the door to potential talent with scheduling and logistical limitations, such as people living in remote locations or those with children at home. This can benefit HR in quality talent acquisition while enhancing diversity in the workplace.
Reduced overhead costs and improved talent acquisition may also motivate leadership to incorporate remote and hybrid work models into future business planning.
How Can HR Support Employees and Leadership Through the Crisis?
Pandemic-related health concerns, collective anxieties, organizational change, the rapid move to remote work and shifting family life challenges all add to employees’ stress levels. HR’s most important tasks during the crisis are to actively support employees, address concerns and mitigate sources of stress.
This means giving staff the tools and training they need to meet productivity expectations while working remotely. It also means providing them with mental, emotional, financial and physical support, constantly communicating and addressing shifting needs.
This support should involve providing employees with extra resources such as remote professional development, telehealth benefits (physical and mental), financial advisors, and open communication channels. Accommodating employees with children at home requires flexibility and adaptive scheduling. Above all, empathy is critical.
Leadership must also be agile, flexible and empathetic, constantly supporting and communicating with employees. Productivity expectations and goals need to be clear, consistent, achievable and purpose-driven. HR must make every effort to engage each employee in the company’s culture, mission and vision.
Leaders may need coaching on how to adapt managerial styles, collaborative efforts, communications and operations in times of crisis. As a result, HR will play an essential role in becoming leaders of leaders. In all aspects of adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting employees and creating nimble, resilient organizational models, innovative HR professionals can shape the future of work.
Learn more about UL Lafayette’s online MBA program with a concentration in HR Management.