Can HR cope with corona?

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The Economist just headlined the importance of “people people” with the coronavirus crisis bringing HR into the spotlight. Without a doubt, HR is facing a major challenge. Due to social distancing, the number of corporate offices now (almost) matches the number of employees in many organizations. HR needs to support remote employees, most of whom aren’t used to virtual communication, during a tremendously volatile and uncertain time. Since this is definitely not an easy task, here’s some initial advice on four of the core tasks that HR currently needs to address.

Addressing job security

Emphasizing that HR needs to consider whether, when, and how to lay off employees is a delicate issue because job security is also an important resource that can help employees to cope with difficult times. In this vein, research shows that even when layoffs are caused by an economic situation, “survivors” lose their trust in the management and there are post-crisis spikes in employees leaving their organization. In light of these results, the decision made by Haufe-umantis to cut down salaries in order to survive a difficult economic situation appears to be wise advice (30% for managers and 15% for employees with the decision being made democratically).

Supporting remote work

In addition to the technological infrastructure, employees need resources and support to effectively manage their work at their remote office. Research shows how difficult it can be to integrate and separate work and private life under normal circumstances – being at home with three kids who need to be home-schooled will not make things easier. At the other extreme, being alone with no social interactions may likewise make work difficult. Direct guidance and the opportunity for exchanges with employees who are in the same position can help employees to organize their work.

Enabling virtual communication

Most employees are used to seeing each other face-to-face and having informal chats at the coffee machine. In virtual communication, these channels are shut off. Because employees often take the emotional communication and social closeness in face-to-face interactions for granted, they need training and guidelines on how to set a constructive and positive tone, foster informal communication, encourage participation, and create a personal atmosphere to make work effective in virtual settings.  

Addressing employee health and well-being

Job insecurity, remote work, and virtual communication can constitute substantial stressors for employees. In order to balance these stressors, research shows that employees need resources such as support, feedback, access to information, and a positive social climate. Helping employees to integrate resources in their remote routines energizes them to cope with their stressors. Especially to ensure that employees feel supported by their organization, HR needs to reach out and get in virtual touch to understand their needs.

As these points show, managing HR during the coronavirus crisis is not an easy task, but is a strategically important one. While this is certainly challenging, it is also an opportunity to set the tone and make a difference in organizations.

Corona Crisis: Analyses & Comments
This news is part of the Corona series of analyses and comments with KLU researchers regarding different aspects of the effects of the ongoing coronacrisis on our daily lifes, the economy, our way we work and more. Find all analyses and comments.  

More information:

  • All KLU information relating to the corona crisis can be found here – a collection of news, online events, analyses & comments, and expert contacts:
    www.the-klu.org/corona.