Celebrating our HR heroes: One year on, and what’s to come?


The end of March marks one year since the nation was ordered to stay at home following the coronavirus outbreak. It's fair to say that HR departments across the globe were thrown into a situation no one could have prepared for, with new terminology such as ‘furlough’ to get their heads around and navigating their way through the unknown.

While we could never overlook the impact the pandemic has had on businesses, it’s also important to reflect on the remarkable job done by HR teams everywhere who have been at the forefront of employers’ response to the crisis.

From looking after the wellbeing of people, to ensuring businesses could adapt in a new environment, through to having to make extremely tough decisions and engage in many difficult conversations.

Testament to this hard work, almost three-quarters of HR professionals say the pandemic has increased their value in the eyes of the business. And rightly so.

As the impacts of the pandemic will have a lasting effect on the workplace, our HR heroes will continue to lead the way as we transition out of lockdown through to the ‘new normal’. But there are various factors facing HR teams that will need to be considered in a post-COVID workplace.


Remote and flexible working

It’s no surprise that remote and flexible working is here to stay. Research suggests three-quarters (74%) of businesses plan to implement working from home and flexible hour policies more permanently, with 44% of bosses believing home working is proving to be more effective than their previous setup.

In the new normal, businesses will need to develop and implement new processes to ensure employees feel comfortable and reassured with changes to the way we work, especially without as much face-to-face contact.

Factors such as technology will need to be considered to ensure staff are equipped with the necessary tools to work productively. HR functions such as training and development will also need to be refreshed to suit working in a post-pandemic environment.

This is already happening to an extent with research showing more than 70%  of businesses are readjusting their HR priorities for remote work.

HR will also have to undertake remote risk assessments, as well as putting procedures in place to ensure employees have the right equipment and adhere to health and safety obligations.


Impact on employee benefits

It’s likely that if a benefits programme looks like it did in 2019, it will be of little use now. The workforce has changed, and benefits need to evolve with it. While robust solutions that support employee’s mental health and work-life balance will be key, benefits that offer social, financial, physical and digital perks are just as important.

Encouragingly, research shows two-fifths (42%) of HR departments have made, or are planning to make significant changes to their benefit programmes as a result of the pandemic. While this is good news, factors such as demographics, personal circumstances and location should be taken into consideration when revamping a benefits plan.

There needs to be something for everyone, whether that’s childcare support, cycle-to-work schemes, recognition and reward or mental health plans, to name just a few.

Incentives improve employee engagement, too – and given 71% of executives say that employee engagement is critical to their company’s success, increasing ROI, higher productivity and staff retention rates  business can ill afford to ignore benefit models.


Employee wellbeing

Prioritising the wellbeing of employees had become critical even before the pandemic. But the impact of COVID-19 has shown employers that mental and physical health of the employees is paramount for a productive business, reflective in the fact 90% of employers have introduced measures to support employee wellbeing. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, 51% of HR professionals are anticipating an increase in mental health issues.

It’s therefore encouraging to see that HR teams are taking action, with 70% prioritising checking in with employees to help manage stress and mental health.

Tools such as an Employee Assistance Programme will help HR to continue to support employees through challenging times by providing them with access to experts who can help. It also helps businesses to create a culture that cares and breaks the stigma around discussing mental health issues.


Looking forward

We don’t know what lies ahead. But we do know that, without the fantastic work of HR teams, businesses across the UK wouldn’t be where they are today. So, we thank all of our HR heroes for all their work over the year, and for the work that will be done as we continue to navigate a post-pandemic world.


Jamie Mackenzie is director of marketing at Sodexo Engage