How North Carolina Leaders in Human Resources Respond to COVID-19

A Poole College of Management team of human resources (HR) faculty made up of Beth Ritter, professor of practice in human resource management; Patrick Flynn, assistant professor of of human resource management; and Paul Mulvey, professor of human resource management, spoke with senior HR leaders in North Carolina about their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The following themes are for professionals and firms to consider moving forward:

The Time to Think About Re-entry to Work is Here 

The companies shared that they are working now on policies and facilities to welcome employees back to work here in the US either later this year or next. Global firms have already been working on this as each region and country is on a different time table with respect to COVID-19. 

Interestingly, several organizations shared that the forced transition to work from home arrangements have spurred long-term re-evaluations of their work arrangements, flexibility, and facility plans. Considerations for remote work practices are top of mind as some did not have remote work policies before the pandemic and now are considering how much remote work to offer on a more permanent basis and for which roles. 

How many facilities will the new way of working require is another question to answer for firms who may now offer a concept called hoteling or shared reserved office space for employees who only report to work a few days a week. An interesting perspective was offered that fewer individual offices meant more space for conference rooms, team rooms, or labs which also ties to the agile approach to work. 

Another interesting question is for firms that had offered significant amenities on-site as part of their employee value proposition. Will these fitness centers and other on site services still be as valued by employees who now may not be coming to work every day? 

How Will We Measure Performance in this Odd Year? 

Also on the minds of HR leaders and their leadership teams is how to measure performance in this year. Several indicated that they will keep the performance evaluation process the same for this year. They even shared that managers requested this because they wanted less change and feel the need for routine, even if it requires more work on their part. 

However, a few firms indicated that to ease workloads they will be utilizing a simpler format for this year.  For example, the measure will be yes, the employee met expectations or no, the employee did not meet expectations. 

One has to wonder how essential workers will feel about a meets expectations rating if they have been working extreme hours in intense conditions and may expect a high rating. This all relates to compensation practices too. Will firms that reduced pay early in the transitions now offer a salary increase for merit? Will pay freezes hold while performance is merely marked for the record and not tied to pay?  

This link to compensation has long-term considerations that are worth keeping an eye on. We anticipate that the reduced rating scale may stay with some form of adaptation that also recognizes the contributions of employees who exceed expectations.

How Will the “New Normal” Impact Recruitment? 

When discussing working remotely, we also learned that the way their companies source talent could significantly change. Some organizations discussed their excitement about the potential to grow their prospective employee pool by doing away with previous geographic restrictions. 

Many leaders and employees do not want to rush back to the workplace and remote work means home offices can now potentially be in other states or countries. The employee talent pool could now truly become more international or global. Firms that were reluctant to hire non-local employees will be pressed to reconsider this practice. 

We Have Work to Do to Help Employees with Mental Health Issues

The last theme was that firms have more work to do to support employee mental health and wellness. The pandemic has intensified what was already a sensitive topic. 

People are balancing dramatic changes at work while dealing with the stress and anxiety of the pandemic while many also navigate equally dramatic changes in family circumstances and work-life balance or isolation for those who live alone. Topics of depression and anxiety will take center stage and wellness programming will be intensified. 

One firm shared that they are reminding employees of their EAP (Employee Assistance Program) benefits which offer 4 free visits to a mental health provider. Further, many organizations commented on the value of authentic communication and concern where managers routinely make time to check on their employees’ (and families’) well-being in both formal and informal settings.

This post was originally published in Poole Thought Leadership.

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