There is no doubt that changes inflicted on the workforce, practically overnight, are unprecedented. Whilst this shows what can be achieved when there is a collective purpose, as ‘people experts’ we know the toll this takes on some individuals, those who struggle to adapt, especially when it is brought in at such a significant pace as we have seen to date.
Technology has never played such an important part in all our lives and I observe how a real sense of urgency has jolted us all to get up to speed with online capabilities. This stands us in good stead to embrace the possibilities technology can bring to improving student experience, realising efficiencies and releasing capacity to enhance teaching and learning going forward. The prospect of online lectures seems more realistic than one would have thought even just two months ago!
The transfer of the office/lecture theatre to the home has prompted more flexible and agile mindsets as well as raising important questions around the need for a 9-5pm Monday to Friday presence in a defined work place. This provides potential for downsizing estate, improving career progression through the availability of true work/life balance opportunities and flexibility having a positive impact on engagement and productivity levels as staff take ownership of their time (and wellbeing).
However, the personal sacrifices that staff are having to make over a prolonged period of time, such as turning their homes into workplaces, long working hours, and in some cases not being able to take annual leave, cannot be underestimated. In the longer term, the relationship with the employer is bound to feel strained as a result, with resilience low and potential feelings of resentment, loss and exhaustion.
So, as we start to consider the slow easing of lockdown, it is less a return to normal and more likely an adjustment to a new reality. The increasing trend nationally of mental health issues will be exacerbated, with a workforce that is exhausted, suffered personal loss of family and colleagues, and experienced traumatic and distressing events.
I am proud to have seen the value of HR highlighted during this crisis, but HR is more than an emergency service. It can make a difference in helping organisations to pick up the pieces of Covid-19 and emerge from this even stronger.
As a result, there are number of elements to plan. HR needs to start asking some key initial questions to help us practically prepare for life post-Covid 19, recognising all aspects of our working practices will be affected – particularly our health and wellbeing provision, our approach to staff engagement and re-alignment of HR policies to the new working practices.
It will also be important for staff to see organisations appropriately honouring those staff that have lost their lives and celebrating local heroes to rebuild morale across the workforce. We will need to consciously rebuild the culture – likely a different one – post Covid 19.
Sonya Clarkson is HR Director at Edge Hill University.