HR IN THE TIME OF COVID
Helping great people engage with great businesses, and helping great businesses find great talent has always been the core of what we do at Howarth Morris, with Finance and HR being our main focuses.
The directors at Howarth Morris are just as committed to our clients as they were when we first started out 15 years ago. COVID-19 has obviously affected how we do business with our clients, but our service has remained the same. Our ability to share the latest industry research and knowledge is key to this.
One of our Directors, Paul Howarth, has recently started sharing his knowledge and observations of HR and its impact on the businesses we have worked with during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having spent 20 years in front line recruitment and 30 years in industry & commerce, he is well placed to understand the wider impact of new developments. Read on to hear Paul’s thoughts on how COVID-19 has affected HR and the potential implications of it…
Realisation and Recognition
Over the years, I have seen a number of economic shocks and downturns that have led to change, often short term, in business and the employment market.
Some of these are positive developments, such as the introduction of the web (yes, I do remember not having WIFI!); mass internet connectivity and price reduction in software to allow greater access and expanding markets beyond borders. And some are recessionary, such as leaving the ERM, the burst of the tech bubble in 2000, effects of the first Iraq War on a number of sectors, the financial crisis, the Brexit vote and, now of course COVID-19.
Each of these scenarios has been different and usually, normal service would resume within 12 months – both good & bad.
COVID-19 it seems is different. We have seen a truly global event hit a global economy. In terms of working practices, software and use of video tech we have progressed more in six months than we would otherwise have done in six years.
But why the link to HR?
HR Since 2000
Since 2000, HR really has developed. We have seen the rise, development and recognition of a range of specialisms that aid company performance and HR has continued to be seen as an equal partner at the Boardroom table.
Interestingly, we have also seen more companies understand the real, bottom-line benefit that a strong, commercial HR function can bring. It is no coincidence that this also links to HR professionals that are proud of their skills and know the benefits of having a forward-thinking people & talent policy.
Post Lehman’s and the 2007/08 crisis we saw lip service to the importance of HR from leaders who still didn’t understand the real value of their people resource. People were often still seen as a cost and HR professionals were relied upon for their ability to manage restructures while avoiding negative media and tribunals.
Once the banking crash and associated commercial damage was behind us, attitudes and behaviours in leadership in many organisations and sectors, unfortunately, reverted back to the dangerous, unsustainable days of pre-2007. This was when personal and corporate profit (and in some cases maybe greed) were the only indicators deemed to matter.
HR Post 2009/10
As we started to recover from the financial crisis, there was a change in the economy and the nature of employment. We started to see the growth of social media; easier and cheaper access to technology; commercial opportunities in a growing digital sector; and an increase in the routes to market and to customers.
We also saw an explosion of smaller, entrepreneurial businesses. Often started by people who suffered during the crisis, but all driven by people and based on how they were the cornerstone of a business in a largely service-based economy.
We started seeing more business owners recognising the messages, policies, cultures and results that HR & People Professionals had been preaching, encouraging, proving and pleading since we stopped being the so-called ‘Personnel Department’!
HR Post COVID-19
March 2020 marked when the world was plunged into a crisis the scale of which had not seen for 100 years and the impact on businesses across the globe was unprecedented. Governments, businesses and citizens had to react quickly for both health and commercial survival.
In the previous events that have shaken corporate life that I have witnessed, HR has had an important part to play. This was usually functional and often related to whatever your preferred description: restructuring, resizing, downsizing, redundancies.
Post COVID-19 is different. The impact HR will have on every business is multifaceted and the survival of many businesses will be largely dependent on how much they value HR as a business discipline.
From the start of restrictions in March up to now and beyond, the areas that will be affected by HR is extensive:
- Employee safety at work – ensuring companies executed their duty of care to their staff pre-and post-lockdown
- Working from Home – policies, procedures, expectations, training and support
- Furlough – understanding the regulations; implementing the scheme, communicating to staff
- Flexible Furlough – assess, analyse, communicate and activate
- ER – keeping in touch with colleagues through lockdown
- Mental Health & Wellbeing – the all-important ‘check-ins’
- Return to Work – resource planning, who, where & when
- Staff Retention – ensuring key people and key roles are retained
- Talent Attraction – identification and attraction of key skills in key roles
- Performance – expectations management
- Performance Assessment
- Performance Management
- Reward Analysis
The list is extensive. And it doesn’t cover everything. But the realisation has landed. HR isn’t about policies; it isn’t about disciplinaries & grievances, it isn’t about ‘fluffy stuff’. It is about people.
It is about people and the link between them and the wider business. It is the understanding that not only are people the greatest resource of any business but THE most important resource of any successful business.
The professionals that understand and manage these interactions have as much impact on revenue, costs and profitability as sales, operations, manufacturing and R&D.
And so, in the coming weeks, I will continue to report back about some of the key areas listed above in the light of the experience, emotions, observations and expectations of our clients and candidates within HR roles.
Make sure you stay safe and we look forward to catching up with you soon.