Pamela A. Buchanan, Credit Works Chief People Officer.
The COVID-19 pandemic represented a tide shift in the role of human resources departments, pushing HR professionals to take on expanded roles and wear many hats. In part one of this series we discussed how HR departments became conduits for communication between employees and management as well as serving as counsel for employees as they navigated turbulent times and adapted to new ways of working.
Though it can’t be understated how much the HR field changed during the pandemic, the reality is the conditions for every employee at every level was impacted in one way or another by the new normal. The dynamics between employee and employer became different as a result of distance; the everyday communication and facetime needed to foster corporate culture has been replaced by virtual meetings and text chats. Yet even through these strained dynamics, employees still require a give and take with their employer. During the turbulence of the pandemic, employee priorities shifted, and it became incumbent upon HR professionals to understand the diverse needs of their workforce.
A Reevaluation of Benefits
One of the primary ways that this shifting employee priority manifested itself as a result of COVID-19 has been a reevaluation of the benefits they receive. In the past, it’s been relatively cut and dry for HR professionals on the benefits front: employees want affordable healthcare, paid time off, maybe additional benefits like discounted gym memberships, and more. New challenges during the pandemic, however, have uncovered a new litany of challenges that employees are facing, and are looking to their company to address.
Of the many changes that occurred over the past year, mental health became an increasing priority for employees, but that wasn’t the only shift. Access to telehealth programs became more important, as did providing time off or other allowances for family care—not just childcare for employees with children dealing with at-home learning, but for workers to care for older relatives who may be at higher risk of COVID-19.
It’s become incumbent on HR professionals to understand these evolving needs of workforces, and the specific needs of their workforce. Exploring new benefits that take into account how employees are struggling can help build a stronger company culture, reduce employee turnover, and increase productivity.
A Need for a Holistic Approach to Employee Health
What became clear during the pandemic was how human resources departments needed to take a holistic look at employee health, which not only includes physical health, but also mental health and financial health. Only after this deeper reflection and analysis could HR departments truly address the evolving needs of employees.
Financial health is a particularly underreported pain point for workers during the pandemic. Given the economic precarity of COVID-19, employees that may have been relying on a dual income to support their families may have become solely responsible for all of their families’ earnings. As a result, budgets may be stretched thin, and workers may be unable to build savings. With so many workers already living paycheck-to-paycheck and lacking necessary funds to manage a costly emergency, they may be forced to rely on predatory payday lenders.
Having benefits programs in place that help address these concerns can not only build an employee’s loyalty to a company, but can also help ameliorate some of the contributing factors of mental health issues like anxiety. Solutions like Credit4Work, for example, can offer vital lifelines for workers in financially precarious situations, and help build long-term financial health, all while strengthening their investment in the company.
The times are changing for human resources professionals. Approaching challenges with empathy and understanding of what workers are going through, and leading from the front to influence corporate culture by acting as a go-between to employees and a strategic partner for management can build a better workplace for everyone, even after we return to some sense of normalcy.