Simon Lyle, UK MD of Randstad RiseSmart, explains the costs of Covid-19 on HR professionals battling the pandemic – and what HR directors can do to support them

Aside from their day jobs, HR people are continuing to work hard to keep their employees safe, support their colleagues’ mental health during lockdown, and manage social restrictions.  Exhausted HR professionals don’t feel they can mention how much the extra workload is affecting them, given the fact that many of their colleagues are being made redundant.  Teams are overworked and emotionally drained.  There’s a very real risk of illness – and burnout.

Teams are overworked and emotionally drained.  There’s a very real risk of illness – and burnout

The new coronavirus vaccines should not give HR directors grounds for boundless optimism.  For example, we don’t yet know if the Pfizer vaccine will protect against coronavirus infection  or simply against developing symptoms once someone has been infected – and the second shot is going to be up to a month after the first – so protection is delayed even in those lucky enough to receive it in the first few months.  Clearly, the vaccines do not represent a magic bullet.

Things are going to get much worse before they get better

The Pfizer frenzy aside, a full UK economic recovery will take until beyond 2022.  Health bosses are warning Brits will have to spend New Year under tougher lockdown if they want to celebrate Christmas.  The risk of a Brexit cliff edge at the end of the year remains – KPMG tells us that failure to seal a post-Brexit deal would more than halve UK growth.  Bank of England deputy governor, Dave Ramsden, says as much as £490bn would be lost to the economy over the next three years, representing a severe hit to tax revenue to finance public spending.  One former chief economist with Lloyds thinks unemployment is about to hit 13 per cent – around 4.4 million.  Given the unemployment rate is still under 5% – about 1.6 million people – things are going to get much worse before they get better.

Work from redundancies set to rise 

While this is grim news for Rishi Sunak, it’s bad news for the country’s HR professionals, too.  Another 2.8 million redundancies will create a vast amount of additional work for HR teams.  While every situation is unique, a redundancy tends to represent a day’s worth of work – a series of consultations plus the requisite prep over a two week period.   In a poll of HR professionals working in organisations employing approximately 50,000 people in total, we found that every ‘simple’ redundancy typically costs HR professionals 7¼ hours of work.

It’s not just the volume of redundancies that’s the problem

Our research also highlighted the length of time it takes HR professionals to deal with redundancies that don’t run smoothly because, for instance, they go to tribunal – 140 hours’ worth of work.  Currently, complicated redundancies represent around 30% of the total number of cases.  But a quarter of HR professionals say that proportion is growing as the pandemic tightens the labour market and employees in consultation become more desperate.  

Covid cuts will leave HR teams hurt – professionally and mentally

All this will mean more work – approximately 170 hours’ worth of overtime per full time HR employee involved over the course of the H2 2020.  The scale of the task will leave many worrying they are unable to do the job to their own high standards – that will hurt, professionally and mentally.  

Next steps: what HR directors should do

HR directors who are concerned for their exhausted teams can minimise workloads by making sure that redundancies are a last resort.  

One option is to reposition employees before they leave, by making use of redeployment solutions – retaining institutional knowledge within the firm and lowering severance costs.  In the medium term, that will lower recruitment costs, too, as well as reducing the time and resources spent on onboarding.  Not only does it reduce the ‘redundancy-burden’ on HR teams, redeployment is also good for morale.  It goes without saying that HR professionals care deeply about treating employees as individuals and delivering a positive outcome for them.  It’s a great feeling for the HR team when a talented member of staff can be kept on board, rather than being made redundant – good for the individual concerned, the HR team’s esprit de corps, and the engagement of the wider workforce.  

HR teams should, of course, follow guidelines to the letter to avoid unfair dismissal cases and reduce the number of cases that go to tribunal.  But HRDs can go further by ensuring an employee has another job to go to – and by making it abundantly clear the organisation is helping employees being let go to find another job, either internally or externally.  Outplacement services can make all the difference, not only to those being made redundant or an organisation’s employer brand but also to the workload of an overstretched HR department.  Given the risk of burnout, it’s a smart way to feather the brakes.

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.