Human Resources in the pandemic: More support for employees

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Human Resources (HR) departments in the pandemic have played a central role in business culture and policies. HR GO’s Group HR Business Partner, Josie Harrison, describes the ways her team have helped support and continue to motivate employees through this unprecedented global health crisis. She also talks about how HR are now helping to reshape the workplace for the future.

HR teams have taken on new challenges since the pandemic hit. They've handled crisis response, from issuing COVID-19 updates to navigating ever changing rules and legislation, and everything in between.

The rapid shift to remote working brought its own issues. During the first lockdown, it was clear that employees with caring or parenting commitments would struggle with ‘business as usual’. Working parents who needed to home-school had a very tough time juggling their responsibilities.

At HR GO, our remote working policy needed to be adapted to make provision for these new challenges. We worked with individuals to assist with personalised solutions. These included allowing a part-time member of staff to temporarily change their hours to work in the evenings when their children were in bed. In another example we gave a colleague the opportunity to work on a Saturday instead of Thursday mornings to fit around home schooling.  Others who were having childcare issues asked to go on furlough, which we supported where we could.

Human Resources in the pandemic were expanding our support to unique circumstances. And, management felt it was beneficial for such flexibility in extraordinary times. Our aim was to be as flexible as possible to help everyone get through the pandemic. And it was just as important to reassure them that our company continued to be there for them.

Human Resources in the pandemic - upping mental health support

Although lockdown restrictions kept employees safe, lockdown brought about other issues. Employees were dealing with isolation, loneliness, anxiety and the exacerbation of existing mental health struggles.

More than ever, we therefore needed to focus on the emotional wellbeing of our employees and decided to go beyond the standard duty of care.

We started creating and posting significant amounts of mental health advice and guidance on our communication channels. And we also took a fresh look at one aspect of HR GO’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).

Pre-pandemic, anyone who’d worked in the HR GO Group for longer than six months was offered six counselling sessions. But we recognised that the need was now far greater. So we upgraded our offer to any employee who asked for counselling.

Joint venture support  

Our group is made up of wholly owned and joint venture subsidiary companies in the recruitment and digital space. We make sure that every entity gets the same level of constant support. 

Sadly we find that most small businesses who go on to join HR GO in a joint venture recruitment business have not had this level or depth of HR support before. 

Having access to an expert HR function has been invaluable for them. It has allowed them to navigate this difficult new landscape. And it's also played a crucial part in keeping their employees engaged and productive in difficult times. This has left them free to focus on how their business can grow and thrive.

Benefits for our times

This health crisis has caused many of us to take a fresh look at our priorities. And that’s reflected in the new benefits we now give employees at HR GO. Our EAP now offers more wellbeing and lifestyle support to help people stay happy and healthy.

Many more people now want to prepare for any eventuality. So, all our employees now receive life cover after six months of service. Plus with tech playing such a crucial role in our home-based lives, we’ve partnered with Stormfront. This gives employees easy access to a full range of electrical products. Employees can now purchase electronics including Apple products, and repay in monthly instalments from their salary.

Keeping in touch

Like many UK businesses, HR GO initially needed to put staff on furlough whilst new levels of business were established. At one point nearly half or 127 members of our team were on the scheme. It was crucial to keep these valuable members of our team connected, focused and engaged. This was particularly true with all the increased uncertainty about what might happen to family members from the effects of the pandemic.

Those colleagues were invited to a weekly Teams call hosted by either me or another senior leader. Even more often it was the Group MD, given the importance of the communications. This was a chance to update them on how the business was going. It also gave them an open forum for questions and answers.  

When people returned to work after furlough, many shared positive feedback about how we’d kept in touch with them while they were away.

But sadly we did have to make a number of people redundant in certain areas of the business. This was due to the uncertainty of what the future brought and whether traditional clients would ever recover.

Between myself and my adviser, Jemma Keys, we managed to host every redundancy call ourselves - and again we were thanked for the personal way we dealt with the HR GO redundancy programme. 

Human Resources in the pandemic and beyond

HR professionals are now wearing more hats than ever. We’ve had to become coaches, counsellors and sometimes legal experts, too.

Rather than an ‘open door policy’, I’ve had to adopt an ‘open screen policy’. This has allowed me to nurture and create many new relationships during these remote one-to-ones.

It’s a bit of an HR cliché, but people are our most valuable resource. This is especially true as we adapt to uncertain times. So collaborating with employees at every level - and in every division of the HR GO Group - is what my role in HR really has become.

Next steps

Find out what other benefits your business can enjoy by starting a joint venture with the HR GO Group.

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