How COVID-19 Makes HR A More Important Resource Than Ever

At a time of great uncertainty, many human resources departments are putting more emphasis on happiness and employee morale than ever—and that may be raising the role’s long-term value.

Thanks to COVID-19, HR departments find themselves in an interesting position these days.

To put it simply, they are tasked with helping to build normalcy at a time when little feels normal, and that means not only helping employees to navigate the benefits that their company offers, but also helping to maintain overall mood and distribute important communications to people on staff.

And that makes the role of the chief people officer (or whatever your HR chief goes by) increasingly valuable, notes The Economist, which recently compared the role to that of a chief financial officer during the 2008 financial crisis.

“The duties of chief people officers, as human-resources heads are sometimes called, look critical right now,” the magazine wrote last month. “They must keep employees healthy; maintain their morale; oversee a vast remote-working experiment; and, as firms retrench, consider whether, when and how to lay workers off. Their in-trays are bulging.”

Putting People First

And that is leading to strategies that aim to encourage happiness-focused processes during a strange time. A recent CMSWire piece featured efforts by HR leaders to help highlight individual employees, better simplify workflow where possible, and even—in some cases—to reduce work hours.

And in some cases, that means building in fun events such as happy hours even with the loss of physical closeness caused by the outbreak, with Zoom or Google Hangouts picking up the slack.

“We are confident that with increased appreciation comes increased engagement and happiness at work, and we know that when people are happy at work they are more positive contributors to their families and their communities,” noted Camille Lewis, the director of people operations at the accounting software firm Canopy, in comments to CMSWire.

Optimism in Tough Times

Part of the reason such efforts appear to be in overdrive may be in part because of challenges with morale and company culture. A recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management found that roughly two thirds of employers surveyed said they were finding it challenging to maintain employee morale, something that was especially true among offices with more than 500 employees on staff.

Additionally, more than a third of employees find themselves running into challenges with keeping company culture in check, managing employees who need to go into the office, changing communications strategies, and staying compliant with government leave requests.

But even amid the negativity and struggle, HR leaders like SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr. can see the bright side of a tough situation.

“Markets are down, companies are closed, and millions are working from home. It’s a time of change, challenge and uncertainty,” Taylor said in a statement. “But it’s also impermanent—it will pass. The economy will recover, business will bounce back and, soon enough, workers will return to work.”

In many ways, the HR department is offering a voice of reassurance during a not-so-reassuring time. And in so many ways, that’s what many employees on staff need.

(Olivier/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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