Whether you are a newbie in human resources or a seasoned pro, we can all agree that 2021 is starting off like we are trapped in the extended version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. COVID fatigue, work/life balance issues, and frozen employee engagement programs are again top of mind for HR teams across all industries. With more than 25 years of experience riding the ups and down of the human resources carousel, I truly thought I had seen every scenario that could impact employees. How wrong I was! There was never a keynote address or breakout session at a SHRM conference that was titled “HR Tips for a Pandemic”.
COVID Fatigue Is Setting In
New to the world’s vocabulary is the term “COVID fatigue” and it is very real. As HR teams kick off 2021, it is imperative that they remember that employees are exhausted from the constant barrage of HR emails reminding them to wash their hands, take their temperature, and stay away from their friends at the coffee bar. Of course, these emails only apply to the companies that are coming into the office these days. Even more challenging is the fact that many organizations are still working in a remote only environment where employees’ homes and workspaces are now completely blurred together. Laundry happens at lunch time and yoga pants without holes are considered professional dress. The challenge of helping your employees balance work and home is huge and has NEVER been a more critical part of our role as a human resources pro. As a parent of five children, I have a newfound appreciation for my office building, my desk, the sounds of adult collaboration, and my role in making sure that my employees have a safe environment to call their work home.
HR Flexibility During COVID Still Needs Accountability
As HR teams, you simply must go the extra mile to encourage and listen to employees as they may struggle with the ongoing burden they are carrying. In my experience, the best solution is to provide employees with flexibility but do not relax the accountability. At first read, flexibility and accountability appear to be in conflict, but hear me out. Flashback to March 2020 and you likely sent your employees home to work remotely and along with them came their children and their spouses. One big happy family all trying to Zoom at the same time. HR pros were simultaneously tasked with establishing “the rules” for this new world. If you are like me, you were making it up as you went along. I had no choice but to allow my staff the flexibility they needed to manage the unprecedented situation they had been thrust into, but on the flip side, my leadership team regularly reminded me that results still mattered. This is where the rubber was going to meet the road and it was quickly apparent that expectation management was going to be the solution. Our managers had to communicate more often, be more available (even when it was over a Zoom screen), set shorter term expectations, measure results, and give more frequent real time feedback. By doing so, our managers joined forces with me to find ways to work smarter while maintaining a laser focus on the mental wellbeing of our people. Effective expectation management will always be at the intersection of flexibility and accountability and this is where human resources teams can add real value for their organizations. For me, the abrupt change in how we work was a real opportunity to put my years of experience to the test.
Time to Bring Employee Engagement Back
As HR teams are chasing their tails to keep employees safe and well, the rest of your organization is experiencing challenges as they try to achieve revenue targets in markets that have gone soft or maybe completely disappeared. Organizations are working fast to pivot in many cases with folks working longer hours to make up for the shortfalls. The mood in many offices does not lend itself to employee engagement being top of mind, but it needs to be a priority in 2021. Human beings are designed to interact and connect so without engaging with each other, we are basically asking them to do the opposite of what they are naturally hardwired to do. What HR pros need to be focused on in 2021 is bringing their employee engagement program out of the freezer. Wait! What? Freezer? Yes, the freezer! When was the last time, you celebrated the birthdays for the month? Hosted a virtual happy hour? Sent your staff a Valentine’s Day themed mask for use in the office? Used your team chat to share a corny Dad joke or two? All these ideas and more are some of the ways my HR team is working to re-engage with our staff. We cannot gather 65 people in a room and throw a party, but we can certainly find small ways to remind them that they are the foundation of our company and we care about them! Dust off your fun hat…in 2021, you are going to need it!
I wish I had the perfect words of wisdom for all my HR comrades out there to make 2021 be so different from 2020. The reality is that we are starting off the year much like we ended it, but I can say this…always remember that in your title are the words “human” and “resource”. If we never forget that we are here to ensure that the employee experience is the best it can be, then nothing can stop you...not even a pandemic!