Critical takeaways for an evolving workplace

Now is a perfect time to reflect on previous year and identify key trends that will impact operations and objectives

Critical takeaways for an evolving workplace
Laura Williams

Employer across Canada have faced several years of significant change in HR law in the areas of occupational health and safety (particularly harassment), employment standards, workers’ compensation and termination entitlements, to name a few. Needless to say, no year has been as tumultuous as 2020.

Over the last year, the employment law landscape has seismically shifted, leaving many employers and employees struggling to gain a footing. But the beginning of the year is a perfect time to reflect on the previous year and to identify key trends that will impact operations and objectives. Notably, despite all of the change and uncertainty of 2020, opportunities still abound for employers to level up toward not only stabilizing but thriving in our evolving normal.

Those that achieve this goal are those that take the time to be introspective, innovative and inclusive as they make strategic decisions for the future.

Reflecting back

Taking the opportunity to be introspective and reflective about the impact of the dynamic climate and conditions of the past year is critical. Many workplaces had to pivot during the pandemic — whether in terms of staffing, moving to remote work or the entire operating model.

While reactive measures may have worked in the short term as stop-gaps, in the longer term, employers need to be intentional to strategically and sustainably stabilize and right-course from the pandemic’s ongoing impacts.

In a time of upheaval and significant social movement activity, where businesses are increasingly having to take a stance on divisive issues, they should revisit their vision, mission and values to ensure they are relevant and reflective of any modified or shifted objectives. Further, employers should make sure that these key foundational tenets are clearly communicated and that employees are aware of, understand and feel connected to them.

Upskilling leaders

Employers should also examine whether managers have the training and competencies required to best serve the business in the current shifted reality. Ensuring that leaders have received all legally required training and are skilled to triage trending HR law issues — such as meeting (sometimes competing) safety requirements and accommodation obligations — is imperative.

Employers also need to upskill managers to effectively respond to the emerging needs of the rapidly evolving workplace. In the last year, many leaders took on responsibilities that they were never trained to perform before, such as managing remote teams. Also, “soft skills” such as empathy and compassion — which used to be an afterthought for many employers when hiring managers — are now some of the leading competencies effective people leaders need to manage teams in the context of the current mental health crisis, which is one of the top outputs of the pandemic.

Additionally, having managers who engender employees’ trust in the organization is critical. Leaders need to be adept at tuning into the pulse of the workforce to determine whether employees feel uncertain, unsafe or treated inequitably. When not identified and addressed proactively, these issues can be difficult to contain.

Focusing on innovation

This is also the opportunity for organizations to embrace innovation. Innovation is increasingly important in customer service, with employers needing to be responsive to changing customer demands and service expectations. However, employers must not forget to be innovative when it comes to internal considerations, such as how to rehabilitate or recalibrate workplace culture that, in many cases, has been jolted by sudden changes such as constant virtualized interactions.

Being innovation-minded means constantly scanning for enhanced options that have opened up, such as remote work becoming more the norm than the exception in many industries. Organizations can now expand their hiring search to a provincial, national or even international level and access more talent than ever before.

Being truly inclusive

Finally, transitioning into 2021, employers should take the opportunity to be truly inclusive. That’s about more than ensuring individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have access to equal opportunities and resources and can contribute fully to the organization's success. Inclusive employers also foster a culture of innovation, seeking input and ideas from employees at all levels within the workplace.

This enhances the employee buy-in and co-operation needed to tackle the many decisions that have to be made to chart the course for the organization to thrive into the future. Having employees contribute ideas and input also mitigates risks of disengagement and negative impacts to morale, productivity and brand reputation.

As the future of work is still evolving, no employer can claim to have all the answers, but businesses should intentionally infuse introspective, innovative and inclusive themes into employee communications — both challenges and triumphs — to leverage the sense of hope and renewal that a new year brings and to encourage and inspire their staff off to a good start.   

A member of Canadian HR Reporter’s advisory board, Laura Williams is the founder and principal of Williams HR Law, a human resources law firm in Markham, Ont. She can be reached at (905) 205-0496 or [email protected]

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