Business now operates in ways no one thought possible a few short months ago and it’s an accepted fact that an unparalleled crisis was the precursor to a new era for work. The UK economy took a step into the unknown and has travelled a long way in terms of operational change and adapting to very demanding circumstances. It was a period that has transformed the face of work and phrases like the “new normal” and “hybrid working” now seem well worn.
For the stretched HR team, keeping on top of new practices and supporting employees on shifting foundations presented challenge after challenge. As a result, HR is firmly focussed on the future shape of work as we start to experience life beyond a lockdown. Equality and diversity, the gender pay gap and employee retention remain key issues for HR (and rightly so), but these will be challenged for priority by the enormous strain currently on employee health and well-being.
To protect mental health, consideration must be given to the individual’s experience, as home life now interacts directly with work on a daily basis. The seismic shift to home working gave employers greater visibility of personal lives with the increasing realisation that supporting an employee’s work/life balance has a direct impact on their well being and ability to perform. The advent of “e-presenteeism”1 is an indicator that the pandemic increased feelings of insecurity amongst employees and this must be faced head on. Employees need boundaries and for those boundaries to be supported by their manager, HR and the wider business.
The expectation that an employee is available beyond regular hours can be detrimental to well being. Where the focus is on efficiency and control, an ‘always on’ attitude can easily take hold with the employee wanting to prove their value and secure their role, especially where job losses loom. On the surface an “always available“ team may not be seen as a problem; but presenteeism can be just as damaging for business as absenteeism. It can lead to stress, burnout and mental health issues that create major problems for both employee and employer further down the line.
Whilst routine process still has a place in the day to day management of HR it can be left to technology; using specialist software to manage the ordinary and report on the extraordinary. What’s important is supporting the individual as they adapt to change and produce positive outcomes. HR should consider a holistic approach to employee management and well-being. Right now, the importance to good health of a well balanced life/work experience should be high on the HR agenda.
1Presenteeism has risen rapidly during lockdown and, given its remote and digital nature, the phenomenon has been dubbed ‘e-presenteeism’.
Edited from an article first published in HR Grapevine, March 2021
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