The Covid-19 pandemic has identified trends from a human resources perspective that will remain as issues once the pandemic is under control and working has returned to some semblance of normal. The seven issues I am identifying have been lurking in the background for some time but have become more visible during the pandemic.
- HR WORK PROCESSES
The most visible change in how work is carried out is how many functions were able to be done from home. Those who were able to work from home really liked it. A recent survey in the US found that 87% of people wanted to continue to work from home in some form or another. Many said that they were willing to change employers if they could not continue the arrangement. This issue is here to stay and, in my view, “returning to normal” as we knew it will not return.
Some employees will want to work from home full-time, or have a hybrid model, or return to the workplace full-time. This will require a review and adjustments to policies, such as what follows:
- How do you ensure that the quantity and quality of work stays the same?
- What supports are needed and delivered to people working from home?
- What is the impact on how a team will function?
- While Zoom meetings work well enough, the emotional impact that is present in live meetings is missing.
- How do you evaluate the emotional intelligence factors when preparing a performance evaluation when there is very little human contact?
- What impact will it have on staff assignments for developmental purposes that will lead to promotions, especially in a hybrid model where some work from home and others are in the office.
- For many employees, the socialization that happens at work is a significant part of what they need as individuals. Most of that is informal and live. How do we maintain this factor when most of the meetings and exchanges are online and on Zoom?
- THE VALUE OF HUMAN RESOURCES (PEOPLE)
Most resources that go into creating a product or service are predictable, such as minerals, real estate, or machinery. Human resources are a much more complex resource because they are human – with all the complexities that that entails. Being human, they are complex, rational, and emotional. How they are valued will determine how they will respond as workers and as productive members of society.
The pandemic has created the phrase “essential workers”. Significantly, the vast majority of the work is in low paying jobs with little or no benefits. This pandemic has shown how valuable “essential workers” have been – and continue to be – to both their employers and to their community in keeping society functioning. The pandemic has shown that workers are a valued component of any organization that wants to achieve its strategic objectives of profitably and add value to the community.
- THE VALUE OF A LIVING WAGE
The pandemic has shown the value of all work – regardless of complexity and wages – to be critical to the wellbeing of the economy and society. We need to go beyond the quantitative factors like education, skills, and experience, and look at other factors that value the contribution a worker makes to the community. For example, under the responsibility factor of the Pay Equity Act, a sub factor might be “Value Created.. The pandemic has shown that regardless of the work, value is created because our communities need the benefit that that work creates. This will help bring wages closer to a living wage.
The gig economy is another area that needs to be reviewed. This mostly falls within the purview of governments, but employers can begin by not taking advantage of our present laws, which permit employees to be deemed as independent contractors. The present approach emphasizes maximizing profits at the expense of the workers. The employer sets all the rules but avoids workplace responsibilities, such as safety, fair compensation, and the ability to act collectively if they so choose. Overall, this model, while it creates considerable wealth and low paying jobs, means that wealth is not equitably shared with the workers, thus adding to the number of workers who do not earn a living wage.
- DIVERSITY AND SYSTEMIC RACISM IN THE WORKFORCE
It’s evident that we need to rethink our approaches to recruiting, orienting new employees, developing them to succeed at their job, and preparing them for more or new responsibilities to combat racism and encourage diversity in the workplace.
Recruiting to improve diversity in the workplace must expand the traditional recruiting methodologies. For example, the pandemic has shown that diverse neighborhoods do not have reliable internet. To increase the diversity pool requires connecting to community leaders to create ways and means to reach potential candidates.
Hardly any new hire has all the skills and experience needed for the job. Training programs to ensure that the individuals are prepared for success should be prepared on an individual basis. Perhaps a mentoring program should be established so that the individual is introduced and advised on how to navigate the workplace culture. The reverse is also true. Managers should be advised to learn about the diverse cultures at work so that empathy becomes an essential work objective. It also helps to eliminate cultural biases. In short, in addition to the regular orientation program, an individualized one is essential if these employees are to succeed.
- WORK/LIFE BALANCE
During the pandemic, the phrase “work/life balance” has been altered to read “life/work balance.” This demonstrates the need employees feel to manage their health, both physical and mental. Those who work from home have found the need to separate themselves from work at an appropriate time. Over the years, work has encroached on personal time creating serious mental stress for employees. Policies need to be developed and enforced that truly balances out work and quality of life.
- THE VALUE OF WOMEN’S WORK
This pandemic has brought to light two important issues women in the workplace face:
- how undervalued jobs that are dominated by women are
- the heroes during the pandemic in healthcare are predominately women.
For example, in long-term care, personal support workers are barely paid above minimum wage. Most staff are part-time or from agencies. As we saw many of them needed to have two or more part-time jobs to make ends meet. These part-timers, until recently, when the Ontario Government finally granted 3 days sick leave until the pandemic ends, received none, or any other benefit. This scenario shows that there is a disconnect between the value of the work and the compensation they receive. As I mentioned earlier, job evaluation systems must be modified to reward the value that female dominated work creates.
The second issue is the lack of adequate support for women in the workforce. Employers can no longer ignore the fact that most of the care at home is performed by women. Things like childcare and caregiving for aging parents need the support of the employer through leaves of absences without making them feel as if they are shirking their responsibilities and letting everyone down. Perhaps some innovative approaches, like flexible scheduling, can be developed to support women dealing with the inevitable conflict of caring for family and their commitment to the organization. Needless to say, if a man is in the same situation these approaches should apply to them as well.
- HEALTH & SAFETY IN THE WORKPLACE
The health and safety function in human resources will have to gear itself for a greater role in ensuring quick responses to health crises. This will require a much greater degree of connectivity with health providers in the community in order to prepare and function during future community health issues. In addition, demands for accommodation will increase as workers become more aware of contagious diseases. Workplace inspections will now include examining for proper cleanliness, as well as for ensuring safety. Employees have become much more aware of the need for a safe working environment. They will leave the employer or take other actions if they believe that the workplace is unsafe.
Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of Canada, states in his book Value(s), “The company’s highest purpose is to provide solutions in a profitable manner and contribute in its own way to the betterment of society.” I interpret this to mean that when making decisions, the employer must – in addition to creating profit for the company – also consider how these decisions and actions create value for the community which include its own workers.
If HR through its own processes and policies prepares and encourages workers to effectively contribute to the achievement of the organization’s mission and employees are appropriately rewarded, society will benefit and employers will prosper.
June 22, 2021