Countries around the world continue to grapple with the enormous human toll of the pandemic. If it wasn’t so real and so current, it would be an interesting time to take a step back and observe the nuances of human behaviour. Politicians and business leaders alike, have very quickly had to learn what motivates humans to do what they need them to do. What inspires them, what drives them, what upsets them and what can lead to distress and disillusionment. They have also learnt that this is extremely difficult. The mere threat of contracting a highly contagious virus that may lead to death of oneself or family and friends doesn’t seem to be enough.
This will come as no surprise to HR leaders. HR leaders know all to well the challenges and rewards of working with people. Their job is to understand the needs of their workforce; understand what motivates them; what skills they need for now and into the future to ensure the ongoing viability of the business they support.
During the early months of 2020, HR Leaders were called on to enable the mass moving of the workforce to their homes. They were charged with ensuring continued social connection with employees, they were required to learn (at speed) new workplace laws, government grants and government support payments for employees and they became experts in employee well-being and mental health. HR rose to the challenge of the crisis and excelled. 2021 brings new challenges and once again HR will be critical to ensuring these challenges are addressed.
The changing talent landscape
Unemployment in Australia has dropped to 4.9% in June 2021, down from 7.4% in June 2020 (ABS). During 2020, HR was heavily involved in standing down and furloughing staff. Now, many businesses are faced with significant talent shortages. There is a clear divide in how the pandemic is affecting the workforce. Industries significantly impacted by rolling lockdowns continue to lay off staff, other businesses cannot find enough. HR is having to adapt and innovate to ensure they can meet the workforce demands. In some industries, the economy has turned from an employer market to a candidate market in a matter of months. According to the latest Business Conditions and Sentiments Report;
- In June 2021, 27% of businesses reported having difficulty finding suitable staff to fill jobs.
- Almost one in five (19%) businesses did not have enough staff based on current operations.
- Nearly a quarter (23%) of businesses expect to increase staff numbers over the next three months.
The skills for the future are now
The global pandemic and the recession of 2020 has accelerated the future of work. The Future of Jobs Report 2020 by the World Economic Forum reported that “on average, companies estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling of six months or less and 94% of business leaders report that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, a sharp uptake from 65% in 2018.” It is expected that technology adoption will continue and accelerate. A company’s ability to adapt and innovate in terms of how to re-skill and re-train its workforce will be a key determinant of its ongoing sustainability.
In the same report, eighty-four percent of employers are set to rapidly digitalise working processes, including a significant expansion of remote work—with the potential to move 44% of their workforce to operate remotely. HR was instrumental in the shift of thousands of employees to remote working. HR now needs to support their business leaders in embracing this change and looking to new ways to engage and motivate their workforce.
Business leaders across the spectrum of company size and industries have had to adapt, and quickly. A positive outcome of this pandemic appears to be that leaders of all persuasions have perhaps become more human. As leaders have grappled with their own lives turned upside down, they have experienced firsthand the impacts of other’s decisions. They have leant heavily on HR to support them as they navigate daily decisions about their workforce. The level of empathy and understanding of what their employees experience appears to have increased. As the impact of talent shortages, requirements for new skills and the continuation of remote working hit home, leadership skills will need to adapt.
The challenges and opportunities that lie ahead are significant. As a result of HR’s actions many workplaces and businesses have continued to be productive and, in some cases, more-so. When HR leaders focus on what the most critical priorities are for their business and the workforce, they quickly demonstrate the value they can bring. Isn’t it time for HR to be taken seriously?
Ilona Charles, author of HR for Impact: Practical steps for HR leaders to build influence and thrive (Grammar Factory)