HR – Burned Out or Ready to Go?

by Celia Moloney, Principal HR Consultant at Brightwater

HR have been busier than ever! But now, just at the point of burnout, there’s a whole new set of challenges upon the return to the office.

Throughout the pandemic, HR professionals have never been busier nor their department more in demand. But with the pandemic restrictions finally coming to an end and many employers making the decision to return to physical offices in September, are HR staff totally burned out or ready for the next challenge?

From managing redundancies and evolving government guidelines to employee engagement and implementing virtual on-boarding and training programmes, it’s been an incredibly stressful and difficult 18 months. HR along with IT has played a vital part in keeping operations going for organisations throughout the pandemic. At the start, they were integral in helping set up the whole working from home operations and ensuring the process went as smoothly as possible. As time went on, HR professionals found that in many cases having to upskill others on systems implementations and virtual on-boarding meant having to upskill themselves as well. For some HR teams, it’s meant a huge impact on their daily workloads. With organisations increasing both their reliance on and investment in employee learning, it’s up to HR to roll out the appropriate programmes to the relevant employees so their understanding of what’s appropriate and what is the best approach, is key.

Company culture

Covid has also meant a huge change in culture and has had a knock-on effect on the interview process. Not only are interviews being conducted virtually but there’s now a concerted effort to give potential employees a real feel for the culture despite not being in the physical office environment. Interviews are being coordinated by both line managers and hiring managers as well as different members of the relevant team to really convey the company culture. Employers are more focused than ever on candidate fit so the recruitment process is taking longer than usual, prolonging a part of the job for HR that would normally be relatively short.

Knock-on effect

For many companies, the last 18 months have only served to accelerate trends that were already in motion such as digital transformation, automation and globalisation. For HR, while certainly exciting work, this has just added to their workload. On the systems side, it has meant an even greater reliance on data-driven insights resulting in an increase in demand for HRIS Systems Specialists. The dip in the economy has also meant redundancies and restructures which HR are heavily involved in and have to deliver bad news with compassion. It has been professionally challenging and emotionally draining on all the HR staff involved. When it comes to recruitment, hiring budget constraints have also meant that existing HR staff members have to take up the slack, again contributing to the feeling of burn-out. They also need to be au-fait with changing employment laws that are adapting to globalisation and hybrid working. It’s a lot to both take in and take on. HR is also responsible for employee engagement, a vital part of staff retention and creating a positive culture at a time when they’re feeling the most burned out in their professional careers.

New challenges

With the likely return to offices in September, HR professionals are facing even greater challenges. Line managers are going to be largely responsible for ensuring a smooth transition back for their teams and will be supported heavily by their HR teams. HR will need to provide them with training for managing hybrid teams. Many employees feel that they want to either work full time from home or in a hybrid manner although this will give rise to more challenges for HR.  Remote workers may feel that due to a lack of visibility, they’re not getting the same recognition or rewards as their colleagues who have decided to go back in full-time. Those in the office full-time or part-time may resent those working from home full-time. It’s a delicate tightrope that is very much left to HR to navigate. From an employee retention and attraction point of view, HR teams now have to review remuneration packages and benefits offerings as some like gym membership, travel allowances etc may not be suitable in this post-pandemic era.

Even the physical action of being back in the office will present issues for HR teams as they seek to uphold social distancing guidelines, keep track of hybrid working schedules and manage anxiety and mental well-being of their workforce. HR are usually the ones responsible for making sure everyone else is taken care of and very often are the ones left behind. The onus now is on the employer to support their HR teams in future endeavours.