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Progressive HR policy can be a boon post-COVID

Sharon Fishburne - Freelance Journalist

The coronavirus pandemic has shaken many industries to their core and HR is no exception. There has been an acceleration of trends in the industry over the past few months that were steadily developing for years. Working conditions and business operations are set to permanently change in what has been dubbed the ‘new normal’.

Companies must choose their next moves carefully, as businesses making the right decisions are receiving the benefits of good press. Those with COVID-compliant HR policies will find they are able to bounce back from this situation much quicker than those without. Poor policy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic will have a serious repercussions. It’s no surprise that employees and consumers alike are heavily scrutinising offending companies. This is cause for concern, but the right HR policy will put some spring in your company’s step during this period of recovery.

The onboarding process

The work environment has become a largely virtual space.  As such, the onboarding process now looks very different. With most companies working from home, a roadblock is presented for new hires. Many businesses are doing their best to facilitate this change. Angel investor Andrew Dixon, in an interview about the pandemic said that, “a difficult market often forces teams to rethink their approach to problems and ask themselves whether these problems can be solved in new and more efficient ways”, and this is exactly what HR teams have to do.

A survey carried out by BambooHR found that 33% of new employees quit their jobs before their first six months. Even more surprisingly, 16-17% of them left within their first week. When you go to great lengths to find talent, neglecting to invest resources into keeping it is a major mishap. The current situation poses an even greater threat to this process. However, there are steps you can take to prevent this early brain drain.

Companies like Unilever are leading the way in virtual onboarding. Even before the coronavirus crisis, their employees were encouraged to contact new hires on LinkedIn. They are also connected with all the members of their team before they even start their role, and even have virtual onboarding support pages for this purpose.

This kind of infrastructure presents benefits even after lockdown. It decreases the risk of your staff being infected with COVID-19 and shows your new employees the value you put on their wellbeing. It also allows for employees who live out of commuting reach to apply for the job and be hired more easily. This prevents you from missing out on talent just because they are outside of your geographical radius.

Championing employee welfare

Early in the pandemic, the WHO published a list of considerations for the general population during the current climate. EY have also released a list of things that employers can do to protect their employees’ wellbeing. Ensuring your company follows guidelines is the key to employee welfare.

The ‘new normal’ will force companies to take extra precautions going forward. This means ensuring all staff medical information is up to date, reducing the amount of staff in-office, or offering health and wellness benefits for employees. Research in Hong Kong following the SARS epidemic found that increased social connectedness offset the negative mental health impact of the pandemic. This means that ensuring the right support systems are in place for your employees is vital in keeping productivity high in the future.

This is a bigger issue than ever in a post COVID-19 world. While these steps may not make consumers flock to you, doing the opposite – and treating your staff poorly – may result in lower sales or even boycotting. Likewise, if you gain a reputation for poor HR, that can be difficult to shake.

The benefits of flexibility

Flexible working was already being picked up by a lot of companies pre-coronavirus. Now the process has been accelerated. To prevent the spread of the disease, many governments have suggested that those who do go into the office make use of staggered working hours. This would lessen the contact between people during rush hour and other high-traffic periods.

Flexitime is already offered by many large employers and for good reason. Employees will be much happier if they don’t have to use holiday to go to a dentist’s appointment or their child’s school play. You might find your business experiences a disproportional increase in productivity with what you view as minor benefits.

Offering work from home or flexitime on a more permanent basis is a goldmine for employee retention. Having the option strengthens employee loyalty and encourages long-term commitment. As this move decreases stress, it will increase the productivity of a workforce that is already drained from the effects of the pandemic. Likewise, this could be the deciding factor between your ideal candidate choosing your company over another. Consumers will also be much more likely to buy from a company with a modern mindset.

Fostering a creative culture

Another way to garner good press is to foster creativity in the workplace. Potential employees will jump at the chance to work at a company with this kind of culture. Likewise, consumers want to buy products from creative businesses.

This has had some success in the past. Manufacturer 3M, which creates a variety of products across several industries, has what it calls the ‘15% culture’. This means that 15% of an employee’s time should be set aside to proactively cultivate and pursue innovative ideas that excite them. This even led to the invention of the Post-it Note, among other 3M creations.

If your company finds a way to foster creativity, employees will want to work for you, and stories surrounding the creation of your product from this environment are a marketer’s dream. If, in a post-coronavirus workplace, your company fails to improve in the aspects mentioned, then it not only acts as a deterrent to potential talent or new customers, you also risk a backlash in the press as well. HR has a big role to play in recovery, so ensure your company is taking steps forwards and not backwards.

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