“Covid Normal”, lockdown, working from home – these are all terms that we have become so familiar with, as both business owners and HR professionals. But what are the other elements of “the new normal” in the world of HR? And what else is driving increases in contemporary organisational HR risk?
Organisational HR risk – what even is that? In simple terms it is the pervasive risk that has emerged due to fundamental changes in our work environment, the external world and our employees. We can no longer see, sense or preempt all of those challenges as they are not literally in our line of sight anymore, in a world where we travel less and many employees are working most of their hours from home. As such, the need to be proactive about these evolving risks is more critical than ever before.
A lot of organisations have put their HR strategies “in the drawer” while dealing with the new and evolving HR problems caused by Covid. Eventually this failure to plan will cause or multiply otherwise avoidable fundamental HR failures, eg falling to the “back of the hiring queue” when there are shortages of skilled professionals while borders remain closed. As business and HR leaders, we need to keep one strategic eye on the future, no matter what is happening right now.
Of course, “culture beats strategy every day” – but how do you measure or improve your current culture when your staff are less likely to collaborate in person with many of their colleagues? One thing for sure, if leaders do nothing about organisational culture while dealing with everyday HR problems, it will still find a way to evolve on its own, often in negative ways.
Already rapid changes in the way we communicate and its frequency have been accelerated because of Covid restrictions. Good leaders have always understood that “one size does not fit all”, but have they rechecked their preferred style against the flexible, remote working world? It’s actually quite hard to accurately assess body language over a video call, so we have to find ways to monitor those risks differently.
If you are not managing this, shut your doors now. As employers we are required to provide a safe workplace, full stop – whether that be physical or mental safety.
How many of you have really done assessments on employees working from home conditions? I look into my crystal ball and see a multitude of WorkCover claims due to poor ergonomics, accidents due to trip hazards, etc. Working remotely does not excuse employers from ensuring that employees’ working conditions are “safe”, and there are many resources available that can help to reduce those risks.
This no longer means fruit in the office or offering volunteer days, when employees can’t physically access those benefits. Safety aside, being less connected to the workplace and colleagues has impacted many people in very different and sometimes troubling ways. Many employers don’t feel comfortable helping their employees through those challenges, but the best employers will be vigilant and look for sensible and safe ways to support their people – and their employees will value that.
Assessing and Managing Behaviour and Performance
How are you assessing employee performance and attitude? The traditional methods of observation are limited and we need to adapt. Incidental office conversations assisted us in understanding changes in employee behavior – how are we sensing this now? Leaders jump from one zoom meeting to another, in between homeschooling and walking the dog, so how aware of changes in others can we be?
Where performance is deemed below acceptable standards, how are we addressing that? Pre-Covid it would have been via a face to face conversation with perhaps a support person present. Now it may need to be via a recorded Zoom call, which may require different preparation, messaging and follow up, and bring new retention and litigation risks when done badly. As always, “prevention is better than cure”, so leaders need to work differently to pick up on the signals that can help prevent harassment, bullying, stress leave or other claims and costs.
Learn from Now
Organisations need to learn from what is happening to and because of their people, often unseen, right now. See the trends and adapt. Make sure that your HR risk assessment is up to date, and use that potentially sobering feedback to ensure that your organisation’s HR Strategy is right for the “new HR normal”.