8 experts on how HR and People leaders have responded to COVID-19

Jess Fuhl
Published on 8th September 2020
3 min read

There’s firefighting, and then there’s 2020.

HR and People leaders are no strangers to a challenge. However, the global pandemic has added a whole new meaning to the word. From moving employees to 100% remote working, to interpreting government support schemes, HR leaders have been under intense pressure to react and respond quickly – all whilst managing their own wellbeing.

So, we asked eight experts: how has the sector responded? What have you learnt? What advice do you have for others in the sector? Here’s what they told us…

‘We should be proud of the contribution we’ve made’

“I have never been more proud of all my colleagues working in HR; they are all doing an amazing job at a time when they are facing some of their greatest personal and professional challenges,” explains HR Consultant, Susan Greenland, echoing what many said.

“The pandemic has had a terrible impact both economically and personally. I know of some in my HR network that have been personally affected and my thoughts are with them at this time.”

She adds that, during a hugely difficult time, “this is also one of those ‘once in a lifetime career opportunities’ [for HR] and it gives us all the chance to really prove our capabilities and worth.”

‘We’ve stepped up to solve problems with creativity and adaptability’

Everyone’s looked to their HR and People team for answers, says Director at the HR Dept Consultancy, Helena White. “It’s been crisis management non-stop, and HR and People leaders have had to assimilate government information and interpret what that means for employees and the company quickly.”

Many HR leaders are under enormous strain as they attempt to support their organization through the current crisis. “HR professionals have spent weeks furloughing staff, helping organizations get to grips with the challenges of home working and crisis management of a range of issues,” she explains. “All whilst trying to balance homeschooling, caring for relatives, helping in their community.

“It’s inspiring how people are stepping up to solve problems, be creative, and adapt quickly to new demands and ways of working.”

‘Business leaders are more aware of HR’s daily tough choices’

Because of the confidences HR must often keep, Founder and CEO of employer brand consultancy firm exaqueo Susan LaMotte explains, many employees and business leaders don’t see the tough choices and decisions HR leaders must make every day.

“Whether it’s having to furlough or lay people off, or make tough decisions about cutting costs or programs, when you’re making decisions that affect people’s livelihoods, HR leaders have always had to be resilient.”

‘HR has been able to adapt in extreme adversity – but its ok to not be public health experts’

We’re in a unique period that requires HR to go beyond their normal job responsibilities and, in most cases, their expertise, to keep employees safe. For healthcare consultant at RxMx Bridget Moran, however, it’s important that HR and People leaders remember that they aren’t expected to be public health experts.

She explains: “It’s incredibly encouraging to see how many HR professionals are reaching out to learn about the various COVID-19 risk management solutions and return-to-work best practices. However, it’s completely ok to acknowledge gaps in knowledge and seek out advice from relevant experts; reference online resources; and tap internal talent to inform the development of return-to-work protocols.”

‘It’s been a time of innovation and coming together’

For Founder and Director of HR Bridge Consulting, Lydik Grynfeltt, the way that HR leaders have shared challenges and best practice, has been the biggest takeaway from the last few months.

“The HR sector has been very collaborative through forums, blogs and social media since the beginning of the crisis,” he says. “The community has shared a lot of free information about furlough, employee relations and legal. A lot of innovation has also been put in place in companies and their HR processes.”

‘We’re sharing expertise more than ever’

Shereen Daniels, Managing Director HR Rewired, agrees. “HR leaders are talking to people within and external to their professional network, and leaning on CTOs, CFOs and other board members to talk things through, share frustrations and discuss different scenarios.” HR professionals are unafraid to ask for help, she explains. “It’s understood it’s not a sign of weakness.”

‘Modelling healthy habits has been vital’

We must put our own oxygen mask on first, before we can help others, the saying goes. No one agrees more than HR leader at Weavers Way Cooperative Association, Janet Potts. “I flex my schedule, take time to work on projects, and make sure I’m emphasizing healthy habits at home, specifically so I am able to be there and fully present when I’m at work,” she explains.

‘HR professionals have taken the lead’

The last word goes to host of the #hrsocialhour podcast Jon Thurmond, who echoes many others when he says HR professionals have taken the lead in ensuring work continuity where possible and dealing with furloughs and shutdowns.

He explains: “Most policies and procedures never considered a pandemic like we’ve seen in the last few months, and many of us were not only creating safe environments and work from home processes whilst it was happening, but a great number of employers saw legislation passed that changed how they did things as well.”

“As HR is as seen as the ‘people people’ in many organizations, we’ve seen opportunities to show care, compassion, and support in times of loss and despair. My hope is that what we’ve learned in these challenging times will be remembered and translated into the workplace as we move back towards ‘normal’”.

What skills will the People leader of tomorrow need? Download the eBook ‘The People team of tomorrow’ to find out more about how you can get ahead for today’s changing world of work.

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