by Pamela A. Buchanan, Credit Works Chief People Officer
Human resources departments have always been an essential component of a functioning office environment. From hiring to onboarding new employees, to managing benefits and being a conduit and mouthpiece for management, HR are in many ways the rudders that keep the ship on course for many companies.
COVID-19 was a major disruption to the way we all do business. With an increasingly remote workforce—not to mention the adaptation to new technologies many employees are having to deal with for the first time—shifting employee priorities with regards to childcare and other benefits, and an unstable economy, workers at all levels are dealing with a lot. Human resources professionals are often on the front lines during turbulent times, addressing concerns and helping employees adapt to uncertainty. Going forward, even after the dust settles on the pandemic, the lessons HR professionals learned during this time may wind up shaping departments in the future.
Finding New Ways to Connect
One of the biggest disruptions that occurred during the pandemic was a breakdown in communication. As companies began interpreting and adapting to state and federal regulations, decisions needed to be made on the managerial level, and many times messaging was filtered through HR departments to keep employees informed of what changes they needed to expect that impacted how they worked. While it’s always been part of the role of HR to help in communication efforts, during the pandemic, as new information changed the work landscape on a seemingly weekly basis, HR professionals became even more essential in their clarity and timeliness.
Additionally, while HR has always had some role in helping workers adapt to new technologies or processes, the wholesale shift to remote work made it increasingly important to quickly train employees on technologies that would become the norm for the office. Helping employees transition to the new normal became an added role for many HR professionals, in addition to addressing and deescalating frustrations employees may be facing with these technologies.
One thing the pandemic shined a spotlight on for HR departments was how essential their relationships with other employees are. Dealing with change can be difficult for many people, and with a mounting mental health crisis—one study showed that feelings of anxiety and depression are up over 30 percent since the pandemic—HR professionals are increasingly put in a dual role; on one hand they’re taking on the logistical and clerical sides of the position, and on the other they’re serving as counsel for employees as they navigate uncertainty.
Part of this new role means approaching employees with empathy and understanding, and helping address the challenges they’re facing on a daily basis, whether those changes are adapting to new technologies, interpersonal conflicts, or dealing with struggles outside of the workplace. With regards to interpersonal conflicts, oftentimes HR departments are the first point of contact in deescalation, needing to resolve any issues before they spiral into larger ones that can impact an employee’s future at the company.
All of these elements add up to a much more challenging role for human resource departments. Major changes have required HR professionals to step up and lead from the front to help employees adapt to the changing landscape. And as we return to a sense of normalcy, the lessons learned during the pandemic will shape how the profession is thought of going forward.
Additionally, with this new focus on empathy and understanding comes a reimagining of how companies can best serve their employees during turbulent times. In part two, we’ll discuss how human resource departments are increasingly needing to take a holistic look at employee health, and tailor benefits to meet a diverse array of needs.