Certain events throughout history act as triggers for change, revolution and innovation. Just as the 2008 financial crisis changed the way chief financial officers operated within organisations, the current pandemic could lead to HR leaders gaining a similarly influential voice at C-level. For this to happen, however, changes in HR will need to take place, including the creation of new roles.
As the mediators between managers and employees, [HR professionals] hold all the cards when it comes to instigating change and implementing organisational culture and values.
Employee health and wellbeing
Greater attention has been afforded to employee wellbeing over the last few years, and particularly so following the events of 2020. A survey of HR professionals at the start of 2020 revealed that 43% believed it to be the greatest challenge facing HR departments.
A recent survey of employees by insurance providers, Hooray, found that less than a third of respondents were happy with the provisions made by their employer for their wellbeing.
For a long time, employee benefits such as cinema or concert tickets, table tennis in the office, or after-work drinks were very much seen as the benchmarks for providing employee happiness and satisfaction. The pandemic has highlighted that these sorts of benefits are only successful up to a point and that, in reality, something far more substantial is needed.
To address employee wellbeing issues in 2021, organisations should look to create a role such as a director of wellbeing. Their responsibilities should include addressing issues relating to general employee health and wellbeing through the creation of specific initiatives and programmes, as well as spearheading the adoption of meaningful benefits.
Why are dedicated wellbeing roles crucial to business success? A survey conducted by life insurance providers, YuLife, revealed that 87% of employees are likely to stay with their employer if they demonstrate a commitment to their wellbeing.
Organisational trust and safety
While Covid-19 dominated headlines throughout much of last year, various socio and political events have also forced organisations to consider the diversity and makeup of their teams. The Black Lives Matter movement was (and continues to be) important in highlighting the injustices and discrimination that minorities experience in day-to-day life.
Organisations often put too much emphasis on the ‘cultural fit’ within their teams and neglect aspects relating to ‘cultural add’ – that is, adding diversity to an organisation. To avoid such occurrences in the future, organisations should consider employing a human bias officer or a diversity officer. These roles are set to identify where biases may occur in a business and then address these concerns through relevant training programmes.
In future, we can expect such roles to be involved in recruitment processes to ensure that candidates from various backgrounds are all receiving the same opportunity when it comes to applications.
Just a year ago, the idea of remote work being the norm and vast swathes of office space lying empty would have seemed somewhat unlikely. Events over the last year have changed all of this, however, and forced many organisations to reconsider their longer-term working habits.
The consensus among many experts is that remote working habits will continue beyond the end of the pandemic. The latest ONS figures show that almost a quarter (24%) of the UK workforce now works exclusively from home.
Although lots of organisations have managed to implement remote working policies successfully, there is still more to be done to ensure that employees have the right conditions to work in and that they are not too overburdened.
The technology that has enabled the mass adoption of remote work has the potential to invade all aspects of an employee’s life. E-presenteeism, while not entirely unheard of before the pandemic, has become a significant issue among many employees. Since employees are now literally bringing their work home with them, many are finding it increasingly hard to detach themselves from their jobs.
A work from home (WFH) facilitator is a role that can establish working practices and provide the necessary support for remote working employees. Their responsibilities include the creation of procedures and processes that look to reduce the risk of e-presenteeism setting in, and coaching employees on how to build workstations that promote productivity.
The pandemic has highlighted the need for HR departments to become more efficient and more data-driven. With teams working remotely, conducting regular pulse surveys and gathering employee insights has been crucial in allowing HR teams to respond to key issues affecting employees.
Looking ahead, if HR teams are to play a role in organisational recovery, data will have to be leveraged to ensure that they are meeting the requirements and expectations of all stakeholders.
The title of ‘HR data detective’ might sound somewhat suspicious. In reality, the purpose of this role is to investigate trends or inconsistencies in data, integrate all HR data and ensure its ethical implementation within an organisation.
Another role that could emerge is that of a human network analyst. HR leaders should think about the importance of encompassing many different areas within HR, including how teams work together, whether an organisation can successfully engage with those employees working remotely, as well as areas relating to organisational diversity and employee wellbeing.
To do this, it is highly likely that human network analysts will rely on data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) in future – to gain perspective of the overall operational efficiency of an organisation.
The data and insights they collect will then enable key decision-makers to identify areas for improvement and restructuring.
Considering how long it has taken for HR to adopt a more data-driven approach, it may seem a little far-fetched to be discussing how human/machine collaboration could boost the HR function; however, as work becomes increasingly digitised, the need for human/machine partnerships in HR will likely become increasingly necessary.
Recruitment is one area where human/machine partnerships can be used effectively by HR departments. While many HR teams have already adopted the use of certain technologies, it is highly likely that over the next few months and years, more and more organisations will adopt human/machine partnerships to streamline this process further.
Time-consuming tasks such as the scheduling of interviews between prospective employees and HR personnel will be made more efficient through the adoption of human/machine partnerships.
Equally, attracting the right candidates, something that is often much easier said than done, can be optimised through human/machine partnerships and enable HR professionals to filter through potential candidates in a much more efficient and organised manner.
Finally, collaboration between humans and machines could be extremely beneficial in the tracking and assessment of candidates. Many organisations continue to use relatively inexpensive and archaic methods for these sorts of tasks despite there being technology existing that can improve this process.
To counterbalance this, a human/machine teaming manager could help to manage the cooperation between humans and machines and ensure that the strengths of both are fully optimised for the long-term success of a business.
The person holding this position would be required to identify other areas within an organisation that could benefit from the introduction of further human/machine partnerships and construct mechanisms for their successful implementation.
While these partnerships may not replace the interpersonal relationships that exist, they could free up time allowing HR professionals to focus on core tasks, while also ensuring that they remain aligned with their organisations’ overall objectives.
2021 and beyond
The last 12 months have been a watershed moment in business and, indeed, HR. HR professionals are often in a privileged position. As the mediators between managers and employees, they hold all the cards when it comes to instigating change and implementing organisational culture and values. It is this privilege that could and should lead to organisations leveraging their insight.
These new roles are the initial stepping stones required to modernise HR and bring it up to speed with other business functions. For too long, many have considered HR to be a luxury rather than a necessity and, while it may have taken a global pandemic to prove that this is not the case, the early signs are that decision makers are beginning to understand the value that HR professionals can bring to organisations.
Interested in this topic? Read Future of work: the top HR job roles of the next decade.