The Workforce Challenges that HR Leaders Face in the New Normal

Workforce Optimization

There is no doubt about it – the pandemic has changed the way that Human Resource (HR) professionals are viewing and managing their responsibilities toward the workforce. Entire models of performance evaluation and team communication had been disrupted as companies adopted remote work in order to survive. Employee mental health and emotional well-being, long-time concerns of leaders, became even more pronounced as the combined stress of family and work pressures in one space exacted their toll. The workforce challenges that HR managers and executives will face are unprecedented, and many of them realize that they are on untrod ground in coming up with solutions.

Here are three of the main ones that they can expect to run into, sooner than later:

Digital transformation and disruption in workforce operations

The importance of HR Tech further rose during the lockdowns when teams scrambled to communicate with each other and ensure that project deliverables were met. At the same time, HR managers discovered that the traditional metrics that gauged accountability and performance were fast becoming obsolete. They had to digitalize their processes and fast.

In one 2021 report cited by People Matters, 89% of HR leaders surveyed  acknowledged that they had to automate and involve AI in a lot of their tasks, from recruitment, performance evaluation, to compensation design. Training and the upskilling of their current workforce also became a major issue, as the pandemic revealed that employees who are not updated when it comes to the latest digital competences will falter on the job. To prevent a crisis in morale and productivity, the companies surveyed said that they will invest in software solutions like AI, machine-learning capabilities, cloud-based platforms, and robotic process automation into their HR processes.

While this strategy is sound, HR leaders and their executives must realize that technological adoption by itself does not happen overnight. Lack of planning including the preparation of the workforce can result in disruption that can discourage the workforce in pursuing change, and even upset the operational changes that are being put in place.

Before any digital transformation can happen, the C-suite and HR must craft a blueprint that should specifically target the areas in HR that would have to be digitalized. A step-by-step process must be disclosed, with projected outcomes, timetables for implementation, and individual tasks carefully outlined for the stakeholders to easily follow. Communications must be continuous after the initial stages have been set-up, with everyone from top management to the newbie employee engaged in transparent, safe conversations. Channels for feedback must always be open in order to spot flaws and potential problem areas, as well as systems that actually work.

A more visible reward system for the remote workforce

A motivated workforce thrives on the just recognition of their work, especially when it comes to accomplishments that have significant positive impact on their company. The young Millennial workforce of today is fueled when that recognition is more forthcoming, more frequent, and has a direct correlation to the values they believe in, and which the company stands for.  While public commendation accompanied by certain perks was all too visible before the pandemic, the lockdowns practically made them invisible. It also became hard for management to applaud specific acts of accomplishments in virtual meetings that were  not as engaging as face-to-face meetings.

Allowing this lack to continue can demoralize the workforce, especially when their in-shelter conditions make them feel detached and isolated from everybody else. Productivity will inevitably suffer when they start to feel that their work is not being duly recognized.

HRM Asia recommends that HR leaders must come up with new, innovative rewards and recognition programs that are immediate, tangible, and frequent. No need to wait for the next quarterly performance evaluation to award someone in front of their peers. Instead, implement monthly goals with specific rewards cited for top performers. The reward does not have to be cash all the time. It can be cost-effective but still fun and fulfilling for the winning employee, like additional vacation time, the latest laptop, or vouchers for the best restaurant in the block.

And a selfie or a video of said winner enjoying their perk, posted throughout the brand’s various social media channels, will not hurt, either.

A more wholistic approach to the workforce

Interestingly, as HR Tech adoption rises and the workforce becomes more remote, these same employees need to feel they are valued by the company. If they think they are just cogs in an impersonal machinery, they will resign and move on. This is one explanation behind the so-called Great Resign which had seen even financially challenged employees quit their jobs during the pandemic to find something more meaningful and rewarding.

This leaves HR leaders facing a unique paradox of a challenge:  while using technology to streamline operations and prevent team miscommunications, they must still be able to inject the human element into their strategy. They must always be accessible to their remote workforce, sensitive to their challenges, helpful with their assessment, and supportive in their interaction. Performance evaluations are no longer enough, but the totality of the employee persona must be taken into consideration, including their aspirations and potentials. Only then can that employee connect intellectually, emotionally, and professionally with their employer and renew their motivation.

In one example cited by SHRM  an AI software company redesigned their HR processes to emphasize and bring out each employee’s unique strengths and capabilities, instead of cracking down on their shortcomings. The result:  “productivity shot through the roof.”

The new normal will be seeing varied and perhaps unprecedented challenges for HR.  But as seen through the example above, these can also be opportunities for the company to shift direction, improve obsolete practices, and optimize their workforce.

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