Bersin: 8 positives from the pandemic for HR leaders

By: | June 30, 2020 • 4 min read
Josh Bersin writes HRE’s HR in the Flow of Work column. Bersin is an analyst, author, educator and thought leader focusing on the global talent market and the challenges and trends impacting business workforces around the world. He will speak at the 2020 Virtual HR Technology Conference scheduled for Oct. 27-30. He can be emailed at hreletters@lrp.com.

While the pandemic certainly has had many extremely negative repercussions–extreme health risks, high unemployment, business closings and social divisiveness—we can also find some positives.

1. Despite physical distancing, in many ways, we are closer. Nearly every business leader has come to understand that, if employees and customers don’t feel safe, the business won’t survive. The HR leaders we work with describe new processes to promote ongoing listening and feedback; many have established formal and informal communication channels to keep people connected; and leadership coaching is emphasizing empathy and patience. As an executive from Sanofi said, this crisis has been an equalizer in some ways. Everyone is dealing with stress and uncertainty, thereby creating a common ground for understanding.

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2. We’ve started a healthy, albeit difficult, discussion about race, income inequality and diversityD&I programs are well-intentioned but do little to move the needle on the many injustices in our society. According to recent research, more than half of Americans believe the Black Lives Matter movement is positive and important. I believe it is helping us all take a closer look at how we can turn “goals” into actual realities and will change how and who we hire, develop and promote.

3. Learning is once again viewed as important. I spent much of my career as an L&D analyst, and I’m absolutely thrilled to report that the L&D market is as healthy as I’ve ever seen it. The pandemic is necessitating business transformation, so reskilling and upskilling are now urgent necessities. Some companies are also helping families with at-home learning. Global Foundries, one of the largest manufacturers of semiconductors, hired two teachers to help employees develop instructional programs for their children.

4. The HR-tech market is responding in amazing ways. In most recessions, the tech industry takes a major pause. Not this time. Not only are people consuming digital experiences like never before, solutions providers are rapidly developing new and innovative offerings. ServiceNow, IBM and TCS Consulting, for example, have already built and launched “back-to-work” monitoring systems, attestation tools and technology to facilitate social distancing. All the learning vendors have agile learning tools for working at home. Employee-experience vendors such as Medallia, Qualtrics and Glint are offering real-time listening and feedback systems with new models for the pandemic. And performance-management vendors such as Betterworks, 15Five and Lattice all are offering tools that truly make remote work productive.

5. The concept of corporate citizenship is finally taking hold.

Companies vote with their policies and spending, not their press releases. Certainly, we’ve seen many instances of marketing disguised as social statements in the past. But in this situation, companies actually seem to be taking real stands and making changes. I do believe that much of what we’re seeing now is a pragmatic reaction to a recognition that “if we don’t fix this, we’re out of business.” But I’m also seeing a real consciousness among business leaders that caring for society should be part of a corporate mission.

Related: Positive product of the pandemic—culture

6. Individual psychology is gaining increased consideration in business. The concepts of positive psychology, resilience, anxiety and trauma are being taken into account as companies craft new policies. Ways to provide personal and family support are entering conversations. This all opens the door to programs to help with mental and spiritual healing.

7. We are more focused on family issues. Now that many of us are home with our kids and worried about our parents and other family members, employers have to think about what’s going on in our personal lives. Many HR departments are putting into place or expanding programs for family leave, education support for kids at home, flexible work hours and other support services to help employees lead healthy family lives. During the economic boom, many employees had to juggle childcare and family needs with long commutes and working hours. Companies are now recognizing the need for working conditions that are family-friendly.

8. The HR profession has taken on a heroic role. I am more inspired and energized to support the HR profession than ever. HR leaders are rolling up their sleeves, partnering with IT, facilities and legal functions, and figuring out how to react, respond and re-engineer all aspects of work. All the talk about “a seat at the table” is over: HR professionals are leading this charge. HR teams are inventing new ways to work, new models for jobs, new ways to learn and new ways to pay, incent and reward people.

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Read all of HRE’s coronavirus coverage here.

For many years, I’ve been writing about the future of work. Thanks to the pandemic, we now know work is all about employee empowerment, safety, development and agility. Our organizations have to hire people based on potential and culture, we need to give people the tools and support to succeed, we need to create a work experience that supports the entire person and we have to create clarity of mission and goals.  This is our future.