Why HR, benefits leaders need to ‘detach’ from the pandemic

Leaders at EY and Johnson & Johnson say it’s time to move from transition to true transformation.
By: | May 13, 2021 • 3 min read

The word “transformation” has become commonplace since the pandemic. But if organizations want to truly embrace the possibilities of transformation, they need to stop associating ongoing shifts with the pandemic and start envisioning a world after COVID-19.

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“We are severing our ties with the pandemic and saying, ‘How do we build for the future in a sustainable capacity, one that engages employees?’ ” asked Viq Pervaaz, partner and health sciences leader at EY during a Spotlight Session at Tuesday’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, a free, virtual event running through Thursday. Pervaaz was joined by Fernando Salinas, global senior vice president of HR, R&D, robotics, digital solutions and external innovation at Johnson & Johnson.

The pair explored how organizations, led by HR and benefits execs, can make the leap from the period of transition so many have been in for more than a year to true transformation.

Related: Read more from the conference here.

They suggested a set of guiding principles can help lead that process, starting with defining organizational goals. Develop a pipeline of initiatives involving continuous planning, piloting, executing and scaling. Businesses should also continuously track and measure milestones and outcomes, they say.

In order to “detach themselves” from the pandemic to reimagine everything from the new workplace to skill sets needed, organizations have to think about the variables central to a transformation. For instance, plan for a command center (who will manage the transformation and what capabilities do they need?), legal and regulatory changes, IT and third-party tech support and workforce agility, among other factors.

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Workforce experience is also particularly vital. At the start of the pandemic, EY conducted a study to examine how employees and employers viewed the impacts on the organizations, finding both groups see the value of new digital tools and workplace safety and agree that flexibility will be key to the future of work. However, while 90% of employers said they were prioritizing employees for long-term value creation in their decision-making, only 69% of employees agreed.

“The pandemic has impacted how we view our business, how we function in our business, how we feel in our business,” Pervaaz says. “It’s important to talk about the business impact but also how employees are sensing and feeling that.”

See also: 5 reasons to attend the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference

In an updated version of the survey this year, EY found that employees were largely satisfied at their organizations and positive about the shift to remote working. However, they now expect flexibility and are willing to leave if the organization doesn’t provide it: 54% said they would quit if the business wasn’t as flexible as they’d like; millennials, in particular, were twice as likely as baby boomers to depart.

When it comes to flexibility, 40% of those surveyed said they would prefer flexibility in where they work, while 54% would opt for flexibility in work hours.

“This is a unique opportunity to try to meet people where they are,” Salinas says. What may work for some employees won’t for others, a reality that’s even more complicated at global companies, whose workforces have experienced the pandemic in varying ways.

Shifting the business mindset away from reacting to the pandemic to building long-term, sustainable plans can help leaders navigate those decisions.

“We need to think about creating the model of the future, not the model any longer in reaction to the pandemic,” Pervaaz says. If organizations don’t make that move, he adds, they’ll be having the same tough conversations again in a few years.

While companies should follow a structured framework to shift from transition to transformation, he adds, they also need to remember these are completely new waters for most—and strategies should be continuously revisited.

“We have to allow, organizationally, a little grace. We can be as prepared as we are but at the same time know that we may have to course-correct and be in the moment,” he says. “We have to be agile in the most generous terms. We have to be flexible. This is uncharted territory for most organizations.”

All sessions will be available through June 11. Click here to view this entire session.

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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