AHRI’s latest pulse survey shows that nearly 50 per cent of organisations will make permanent changes to their business as a result of the pandemic.
When AHRI conducted its first HR pulse survey in April, it was clear respondents were feeling anxious and stressed, particularly at the thought of having to let employees go. The second survey in May showed HR professionals that were working harder than ever and burning out as a result.
These issues haven’t gone away; they still warrant attention. However, the most recent pulse survey, which collected HR professionals’ sentiments in June, asked respondents to look forward and paint a picture of some of the more permanent changes COVID-19 could have on their organisations.
Assessing the damage
In May, 40 per cent of respondents said the pandemic impacted their organisation to a large extent. This month, while only 30.5 per cent said the same, 6 per cent of respondents selected a new category, reporting that COVID-19 had impacted their operation and strategy in every single way.
(Note: the recent survey had a smaller sample size than those before it).
So it’s no surprise that many respondents predict that the pivots they’ve been forced to make due to the pandemic will likely be here to stay – 49 per cent said changes to their operation, delivery and/or strategy will be permanent. Only 13 per cent said the changes will be transient, the rest (38 per cent) are uncertain.
Public sector respondents, and those belonging to a business with 500+ employees, were most likely to believe the changes to their business approach would be permanent.
The not-for-profit sector reported the highest percentage (47 per cent) of large impacts resulting from the pandemic. Twenty-seven per cent of private sector and 43 per cent of public sector respondents reported either large or substantial impacts.
In order to thrive in the future, respondents said that resilience, flexibility, agility, clear communication and digital and virtual capabilities are key areas to develop.
Consulting with employees
When it came to return-to-work planning, the top five business units involved creating a plan were the CEO (86 per cent), HR team (78.6 per cent), business unit leaders (61 per cent), workplace health and safety team (48 per cent) and the chief financial officer (33 per cent).
When asked to expand upon what the ideal return-to-work plan would look like, respondents had a variety of responses. One person said flexible work should “pivot back and forth as required” and that the approach should be “collaborative and include ongoing consultation with employees”.
Another respondent said: “It’s very dependent on the industry and client profile. As an overarching approach, it will be successful if staff feel psychologically and physically safe in whatever arrangements are agreed. [We are seeing] little desire to flip back to the way we were working pre-COVID.”
Another respondent suggested staggered starts could be the best approach while another said businesses should look at individualised plans that take into account things such as living arrangements and childcare obligations.
Nearly 43 per cent of respondents said they were consulting employees about their organisation’s future direction to a large or substantial extent. Only 6.6 per cent weren’t seeking employee feedback at all.
Sixty per cent were consulting staff about the return to the workplace to a large or substantial extent and 11 per cent were only doing so to a small extent.
As HRM reported earlier this week, giving employees a voice has immense benefits, including improved performance, engagement and retention rates. This is more important in a turbulent economic environment, because staff are less likely to speak up out of fear that their job isn’t secure.
The continuation of remote work
When asked whether or not they believed employees were comfortable returning to work yet, the majority (61 per cent) said “only to some extent” – this hesitation was slightly greater in organisations with more than 500 employees.
We know from separate research that many staff are still feeling nervous about the health implications of travelling on public transport during their commute and others feel their employers aren’t doing enough to make their workplaces COVID-19 safe. On top of all this, employees are loving working from home so much that many report not wanting to return to the office even after the pandemic is over.
It seems the majority of respondents in AHRI’s survey are paying attention to these sentiments, as 80 per cent foresee remote work options being made more permanent in the wake of the pandemic. Respondents from larger organisations reported a slightly higher chance of this happening (83 per cent) compared to organisations with under 500 staff (79 per cent).
When asked to share some of the barriers to continued remote work, respondents listed a lack of C-suite buy-in, difficulties in trying to collaborate online and challenges around maintaining a strong organisational culture with a workforce that’s split between in-house and remote staff.
Respondents were also asked to share some of the concrete actions they were taking to facilitate remote working in their organisations. Responses included:
- Developing communications to encourage employee wellbeing and engagement while working from home
- Team building and performance management exercises
- Adopting new technologies
- E-facilitation of safety, leadership and team workshops
- Coaching leadership teams and helping them to understand the right questions to ask their teams
What comes next?
In HRM’s last pulse survey wrap up, HR professionals reported taking on extra tasks that extended beyond their day-to-day duties, including keeping on top of changing workplace legislation and taking charge of communications surrounding COVID-19.
This has remained true in the most recent survey. Almost 40 per cent said COVID-19 has impacted the kind of work they’re doing, such as facilitating remote working, increased wellbeing support, change management, return-to-work planning, the creation of new policies and a stronger focus on workplace health and safety.
While some business functions might be starting to return to business as usual, HR professionals won’t be seeing a familiar workload anytime soon. There’s a long road ahead and, in many ways, the hard work is only just beginning.
HR will be charged with managing the mental health aftershocks of the pandemic. They’ll have to continue navigating the constant changes to Industrial Relations laws and help coach managers in the realities of the changing work environment.
On top of all this, the tail end of the year could see many more tough conversations around redundancies and pay cuts as the JobKeeper subsidy comes to an end and some organisations have to make adjustments.
There’s no doubt 2020 will be one of our hardest years yet, but it’s worth keeping in mind that it’s also HR’s opportunity to shine.
It’s going to be a bumpy road to recover, but it’s worth remembering you’re not alone in this. AHRI has created an online LinkedIn community for AHRI members to share their stories and seek advice. Sign up today for exclusive insights and thought provoking conversations.