From mental health programs to fun ways of keeping culture alive and well in a remote environment, HRM highlights the great work of three HR professionals to mark International HR day.
When HRM started interviewing HR professionals in the thick of the pandemic last year, there was a similar attitude displayed by them all. They were exhausted, they were unsure of what would come next, but they were also emanating an unwavering determination to guide their teams and executives through a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
These professionals quickly became the backbone of their business’s recovery plans by mobilising crisis response teams, streamlining talent management processes, setting up critical wellbeing responses and so much more. In 2021, that momentum hasn’t been lost, with even more programs coming to life to help businesses tackle the future challenges of work.
“If organisations didn’t already understand the value of the HR function prior to the pandemic, they certainly do now,” says AHRI’s CEO Sarah McCann-Bartlett. “By taking their new-found influence and putting it to good use, HR professionals are positioning themselves as critical to everything ‘future of work’. As executives continue responding to the changing nature of work, knowing they have capable, strategic partners in HR is invaluable.
“On International HR day, it’s important we take the time to recognise all the hard work HR has already done, as well as the hard work that lies ahead. It is by no means an easy job, but it’s one of the most important ones in any organisation.”
To mark International HR Day, HRM has shared some of the recent initiatives implemented by AHRI members in an effort to help their organisations bounce back from the crisis.
Keeping connection alive
Michelle Cummins CAHRI, general manager of people and culture at MaxSoft Group, focused her energy on figuring out how to keep connection and culture thriving in a remote environment.
“We have 60 staff, so when we’re all in the office it’s easy to keep our culture strong. But it became more challenging when working from home came into effect.”
Adopting a ‘remote first’ policy, MaxSoft Group offers hot-desking options, but encourages employees to work remotely when possible.
“I researched remote working extensively. It appears to be a common theme that staff want to come in one or two days per week, [but it was] more common that they did not come in, meaning businesses paid for rent in building spaces that wasn’t required.”
So with the majority of employees clocking in from home, Cummins had to get creative about transferring MaxSoft Group’s culture online and carving out some in-person events where possible.
Some of her initiatives include:
- Quarterly in-person team dinners (subject to COVID-19 restrictions) paid for by the company. For interstate employees, Cummins sends UberEats vouchers so they still feel included in a small way.
- Partnering with a third-party expert to introduce emotional intelligence and mindfulness training, which is offered both in-house and via Zoom.
- Introducing in-person ‘family fun days’ as a way to thank the families of employees for allowing work to come into their homes. This is also a great way to meet employee’s spouses, children and pets in person, she adds, as previously they’ve just been background figures in a video call.
- Packing employees’ social calendars to ensure they always have something fun to look forward to such as lawn bowls, online gaming, trivia and staff drinks at the local pub.
- They’ve set up challenges that can be joined from home, such as designing a logo for the official company t-shirt.
- They set up “virtual IDs’ for new starters so it’s easy to share fun facts about them – such as their hidden talents or favourite kind of music/food – in an effort to facilitate the bonding process that would have come more naturally in person.
Top-notch mental health strategies
Ask any HR professional about their biggest struggles during COVID-19 and you can bet mental health challenges will be up at the top of their list.
Wellbeing programs had to be bolstered, tweaked for a virtual workforce or, in some cases, crafted from scratch to respond to the rising number of mental health concerns.
Belinda Pelle CPHR, people and culture manager at Hudson Institute of Medical research, has always made employee wellbeing a priority, but last year she kicked it up a notch.
Ms Pelle introduced some of these initiatives well before the pandemic, but via the institute’s culture and engagement committee, introduced a raft of new initiatives last year.
“We had a number of staff trained in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and we were able to continue offering this training online during COVID-19. From this, we rolled out MHFA Stations in each tearoom with supporting resources.”
Hudson also introduced ‘Parents Connect’ – an online hub to support working parents, which came in handy during Melbourne’s 20-week lockdown, she adds, as it offered parents a place to connect with each other, and share tips for keeping their children entertained and mastering the art of homeschooling.
“We also encouraged staff to continue practising healthy lifestyles. One way we supported this was through a physical activity challenge. We created a workplace team on the physical activity app Strava, where staff could record and engage with each other’s activities such as walking, running or riding. Prizes were awarded for the most activity done over a period of time.”
Hudson’s wellbeing program was recently recognised by the Victorian Government under the Achievement Program.
“If organisations didn’t already understand the value of the HR function prior to the pandemic, they certainly do now.” – Sarah McCann-Bartlett, CEO, AHRI
As part of her capstone project to achieve certification through AHRI’s Practising Certification Program, Karen King CPHR – people and culture partner at the Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO) – created a professional development initiative to enhance leadership capabilities in her organisation.
“Even though our [leaders] were doing a lot of things well, there were definite gaps in their capabilities – mainly because of a lack of resources… and confidence.
“Many leaders had stepped into their roles without much experience yet with high expectations placed on them to manage conflict and ensure their teams were performing optimally. Some were struggling.”
To remedy this, King set up what she calls “learning bite sessions”. Topics covered conflict resolution and managing teamwork effectively, as well as one-on-one sessions with external coaches, which further supported leader’s learning. The program also included group reflection sessions, which gave participants opportunities to discuss what they were learning and how they were putting those learnings into action.
Then COVID-19 hit and presented a couple of major challenges in the roll out of her program. The first was logistical, as the possibility of face-to-face learning evaporated. This meant transforming all sessions into a format that worked over Microsoft Teams.
The second challenge was maintaining participants’ focus.
“As an essential service, our organisation had to deliver vital services and support. This meant that [leaders] had to continue managing their day-to-day priorities, while also handling COVID-19.
“I tried to make the program as accessible as possible. I started by clearly explaining expectations and timelines, which gave participants plenty of time to work the sessions into their schedules; but, at the same time, I made things flexible. If a session had to change time or day, then I went with it. After all, I’m here to support the [leaders] in doing their job.
“I also made sure I kept in contact regularly… it’s all about bringing people together to achieve shared goals.”
Despite the COVID-19 speed bump, King’s project was a success, with participants reporting a 22 per cent increase in confidence to manage conflict and improve teamwork; a 17 per cent increase in employee engagement with leadership effectiveness and capability; and a three per cent reduction in staff turnover in comparison to the same period in the previous year.
These three initiatives only scratch at the surface of the incredible feats HR professionals have been able to achieve this and last year.
“It has been an overwhelming 15 months for employers and employees alike, but HR professionals have increased their influence and can therefore offer their expertise in these business critical areas,” says McCann-Bartlett.
It’s exciting to envisage the future for Australian businesses, she adds, and HR’s role in helping us emerge from this crisis stronger than before.
“While crafting new ways of working can feel like a daunting experience, it’s also a great opportunity to make your organisation future-ready. Employees want to work for businesses with progressive approaches to things like flexibility, family responsibilities and professional development. Now is HR’s time to help make this happen.
“Without the hard work of AHRI members and the broader HR community, many businesses would be far worse off than they are today, so I’d like to personally thank all HR professionals for their tenacity, determination and passion. I look forward to seeing more as we take the next steps into the future of work.”
Has your business adopted an important initiative or strategy in response to the pandemic? We want to hear about it. Let’s continue the conversation over at the AHRI Lounge, exclusive to AHRI members.