'This really is for HR professionals what tech professionals experienced with Y2K and financial professionals experienced with the 2008 financial meltdown'
Now is the time for HR.
That’s the clear message coming out of the human resources community as the full scope of the COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions for the workplace become apparent. And despite the chaos that’s been ever-present in our lives over the past few weeks, several global HR leaders came together recently to discuss the workplace of today and, more importantly, tomorrow.
“We now confront the challenge of defining people-first policies, not just for the digital age but for an age shaken to its core by the virus,” said Anthony Ariganello, president and CEO of CPHR BC & Yukon and CPHR Canada, Chartered Professionals in Human Resources.
“It’s clear that our profession can come together… to inform and shape these policies, just as financial experts were called upon to lead the recovery during the financial meltdown of 2008, HR professionals now will play key roles in the recovery in this pandemic, at both the corporate and societal levels. And it’s clear that the time to start our work is now.”
‘This is our opportunity’
For years, HR has wanted that seat at the proverbial table, and it’s wanted business leaders and government leaders to understand, appreciate and value the importance of HR, said Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management in the U.S.
“Sadly, it had to come to this… This really is for HR professionals what technology professionals experienced with Y2K and what financial professionals experienced with the 2008 financial meltdown. This is our opportunity and I’m really pleased to say it feels like we are globally standing up and addressing it and leading, so this is a great moment for us.”
“This is literally going to change the entire way we think about workers, work and the workplace,” he said.
This is not business as usual, and it is a time of great strength, said Leyla Nascimento, president of the World Federation of People Management Associations (WFMPA) in Brazil.
“It is also a moment in time when the HR community must work together because what you do across all organizations all over the world is most critical. Leaders… are relying on HR professionals to navigate these challenges.”
As a humanitarian and people-oriented crisis, the pandemic is a real time for the HR profession to come together, and strengthen itself, said Peter Cheese, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the U.K.
“All the HR directors I talked to, the CHROs are all saying they have never worked so hard but, at the same time, they’re acknowledging and recognizing this is an opportunity. And to paraphrase others, crises of this nature can both represent danger, of course, but they can represent opportunity. Without being crass about this — because this is causing real
harm real danger to so many people — this crisis… will redefine many things about work, so that that's what in many ways excites me about this.”
“Now’s the opportunity to bring all the really human dimensions to the future work to the front and center of organizational thinking, position HR right in the heart of that debate.”
There are five key words that should guide HR, said Fernando Dhammika, president of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM) in Sri Lanka: resilience, agility, communication, leadership and empathy.
“The post-COVID world will never be the same and will bring about many lasting changes to the world of work. We as people professionals need to be prepared, to be ready for the new order in the world of work.”
Focusing on positive communication
Honesty and realism will be key when it comes to communication from HR, said Ariganello.
“I am very concerned that we are not going to have real candour when we bring people back into the workplace… we have to be straight-up honest with people and say, ‘I can't guarantee your workplace safety; we don't know enough about this virus, how it’s transmitted, so we can… follow all the right rules and still there is some risk with waking up and walking outside of your house every day,’” he says.
“We have to be very careful not to represent to our employees that we can guarantee their safety and that we figure this all out magically …we will lose credibility because if we tell people the workplace is safe to come into and then people begin getting sick, all of us are going to lose our most important capital which is our integrity and people's belief in human resources.”
It’s also important for HR to have a positive message as the economy re-opens, said Ariganello.
“Perhaps the timing is unknown but we can't be thinking that it'll only happen once a cure is available; ultimately, that may be the case but you can imagine that if this stretches beyond another two three months in terms of staying at home, this will have… repercussions on individuals’ health, not only because of the pandemic but also because of mental health and financial health. Those are critical issues that we need to be mindful as we move forward.”
In returning to the world of work, this is an opportunity to learn from this crisis and what to do differently for the good of the people, the business, society and, ultimately the economy, says Cheese.
“A lot of what's been going on in the world of work leading up to this crisis hasn't all been good -- the well-being of our people, the stress at work, how we've implemented technology…
presenteeism, people feeling they had to be present because that's the only way that they were going to get judged about how they work… these are profound things which we've been talking about for some time. So… this crisis is also an opportunity to shift the dialogue.”
It’s about looking at how to be a responsible and sustainable business that looks after its people, he said.
“But it’s not just looking at the short-term view of the world about ‘How do I maximize my profits?’ It's about understanding what sometimes has been called multi-stakeholder capitalism which is this idea that ‘I do not just have a responsibility to my financial shareholder — which of course is important — but I have a fundamental responsibility to my people, my workforce; I have a fundamental responsibility to my customers, my suppliers, the communities of which businesses are part of.’”
The eight global HR leaders — who also included Lisellotte Ortega, first vice-president of the Interamerican Federation of Human Resource Management (FIDAGH-Latin America) Panama and Jorge Jauregui, immediate past president of the WFPMA in Mexico — delved into several important topics including business continuity planning, remote work, cybersecurity, financial wellness, mental health and training. Be sure to check it out…