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How HR can shape the next normal?

The last year has been like no other for HR professionals – digesting and understanding new legislation, making workplaces COVID-19 safe, dealing with sensitive issues such as pay cuts – and in many cases they have been expected to take this all in their stride – on top of a normal workload.

Businesses have also been forced to make many tough decisions and implement lots of immediate changes. Throughout this uncertainty, leadership teams and employees alike have looked to HR for answers.

Never before has the profession been more visible and vital to the rest of the business – so what does this mean for HR going forward?


HR's post-COVID toolkit:


Shaping the next normal

The next normal is set to bring about even more change, and perhaps most notably in the form of the hybrid workforce. Over half (52%) of HR decision-makers we recently surveyed said they were concerned about the mental health implications for employees in forcing their return to the office, though 27% felt pressured to do so.

Developing new ways of working and routines that work for everyone will be a process, as will new ways of connecting to each other and to the organisation’s culture and purpose, and these are pathways that every business must navigate for itself.

However, HR can play a key role in shaping what this new normal looks like, by being strong advocates for employee wellbeing and ensuring that a happy, healthy and productive workforce is at the centre of their business strategy.


Where does HR go for HR?

Ensuring employees are being offered the most effective and competitive health and wellbeing packages isn’t easy at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic. Many companies have been forced to make redundancies to survive and the burden of communicating this sensitively and professionally has fallen on HR.

Additionally, our research found that close to a third (32%) of HR decision-makers felt increased pressure to protect the wellbeing of employees at a time when their own wellbeing and emotional resilience were being tested.

Unfortunately, alongside this added pressure, the mental health of HR professionals has tended to be overlooked. Yet, to continue making decisions that require emotional intelligence and empathy, HR must look after themselves.

Arguably the most important thing HR professionals can do going forward is to practise what they preach and put their own wellbeing first. This includes learning to set clear boundaries between their work and personal lives, taking advantage of the health and wellbeing benefits and employee assistance programmes their company offers, as well as having regular check-ins with their line managers.


What’s next for HR?

The world of work is rapidly changing; this will likely lead to new skills being required, new ways of working being established and differing organisational models being developed. HR have a key role to play in this, alongside leading digital transformation in the workplace, but must also consider what can be done within their own function.

HR should consider using intelligent automation to streamline repetitive, process-driven tasks where human judgement isn’t essential, such as records management. This will pave the way for an increased focus on improving employee benefits and supporting collaboration between remote and office-based workers.

The responsibilities of HR professionals will undoubtedly evolve further based on how they’ve had to pivot during the past year, meaning businesses and HR functions should consider the training, upskilling and other support HR teams may need. Organisations should now be considering what investment is needed in HR to meet the challenges of our new normal working environments and ensure that their people and teams are adequately equipped for the future.


Adele Mackenzie-Smith is international senior HR leader at Aetna International