The crucial thing for HR is to be there 'when company strategy and company planning is in process'
Businesses in Canada are not predicting a return to pre-COVID-19 profits until at least November 2022, which is much less optimistic than other countries.
Fifty-six per cent of companies are feeling more hopeful about the coming year, compared to 72 per cent in the U.S. and 64 per cent overall, finds an HSBC survey of 7,300 business leaders across 14 countries.
The “pessimistic tone” is surprising, says Alan Turner, EVP head of commercial banking at HSBC Bank Canada.
But if our largest trading partner, the U.S., is feeling good about business growth, “that must, by definition, be good for Canadian business because it’s such a material part of what we do as a trade story across that border. That’s a cause for optimism,” he says.
When it came to threats to business, 43 per cent cited the ongoing pandemic as the top worry, says Turner.
“[This is] actually quite prophetic because this was taken before Omicron was known,” he says. “So having to manage ongoing disruption to trade and to trade supply lines, with links specifically to COVID impacts, was the number one concern of Canadian business, slightly ahead of concerns about inflation.”
The number of job ads that mention vaccine requirements is rising dramatically, found another survey.
Employee wellbeing was also a big area of concern, as 33 per cent of Canadian employers are putting a stronger focus on this, which was higher than all other areas except for Asia Pacific.
Workforce morale was also seen as a top threat to growth, according to 28 per cent of employers, compared to the global average response of 21 per cent.
“This focus on employee wellbeing is a credit to Canadian business and just by dint of having that focus, not just on the task but on the person, means that Canadian businesses are generally more aware, and perhaps a little more advanced, in coming out with the strategies and… putting their money behind it,” says Turner.
These organizations are looking to invest in upskilling and training on new technologies, to the tune of 32 per cent, which “will actually bode well for Canadian business success going forward,” says Turner. “Canadian companies have prioritized this very highly, relative to some other markets.”
When it comes to wellbeing, the cohesion that’s established by having people together is now taking a different form amid the pandemic, so technology is obviously going an important enabler in that, he says.
“It also means that your workforce and, by extension, your company is much more federated than it used to be and so [it’s about] having to think about employee engagement, how to keep the focus, how to keep your business safe because, obviously, a lot of procedures and ways of doing business have had to change very rapidly to cater for changed working practices.”
2022 might just be the year of employee experience, according to another survey.
Despite these challenges, there is a path forward to grow business and this is staring Canadian companies directly in the face, says Turner.
“There’s a lot of companies around the world that clearly see the opportunity of 2022 as a much greater one than we do, and it would be a crying shame if Canadian business absented itself from that opportunity because we have a less optimistic view of what the opportunity is. There’s clearly a lot of people intending to do a lot of business next year, and we need to ensure that Canadian businesses are at the table.”
For HR, this also represents the perfect opportunity to push its message forward at the C-suite, he says.
“The crucial thing for any HR team is to be absolutely in the room when company strategy and company planning is in process; HR is a core enabler of any business for obvious reasons. Time is well-spent aligning efforts to those areas that business leaders identified in surveys, so what plans do you have to actually bring that about? There is a lot of focus on the upskilling agenda, learning new skills, particularly new skills related to new technologies, that’s always going to be a very good way to drive investment that will drive a decent return on that investment too.”