How the Pandemic Has Expanded the Role of HR

July 19, 2022
5 min read

The following article was written by Lauren Winans, CEO and Principal Consultant of Next Level Benefits. It was originally written for and released by Workplace Ethics Advice.

A Paradigm Shift in Organizations

The pandemic has changed the structure of the workplace, possibly for good. Employees are working remotely more now than at any time in the past, management is grappling with record-high resignations and burnout, and companies are scrambling to keep up with the rapid changes.

The role of human resources in organizations has changed, as well. What was once a hire-and-fire enterprise has now turned into a support bridge between employees and the organization’s higher-ups. The role of HR has become one critical for business success as this new business normal emerges.

The New Organization

HR has always had a role in the employee experience. They are often the first person that one meets with when interviewing, and once the job is landed, the HR specialists will typically have a hand in getting one settled into their new position. They are an integral part of the company culture and were so even pre-pandemic.

In this new workplace world, HR specialists need to create more agile and fluid organizations. In the old structure, organizations were designed to be staid, well-oiled machines that did not allow for much fluidity in their day-to-day running. When everyone was “hit from out of nowhere”, so-to-speak, by the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns, organizations realized that a very immovable structure was not doing them any favors. There had to be a paradigm shift to accommodate the necessary changes wrought by the pandemic shutdowns. If businesses wished to continue operating — and do so successfully — they had to introduce agility and fluidity into their operations.

Organizations who did not shy away from instituting near-immediate remote work policies, new technology, or digitization of information were bound to succeed over companies that resisted necessary change. Having agility meant changing the structure and silos that exist within HR in order to be much more flexible and faster.

From an ethical standpoint, there was no larger ethics test than the pandemic. All eyes were on businesses. An ethical slip-up, such as staying open for in-office work and not requiring masks during the worst spikes, could spell disaster for the organization’s reputation. The HR role is expanding to include helping organizations quickly pivot when necessary and to stay not only agile and fluid, but ethical, as well.

The Shifting Roles

With the changing and expanding role of HR post-pandemic, some shifts may also be necessary among the ranks outside of HR. Managers may need to take on roles that were previously reserved for the HR department, so that HR can focus on tasks that add more strategic support and value to the organization.

One of the biggest shifts is a focus on highlighting employee strengths, anticipating employee needs, and making HR a far more people-centered endeavor. This has moved the “hire and fire,” or more policy-based job duties, to organizations’ management teams. HR is now driving the overall employee experience. When employees feel heard, acknowledged, and, above all, safe in their positions, the success of the organization is directly impacted.

People-centered HR approaches positively affect productivity and retention, which is especially important amid the post-pandemic shut down Great Resignation. HR departments are now likely to spend their time advising top management and creating HR “special teams” groups deployed for specific, cross-functional HR priorities. The critical moments in an organization for employees, such as onboarding, training, and promotions, are moments that HR should be organizing themselves around in this new landscape.

Tech Advancements Drive the New HR Approach

When employees think about automation or digitalization, they may immediately think about “job loss”. After all, isn’t that what is replacing the “human” in human resources — automation of jobs? While automation can sometimes lead to a thinning of personnel — 10 to 15% in 2021 according to studies — it can also be a great benefit for employees.

Automation in the workplace can lead to increased productivity, meaning a better work/life balance for employees. Digitalization helped workplaces stay afloat during the pandemic, bringing work tasks beyond the limitations of the physical office space. Think about what working during the pandemic shutdown would have been like without Zoom.

With the advancement of technology revolutionizing how we work, the role of HR has changed to serve as a guidepost for employees crossing this sometimes-rocky terrain of workplace technology changes. The HR specialist is focusing more on analysis, solutions, and improving the overall employee experience, rather than finding the perfect platform or taking on administrative tasks.

HR teams are now holding themselves to higher standards than ever before. With all of the changes that the pandemic ushered into the workplace, HR now has to see itself as a partner in the workplace. Transformation will be a requirement, not just a lofty goal.

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