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HR’s evolving role in the new world of work

The way we work is changing rapidly. The remote working experiment as a result of COVID-19 measures showed employers that working from home does not hurt their workforce’s productivity level. At the same time, employers recognise that remote work provides a welcome opportunity to save costs on travel expenses and office space.

Aside from the changes that COVID-19 has brought to offices, job automation has disrupted the way we work significantly. We now have the technology to automate repetitive tasks, a development that affects not only what we do, but also how and where we carry out our work. HR business partners play a strong role in preparing employees for the different elements that shape the future world of work. 

Human resources as a strategic partner

Automation will inevitably also hit the human resources department. Not only will it potentially eliminate administrative HR functions, it may also deskill some of the roles in HR departments. For training and development specialists, simple repetitive trainings can be automated which allows them to spend more time on the strategic aspect of training and development. In a nutshell, automation will allow the HR department to increase its focus on HR’s role as a business partner. As a strategic partner, HR will be responsible for developing strategies that will help a company achieve its competitive goals. To create an optimal business environment for employees to carry out their tasks, HR needs to put strategies in place that have a positive impact on company culture, mental health, employer branding, performance measurements and rewards, and learning and development.

A future proof company culture

If a job description tells employees what to do, company culture tells them how to do it. It is imperative to keep retention rates high, especially for skilled jobs where the cost of hiring a new employee is significant. In a world where benefits are largely the same, but also for smaller companies that need to fish in the same talent pool as big-name brands, company culture is a game changer when it comes to retention.
A (partly) remote workforce can decrease the level of connectedness within a company. The same goes for job automation; less people will share the same set of tasks, and the need for personal contact with colleagues may decrease. HR business partners can take an active approach in overcoming these hurdles. They can strengthen the company culture through training and performance management that reinforce the company’s values. Furthermore, retention rates can be improved by seeking out new recruits that are a great cultural fit.

Read our article on why matching talent with corporate culture is important

Mental health in times of uncertainty

Depression and anxiety are mental health conditions that take a great toll on the economy. The World Health Organisation estimates that these conditions account for $1 trillion in lost economic productivity per year(source: https://www.who.int/mental_health/in_the_workplace/en/). More than one third of the world’s population suffers from some form of mental health condition. This can be further aggravated due to fears about the economic downturn after COVID-19, the social isolation that a mandatory remote work environment can bring, and increased workload due to cost cutting in an economic downturn. An active approach aimed at the prevention of mental health issues among your workforce can save costs in the long run, and at the same time work in your employer brand’s favour.

Keeping your employer brand alive

Although the job market in the new world of work is going to be more crowded, many specialist professionals are expected to remain scarce. By carrying out your company culture through employer branding, HR can attract talent that is a great fit for the company. This will result in higher retention rates and a lower cost to hire. The competition for scarce talent requires companies to find their uniqueness, either in their company culture or in their benefits and rewards. Benefits that are desirable in today’s job market are centred around flexibility of work hours and place, and the way performance is measured and rewarded. Offering a certain level of job security can also convince professionals to take the leap in the current market.  

A new approach to performance management

Redesigning the performance measurement system is likely to make the most noticeable impact in an HR department’s quest to make a strategic business impact. Giving continuous feedback yields the best results in your employees, as the described situations will still be fresh in the employee’s mind. Through modern technology, employees can get feedback from all relevant stakeholders in the organisation, not solely from their manager. This gives a 360° impression of an employee’s performance. New technology can also help determine who the top performers are. This information is useful, as research shows that the top five percent of employees perform 400% better than average employees (source: http://www.hermanaguinis.com/PPsych2012.pdf). Rewarding only top performers with bonuses is not only fair, it will also eliminate the time-consuming and arbitrary process of rating the relative performance of all your employees, to determine the value of their bonuses.

Learning and development for leaders

The leaders of the future need a new approach to managing their workforce. Managers may no longer fully understand the job their employees are doing. And remote work will make it difficult for managers to keep an overview of what employees are doing at each moment of the day. Future-proof managers need to feel confident about extending more autonomy to their employees and to focus on results rather than worked hours. Leaders also will need to be more empathic to the work-life balance of employees and assume more of a motivational and connecting role. HR managers struggle to develop these management skills among their mid-level and senior leaders. The best way for HR to prepare their leaders for the workplace of the future is by pairing them with another leader with complimentary skills– the so-called role modelling method of learning.

Work will become more challenging in the upcoming years for many reasons. Employees will look up to their managers for guidance in navigating these changes. And great leaders will need the support from their HR business partner to live up to their full potential. 

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