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Preparing your ‘Covid-coping mechanisms’: 3 ways the pandemic is accelerating change in HR

14 April 2020 5 min read

Preparing for covid-19 banner

The CIPD recently published a look back which reflected on twenty years of change in HR strategies. However, for obvious reasons, that’s starting to look out of date very quickly. In the past month alone, arguably more has shifted to change the way HR manages employees than in the whole past twenty years.

These are unprecedented times for HRs. They are under immense pressure to answer more questions than ever before, and change significant ways of working across the business, from staff engagement to motivation and training, to absence management, to even re-thinking HR terminology (‘furlough’ and ‘self-isolation’ being two examples of terms none of us were thinking of six weeks ago). The workforce is now at home. The new legislation is coming out to help businesses manage their workforces overnight. And HR’s job is to keep staff motivated and productive, and manage those who are absent, in transition, or out, whatever the reason; and to keep management updated with the data needed to run the business with adequate resources.

Within every company, the HR team is really at the frontline of the pandemic, supporting business decisions and evolving processes under immense pressure. Aside from the well-documented remote workforce management issues we all currently face, here are just three areas they will have to deal with now, and in and longer-term.

1. The mounting ‘holiday debt’

When the Government announced that key workers would be able to use untaken statutory leave and carry it over into the next two years, there was a sigh of relief. And quite rightly, as employees and employers alike now had clarity on how to handle this in a pragmatic way. What this meant was that key workers could still be on hand to help at this time, while leaving them confident that they will not miss out on any entitled leave.

However, what it also means is that when we emerge from the crisis, staff will be calling on their backlog of entitled leave, leaving teams short on resources and having to pay to fill the staff gaps. A business will face the ‘carry-over COVID conundrum’ – that is, as they tackle resourcing teams among holiday demands. Businesses will face a huge holiday deficit or untaken leave which will hit as no doubt they become busier.

On top of this, the administrative burden that is assigning and accepting holiday requests will skyrocket. Organizations need to be ready for this. Whether key workers or not, planning now for the inevitable increase in requests is key for success. Technology to automate and keep track of this process will be an extremely useful asset in the months after we return to our normal working lives, and need to focus on re-building business.

2. Changing HR terminology

Leading on from the challenges of an employee-wide exodus of holiday requests, with this comes the opportunity to better understand and manage absences.

With many companies still relying on spreadsheets to report and register employee leave and sick days, the chance to manage this process more efficiently and with better outcomes and insights may emerge from the crisis. With a large percentage of the workplace off right now, ironically sickness leave has fallen. But what is emerging is many other forms of absenteeism.

We have already found that Edays customers are changing their platforms to gather data based on individuals who have flagged themselves as ‘self-isolating’, ‘working from home’ and ‘furloughed’ etc. This data is crucial intelligence that can be used by the business to inform managers and leaders on the safety and wellbeing of their staff, as well as overall resource and productivity. It can be used to flag potential employees at risk of burnout, but also highlight where resources are better placed to help teams in need.

3. Wellbeing as a critical business priority

It is likely that we will experience an impact on employee mental health as an outcome of the COVID-19 crisis. Certainly, during the lockdown/isolation phase, but we will also see repercussions of this spike when we return to ‘business as usual’ too.

Returning to normal ways of living might positively impact mental health for some, yet for others, it may be possible for a delayed effect to present itself in the months after restrictions have been lifted. Recognizing and addressing mental health problems must be a priority for HR teams and will need to rise up the agenda quickly, to ensure the workforce is strong and healthy on their return to work. Platforms that track and log employee sickness and can link employees to medical resources, whether physical or psychological, will not only reduce the pressure on our NHS but stand the business in good stead once the crisis is over. Add to the issues of mental health the likelihood many have seen operations delayed, and the threat of untaken leave burnout – HRs need more intelligence than ever to act accordingly on workforce wellbeing.

These discussions will be a key part of HR tech in the mid to long-term future but it’s well worth considering these factors now. As well as tackling the intensities of the pandemic, business leaders and their HR teams need to get a head start on forecasting and addressing challenges that will inevitably arise beyond it.


See how Edays helps businesses harness data and insights to inform wellbeing strategies through early prevention of absenteeism and employee burnout.

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Katrina Bennett People Director at edays
April 14, 2020

Katrina is edays' own People Director with significant UK and international experience in delivering people strategy and value-adding HR solutions across a range of organisations and sectors (including Arriva, Boots, Rolls Royce, the utility and charity sectors). Katrina has over 20 years of experience in Human Resources and is CIPD qualified.