HR should not be fighting this battle alone

EXCLUSIVE: We spoke to Elisa Mallis, Managing Director and Vice President, Asia-Pacific, Center for Creative Leadership, on why leaders need to partner HR in this battle during the pandemic.
By: | June 18, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a battle fought by the healthcare sector, but by the global workforce as well. And HR finds itself on the frontline.

Long regarded as an operational function responsible for executing administrative tasks such as payroll, recruitment, onboarding, benefits, compensations, among others, HR not only has to continue performing these tasks, it is now being thrusted into a strategic and indispensable role that will be critical for organisations to survive this crisis.

The pandemic has forced organisations around the world to rethink and restructure their businesses and talent force. And HR will be playing a critical role in helping their companies do so while at the same time ensuring the well-being of employees.

Speaking exclusively to HRM Asia, Elisa Mallis, Managing Director and Vice President, Asia-Pacific, at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), believes that HR will play a significant part in helping their organisations survive.

“More than ever HR needs to be on the front, along with business, developing the strategy, not just acting as an ‘operational gate-keeper’. They need to work in tandem with the rest of the senior leadership to plan and reconfigure workflows, redeploy talent, help employees to reskill and upskill in order to stay relevant. That’s a tremendous amount of work, and HR teams are having to do in a few months what would normally take 12 to18 months,” she said.

Amidst all the essential administrative and operational tasks that organisations need HR to continue executing, the HR team now has another heavy and crucial responsibility on its already burdened shoulders – to look after the wellbeing of employees who are overwhelmed during this crisis.

“What must not get overlooked is the wellbeing of the people. For example, if organisations have to let people go, how do they ensure that the survivors are still motivated and supported emotionally?” explained Mallis.

“Another big challenge for HR right now is balancing the workload. Many people are feeling overwhelmed. Some employees are overloaded, while others find themselves with much less to do.

“In both cases, HR is responsible to help. Help is needed to prevent those who are working twice as many hours from burning out, and keep those who are at home and suddenly don’t have much to do engaged and productive,” she added.

While HR is at the frontline of this battle, they can’t be fighting the battle alone. With such little time and so much to do, Mallis urged leaders and other functions of organisations to provide support to their HR teams.

“The crisis has led to an unbalanced situation and is already having mental health repercussions. HR is in the middle of having to carry all these responsibilities. Other functions need to jump in and provide additional support,” she added.

Leaders need to go high tech and human touch

With remote working becoming a norm and social distancing and staggered working hours here to stay for the foreseeable future, one of the biggest challenges that leaders face today is how to engage their people in this new world of work.

Technology such as video conferencing tools have rocketed in importance during the COVID-19 pandemic as employees work remotely and will continue to do so – at least to some extent. There’s an increasing need for leaders to adapt digital tools and technology in order to engage with their employees.

“Leaders face the paradox of needing to embrace both high tech and human touch. With the new work from home practices, 10 years’ worth of digital transformation is happening in 10 days. Employees have embraced different virtual collaboration platforms overnight,” Mallis said.

“Amidst this high-tech environment, organizations will need to be deliberate in retaining their culture and ensuring that the human touch is not compromised. Ways to do this include Live Online learning opportunities, and a focus on maintaining and increasing high quality conversations in a virtual setting.

“Conversations should not just be around work tasks, they should also be checking how people are feeling and openly addressing any challenges. It’s about having meaningful and constructive discussions, whether it’s one-on-one or in small groups,” she added.