Redefining chief people officers post-pandemic

There has been a lot of discussion around how the pandemic has shaped the ‘new normal’ over the past year. In the workplace, many businesses had to quickly adapt to working from home, conducting virtual meetings in our kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms and getting accustomed to finding a new balance between our work and home life. 

Many of us have adapted to this new way of working and found the benefits. While it has its pros and cons, it seems counterproductive that large corporations, such as JP Morgan anticipate an immediate return to working life pre-pandemic stating ‘people don’t like commuting - so what?’ without understanding how the last year has truly impacted all aspects of our lives.

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As we come out of lockdown, there will be a proportion of workers still waiting for a diagnosis, dealing with changes in their mental health, suffering with Long COVID or caring for loved ones.

Businesses must reinvent to respond to such changes in employee health and welfare, and this should start by redefining the role of the chief people officer (CPO) at board level.


New priorities for the CPO

The role of the CPO should go beyond bridging the gap between the wider organisation and employee. The pandemic has changed our priorities. Their new role should be driven by health trends and wellness, as a happy and healthy workforce is the backbone of a productive business. 

This should start with developing a relevant and effective benefits scheme. At Reframe, we surveyed 2,000 employees and HR decision-makers in the UK to assess how businesses are investing in employee benefits in light of the pandemic. While 80% of HR decision-makers said they are satisfied that their employee benefits scheme is highly relevant, only 28% of employees agreed.

A strong benefits scheme should be holistic, addressing everything from physical and emotional health through to social and financial wellbeing. This will enable and encourage employees to take control of their own needs and manage their wellbeing. Empowering people to recognise, understand and respond to their situation, being engaged and self-managing their wellbeing results in better outcomes.


Post-pandemic workplace

It is backwards to think we can simply go back to working in the same way we did pre-pandemic. In the post-pandemic workplace, it is the duty of the CPO  to develop a forward-thinking agenda so that businesses can better support a diverse workforce. 

This should be all-encompassing, from providing greater support and flexibility to employees who are carers through to mental health first aid training. This will educate the entire business with greater awareness around how to identify and support those in need, so that we can create an environment where employees feel confident to say when they are struggling, without any stigma or judgement. 

Realigning these measures for success is a key factor in establishing a productive and motivated workforce, which can help to attract and retain talent. It also plays a crucial role in risk management via the promotion of healthy habits and placing wellbeing as a priority, as a disjointed strategy to care for employees can result in the need for greater intervention or a longer ‘recovery period’.

The more businesses invest in sustaining wellbeing, the higher the chances to achieve better ROI, reduce health costs and absence rates.

Businesses need to focus on building a culture of wellbeing that encourages and supports employees 365 days of the year. This means that in the long-term they are empowered to take better care of their health and wellbeing and in turn become a vital part of a healthy and happy workforce.

Catherine McDermott is CEO at Reframe