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We Ask the Experts

What will be the biggest challenge for HR in the next 12 months?

Burberry Premier Foods MHR Westfield Health

The events of the last year and a half has presented employers, employees and businesses with a wealth of uncertainty. Whether this is uncertainty around job security, the D&I agenda, the future of working structures or recruitment and retention strategies, people and businesses have been undeniably hit by the pandemic.

This seems to be across everything that HR has to manage. For example, prior to the furlough scheme ending, Renovo statistics found that nearly seven in ten employers expected to make redundancies in the next year. Separate research from Manpower Group – and reported on by thehill.com – found that circa two-thirds of organisations around the world have had difficulties in hiring. In addition to this, Owl Labs’ The State of Hybrid Work study – as was reported on by City A.M. – found that 84% of UK firms plan on having a hybrid, flexible or remote workforce going forwards, which has presented a wealth of new and additional challenges for HR to oversee.

This is why in this month’s burning HR question, myGrapevine magazine caught up with three of our Advisory Board members and one wellbeing expert to find out what the biggest challenge for the people function will be in the next year to help all in HR better prepare for the road ahead. Their advice is below.

Advisory Board Member

Amir Kabel,
Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion,
Burberry

“When looking forward in what’s next or what challenges a company/function faces we have to look back over the last 12-18 months to have a good idea on the shifts and changes that have taken place. These will often shape what is to come. For me, there are two clear challenges for HR. The first one is to elevate a strategic position for DEI, so actual change happens and the business integrates DEI. The second challenge is adapting to the new world of working and how this benefits or hinders your talent model/approach.

“The first point on the DEI agenda. Most companies have been quite reactional when it comes to this agenda, since the Black Lives Matter resurgence in June 2020. They realised they needed to elevate their efforts, because often there was a disconnect with their narrative. Employees, customers and investors want to see more action and integration of DEI into the business. A lot of regulators and investors have started to hold companies to account, so in the next 12 months this will be a challenge for HR to address and be at the forefront of.

“The second point is a bit of an obvious one. The ways of working have evolved, due to circumstances beyond our control. We still don’t have any idea when things will go back to ‘normal’. But do we want the same ‘normal’ as before the pandemic? Research shows that talent and employees want more flexibility and agile working. This may just be the new normal for us and for the companies that want to go back to their old ways of working, [they] may struggle to justify that. Talent is now in the mindset that they want more agile working and options that suits their lifestyle without judgement!”

More than half of global staff would quit their jobs if not given post-pandemic flexibility – EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey

More than half of global staff would quit their jobs if not given post-pandemic flexibility – EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Surve

Amir Kabel,
Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion,
Burberry

“When looking forward in what’s next or what challenges a company/function faces we have to look back over the last 12-18 months to have a good idea on the shifts and changes that have taken place. These will often shape what is to come. For me, there are two clear challenges for HR. The first one is to elevate a strategic position for DEI, so actual change happens and the business integrates DEI. The second challenge is adapting to the new world of working and how this benefits or hinders your talent model/approach.

“The first point on the DEI agenda. Most companies have been quite reactional when it comes to this agenda, since the Black Lives Matter resurgence in June 2020. They realised they needed to elevate their efforts, because often there was a disconnect with their narrative. Employees, customers and investors want to see more action and integration of DEI into the business. A lot of regulators and investors have started to hold companies to account, so in the next 12 months this will be a challenge for HR to address and be at the forefront of.

“The second point is a bit of an obvious one. The ways of working have evolved, due to circumstances beyond our control. We still don’t have any idea when things will go back to ‘normal’. But do we want the same ‘normal’ as before the pandemic? Research shows that talent and employees want more flexibility and agile working. This may just be the new normal for us and for the companies that want to go back to their old ways of working, [they] may struggle to justify that. Talent is now in the mindset that they want more agile working and options that suits their lifestyle without judgement!”

Happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees – Social Market Foundation

Advisory Board Member

David Wilkinson,
Group HR Director,
Premier Foods

“While restrictions have lifted and there is a sense that we’ve arrived at the ‘new normal’, Covid and its impact will continue to be a challenge for HR teams. Whether this be balancing a return to the office for some companies, flexible working requests or new health and safety requirements, this is against a backdrop of Covid still being with us.

“Different colleagues have varied requirements and perspectives in a ‘post-Covid’ world, and it will be HR that will play a crucial role in ensuring different needs are met. For organisations that have had colleagues working from home during the pandemic, now is also the opportunity to look at the business structure and determine if it is set up for success in this new, agile era. Reviewing this and making any changes will be a challenge for HR, but many people have become used to a more flexible way of working and not everyone will want to revert back.

“It’s for this reason we’ve announced a hybrid working model at Premier Foods, which we’re extremely proud of as it really is offering the best of both worlds. Colleagues are happier and more productive being given flexibility and the choice between office or home working. I encourage other HR professionals to embrace the ‘new normal’ and rise to the challenges it presents.”

Happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees – Social Market Foundation

David Wilkinson,
Group HR Director,
Premier Foods

“While restrictions have lifted and there is a sense that we’ve arrived at the ‘new normal’, Covid and its impact will continue to be a challenge for HR teams. Whether this be balancing a return to the office for some companies, flexible working requests or new health and safety requirements, this is against a backdrop of Covid still being with us.

“Different colleagues have varied requirements and perspectives in a ‘post-Covid’ world, and it will be HR that will play a crucial role in ensuring different needs are met. For organisations that have had colleagues working from home during the pandemic, now is also the opportunity to look at the business structure and determine if it is set up for success in this new, agile era. Reviewing this and making any changes will be a challenge for HR, but many people have become used to a more flexible way of working and not everyone will want to revert back.

“It’s for this reason we’ve announced a hybrid working model at Premier Foods, which we’re extremely proud of as it really is offering the best of both worlds. Colleagues are happier and more productive being given flexibility and the choice between office or home working. I encourage other HR professionals to embrace the ‘new normal’ and rise to the challenges it presents.”

Advisory Board Member

Jeanette Wheeler,
HR Director,
MHR International

“For many organisations, the focus on how people are deployed will also be affected by the need to stabilise the business again after the end of furlough, as this could lead to large-scale restructures. HR teams will need to support business leaders with re-shaping their teams into a mixture of office workers, hybrid workers and remote workers. This will be driven by the changes in the external environment and the new markets they may want to access given the impact of Covid-19.

“HR professionals will have a great opportunity to work with leaders needed to be coached through the options available and then to support the people changes. Exploring alternative sources or accessing talent that has already been displaced by the effects of [Covid] will also give HR professionals the chance to challenge the business assumptions around recruitment and deliver greater value across a range of people issues.”

84% of UK firms plan on having a hybrid, flexible or remote workforce after the pandemic – Owl Labs’ The State of Hybrid Work study

84% of UK firms pan on having a hybrid, flexible or remote workforce after the pandemic – Owl Labs’ The State of Hybrid Work study

Jeanette Wheeler,
HR Director,
MHR International

“For many organisations, the focus on how people are deployed will also be affected by the need to stabilise the business again after the end of furlough, as this could lead to large-scale restructures. HR teams will need to support business leaders with re-shaping their teams into a mixture of office workers, hybrid workers and remote workers. This will be driven by the changes in the external environment and the new markets they may want to access given the impact of Covid-19.

“HR professionals will have a great opportunity to work with leaders needed to be coached through the options available and then to support the people changes. Exploring alternative sources or accessing talent that has already been displaced by the effects of [Covid] will also give HR professionals the chance to challenge the business assumptions around recruitment and deliver greater value across a range of people issues.”

How can HR show its worth to businesses on an uncertain landscape?

Over two-thirds of staff want flexible working to stay – Microsoft

Wellbeing expert

Vicky Walker,
HR Director,
Westfield Health

“How businesses react to change, especially when things have been constantly altering, is important. Unfortunately, with a lot of uncertainty in the air, 16million workers are considering changing jobs, which would result in a £48.2billion cost to employers.

“HR teams can make a huge impact now by helping businesses retain their people. For many, their priorities have changed, and the expectations placed on employers have increased. The way we work has transformed and employees are looking for flexible/remote working options (43%); pay rises (40%); and better mental health support, including incorporating mental health days (35%) to stay in their current role. HR can communicate with and listen to employees to find out what they want, increasing their trust in the business they work for. This can also help attract new talent by appealing to job hunters’ new priorities and preferences.

“With 60% of employers seeing the positive impact of employee wellbeing and it raising productivity by 31%, HR teams need to support employees by carrying out the above: communicate well with employees, determine what they are doing in the short term, be vocal about any uncertainties and make time to plan how they will move forward with their employees.

"Assessing employee engagement and productivity throughout this process will help HR teams review what is working and giving feedback to respective leadership teams will prove the value a HR team can have in a business during an uncertain time.”

Over two-thirds of staff want flexible working to stay – Microsoft

Vicky Walker,
HR Director,
Westfield Health

“How businesses react to change, especially when things have been constantly altering, is important. Unfortunately, with a lot of uncertainty in the air, 16million workers are considering changing jobs, which would result in a £48.2billion cost to employers.

“HR teams can make a huge impact now by helping businesses retain their people. For many, their priorities have changed, and the expectations placed on employers have increased. The way we work has transformed and employees are looking for flexible/remote working options (43%); pay rises (40%); and better mental health support, including incorporating mental health days (35%) to stay in their current role. HR can communicate with and listen to employees to find out what they want, increasing their trust in the business they work for. This can also help attract new talent by appealing to job hunters’ new priorities and preferences.

“With 60% of employers seeing the positive impact of employee wellbeing and it raising productivity by 31%, HR teams need to support employees by carrying out the above: communicate well with employees, determine what they are doing in the short term, be vocal about any uncertainties and make time to plan how they will move forward with their employees.

"Assessing employee engagement and productivity throughout this process will help HR teams review what is working and giving feedback to respective leadership teams will prove the value a HR team can have in a business during an uncertain time.”

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