An HR shift for 2021: improving employee life experience

Smart watches that alert employees to exercise times have been used by some businesses

As the latest lockdown forces many into difficulties, one traditional purpose of HR – to only concern itself with the wellbeing of employees once they cross the office threshold – has been superseded by the need to support people in their homes, writes Gartner’s Brian Kropp

Pre-pandemic, despite the name “human resources”, the role of the HR professional was gradually becoming less focused on supporting employees as people; individuals with thoughts, emotions, and relationships.

Increasingly, HR departments were relied upon by the business to survey employees for more data and quantify its decisions to justify financial outlay. However, during the coronavirus crisis, businesses have had to help employees adapt to remote working and stay productive in challenging times. It has forced them to play a deeper role in the personal lives of staff, and what has been surprising is how much of a positive impact they can have.

Our studies show that a business can increase good mental health in employees from 54% to 77% by offering them help on-demand. On the back of this pandemic, businesses will recognise not only the impact of an employee’s personal life on their performance, but also their ability as a company to support them.

As we continue through 2021, HR will be asked to circle back to its roots and find ways to help improve the employee life experience.

Supporting the whole family

So, what are some of the strategies that businesses should consider? Early in the pandemic, one company recognised the pressures on employees who had spouses who had lost their jobs or had children who couldn’t go to school.

To help, they made their learning and development platforms open and available to them in the hope of giving the whole household the resources they need to progress during the tough period.

Another organisation reflected on the pressure that the pandemic was having on relationships, with several of their employees going through separations. They went to the lengths of rolling out marital therapy for their employees, recognising that the status of their personal relationships had a significant impact on wellbeing and therefore performance.

In research earlier this year, we found one of every three UK employees were depressed, angry and stressed because of the pandemic, with concerns about the wellbeing of loved ones called out as a major factor. Family is important to every employee, so businesses should invest time in understanding the family dynamic of each individual and thinking about the support they can provide.

Tech for wellbeing

Businesses should also consider ways they can leverage technology solutions to improve physical and mental health. Many companies have received criticism for using monitoring tools to track the productivity of staff during the pandemic, but there are many more positive applications for digital technologies.

Some companies have started distributing smart watches to their employees. Many of the products on the market today track how long you’ve been sedentary and remind you to stand up and exercise. They can therefore be used to encourage employees to stay active and healthy, while doubling up as a nice gift.

Other firms are starting to explore the use of technology to help manage the convergence of home and work life. Many people are neglecting eating, sleeping and exercising in order to juggle things like virtual meetings and childcare, and so companies are thinking about whether AI tools can manage calendars and ensure employees are getting the breaks they need.

Pursue radical flexibility

There are many companies going a step further in helping staff adjust to these new ways of working. Earlier this year, Google banned internal meetings for an entire week. The goal was to remove the pressure for staff to be online at a certain time and give them the freedom to balance home and work responsibilities. We have also seen companies like Twitter making commitments to allowing staff to work from home forever.

This was a clever tactic towards the start of the pandemic that removed anxiety about returning to the office and allowed employees to start planning suitable working arrangements for the future.

There are two different approaches to flexibility here, but both send a message to employees that the business trusts them to get their work done at a time and place that suits them. Companies should start pursuing radical flexibility options, putting the emphasis on quality of work and encouraging staff to create a work-life balance that works for them.

New philosophy means new opportunities

A big mistake many companies made during the pandemic was when they worked to make offices Covid-secure in order to reintroduce staff but failed to even consider an employee’s journey to and from the office. That sent out a poor message that they only cared for the welfare of employees on company property – it is approaches like this that need to be evolved.

In the past, employee experience had been defined by the moment an employee shows up to work until the moment when they leave. However, the pandemic accelerated a trend over recent years of an increased merging of home and work life, which means businesses can no longer afford to look at the employee relationship that way.

In the New Year, businesses and HR teams should think about how they can create the most effective wellbeing strategies encompassing everything from family and community, to sleep and diet, to finances and the home. When doing so, they will be rewarded with increased performance, loyalty and job satisfaction from staff.

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