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Evolving Relevance of Human Resources

Human Resources isn't a thing we do , It's the thing that runs our business! Steve Wynn

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in unprecedented challenges for organisations. As a result, HR functions as change drivers have come to the forefront to support the adjustments into a “new normal”. Life as we know it for HR practitioners has and continues to transform – it is critical for HR practice to adjust the usual traditions or frameworks of managing human capital to help organisations survive such extraordinary times.

Never before have HR practitioners been thrown into the center of critical business decision-making than now. As the news of the pandemic spread globally, many people did not envisage the extent of the threat, associated safety precautions and impact of COVID-19. The impact on business leading to massive furloughs and lay-offs could not have been predicted - businesses continue to see the damage of the pandemic. The change will be continuous and complex to manage and implement.

Run-of-the-mill HR contributions have now been transformed from everyday recruitment, onboarding, training or routine engagement to designing remote work arrangements or working-from-home, monitoring and managing performance for virtual teams, parental support, communication and engagement.

Gartner published 11 HR Predictions for 2021 which emphasise the shifts that are inevitable for HR practice; including a disruption of thinking about talent management and context of work. They envisage a shift from managing the employee experience to managing your employees’ life experience and that the “Buy Versus Build” Talent Calculus will change to more buy and rent and less build; the Gender Wage Gap will increase in 2021 as employees return to the workplace, and flexibility will move from location to time, among others. Given the psychological and social impact of the pandemic, it is no surprise that mental health support will be critical as a part of HR support to employees. Organisations will need to pay attention to mechanisms that improve their employees’ mental health, including support groups, mental health assessments and employee assistance programs.

The spanner that COVID-19 threw in our works is still spinning - while immediate shifts to remote work especially for more traditional organisations that were convinced that remote is impossible, have now confirmed that this is possible; more work must be done. For example, we are now facing the reality that workable solutions do have a downside that must be managed. Our shift to remote allows for business continuity but has merged our life-home context. Aside from putting in more work hours than usual, employees face the reality that now ‘work’ is formally in their and this ‘work from home’ mode now feels like we are ‘living at work’. Zoom fatigue continues to be a challenge that both employees and employers must moderate to ensure people’s wellbeing.

Twitter and other companies have already announced that employees can work remotely indefinitely. And so, the work is cut out for HR practitioners to design, negotiate and manage HR practices and human capital models that are new. In some of the interactions we have had, it is obvious that many organisations are making people decisions driven by judgment rather than proven or best practice. As we grapple with the impact of the pandemic, more and more leaders are using gut and immediate data to make critical decisions – the situation does not necessarily allow for drawn out research, benchmarking or dialogue. It is this new reality that will require nimble practices driven by sharp decision making and the ability to initiate prudent, relevant initiatives.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. HR practitioners must be able to meaningfully engage in these decisions and shifts needed for the new work realities.

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