2020 was the year of HR, and especially the year for employee relations teams. The workplace and our daily lives where shaken, and HR leaders took their rightful strategic place at the front of the organization to lead the way. They guided us through work from home plans, communicated next steps and checked in on employees to prevent burn out. They helped us through a difficult year, but their work is far from over.
Recovery plans are top of mind for companies as we head further into 2021 and see a faint light at the end of the tunnel. Employee relations teams have numerous challenges ahead as they monitor workplace changes, respond to COVID-19 and implement long-term plans. The challenges and opportunities brought to the table in 2020 will need continued attention to keep momentum moving forward. All eyes will remain on ER and HR to lead the recovery, maintain employee experience and protect employees’ mental and physical health.
Planning & Executing COVID-19 Recovery
Companies are rapidly putting pandemic recovery policies in place. Implementing recovery plans is uncharted territory and HR teams are leading the way. All plans must prioritize the health and safety of staff and customers. In a recent global poll of workers, 24% threatened to look for a new job before returning to the office if necessary safety measures were not implemented. Plans must also be detailed and specific to handle the widespread vaccine rollout and related facets of COVID-19 recovery. Leaders need to ask questions such as: What are the specific goals, in addition to customer and staff safety? Will my company require employees to get vaccinated? What will work-from-home policies look like after COVID-19?
We’ve seen our community of employee relations leaders come together to discuss options and strategies for a smooth transition. Leaning on one another for insight and knowledge will be paramount for all leaders tackling this challenging task.
Forming a New Workplace
Only about 1 in 10 companies expect all employees to return to their pre-pandemic work arrangements. This means almost every HR team has an opportunity to shape the new workplace in 2021. Remote working has yielded many lessons this year, enabling leaders to make informed decisions going forward.
HR teams have various business, employee and culture elements to weigh in the months ahead. One important topic is employee performance and how to approach it during a disruptive pandemic. Others include whether to move to a hybrid home and office model (and how that might affect employees), how to improve remote management, how to handle office space, and more. ER leaders will be instrumental in maintaining the company culture and collaborating with managers to ensure a consistent and fair employee experience.
Expanding Mental Health and Wellness Efforts
Employees are experiencing higher than normal levels of mental health issues month after month during the pandemic. Vaccines offer some hope, but anything resembling normal is still months down the line. HR and employee relations teams are eager to help, but less face-to-face contact makes it difficult to identify exactly who needs assistance. Companies have responded by putting new policies in place, using data to identify employee needs and moving beyond traditional EAPs to offer integrated behavioral health benefits.
While all of this is a good start, mental health challenges won’t disappear when the pandemic comes to an end. Leaders must focus on employee wellbeing as part of the long-term culture, not just as a reaction to the pandemic. ER professionals should continue efforts to destigmatize mental health issues and offer support. Consistently remind everyone about your Employee Assistance Program and whatever other mental health and wellness resources you offer. It’s also helpful to enlist managers in these efforts, providing training to equip leaders to help struggling employees.
Employee Relations Leading the Way
One thing we all learned in 2020 is that to stay connected, we need to over-communicate. All of us focused on communication in 2020 to keep employees informed, productive and to address the mental health issues that spiked during the pandemic – and we’ll continue to do so in 2021. As always, employee relations and HR leaders were adaptable, resilient and rose to the challenge. Whatever 2021 throws our way, I’m confident we can say the same will be true this year.