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Hot topic: What would HR find in its own Covid inquiry? Part two

The public inquiry into the UK’s handling of Covid-19 has topped the news since it began in June.

Former health secretary Matt Hancock said the UK made a huge error in assuming Covid could not be prevented from spreading and had therefore focused on how to deal with mass deaths, rather than preventing infections.

The inquiry aims to examine the response to the pandemic and learn lessons to prevent similar failings happening again.

But if HR professionals were to hold their own Covid inquiry, what would they find? And have they learned from their previous experiences enough to prepare for a similarly large-scale crisis?

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Mark Grimley, chief people and transformation officer, Government of Jersey

In the words of Beryl from Bristol, “You’re joking? Not another one!”.  What would Beryl be saying if there was another crisis looming, like the disruption of a pandemic?

It’s not just pathogens that can cause problems. Supply chain disruption from the war in Ukraine, possibly over a decade of Russian assets being frozen out of the market; years to recover agriculture and chemical chains in eastern Europe will continue. Plus, there’s Brexit, and what happens with international trade should relations with China deteriorate?

Are we as a profession ready for whatever is thrown at us next?

The answer depends on whether anything has been learned and actively changed in what we do. Is risk higher up in our strategic conversations? Do we look at the reputation of an employer on how we respond and do better in times of crisis?

Those best prepared have taken time to plan for a range of disruptive scenarios and have their strategic plans and voice assured throughout the business.

Now, why’s that giant meteor looking so close today?


Estelle Hollingsworth, chief people officer, Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic had to make some tough decisions to ensure survival during the pandemic and we were forced to reduce our workforce by 45%. 

However, we were the first UK airline to create ‘holding pools’, with the aim of keeping in touch with our crew and pilots and welcoming them back post pandemic. We brought our flying teams back on the same terms and conditions as those who stayed meaning most of cabin crew and pilots returned.

The pandemic highlighted the value of colleague wellbeing during the toughest times. Making sure we supported their resilience was key to the company’s survival. 

We engaged with the 300 trained cabin crew who were mental health first aiders and met virtually with them every two weeks, to provide them with emotional support and tools so they could, in turn, provide care and guidance to their peers.

The peer-to-peer approach was the best way to ensure everyone had access to support and someone to talk to.


Read part one of this hot topic here.


This article was first published in the July/August 2023 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.