The COVID-19 pandemic has put enormous pressure on HR leaders and their teams. Many transitioned to a fully remote workforce nearly overnight, while others adapted their workplaces to keep team members healthy and safe. Some facilitated layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts, while others had to quickly increase hiring to meet pandemic-related demand. Many put an increased focus on both employee wellness and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives to better care for their teams. And of course, all HR leaders had to stay on top of ever-changing health guidance and mandates.

It’s no surprise that 98 percent of HR leaders say the pandemic has transformed their role, and 70 percent say this has been one of the most challenging years of their career. Many would agree that the role of Chief People Officer has seemingly transformed into Chief Pandemic Officer.

HR leaders need support from their Chief Executive Officers now, more than ever.

What is your Chief People Officer up against?

As the pandemic continues to evolve, so too does the role of HR. Many new challenges lie ahead, including:

  1. Return to workplace plans. Workers are returning to the workplace at the highest rate since the pandemic began, but many companies have postponed their return to workplace plans to early 2022. HR leaders will need to keep these plans flexible in order to address the evolving pandemic and team member needs. For example, a new variant or gaps in childcare due to school pandemic policies may require changes that apply to the entire company or on an individual basis.
  2. Hybrid work. A hybrid workforce model can be more difficult to execute well than a fully remote workforce model because remote employees tend to be treated differently than their colocated counterparts. Your HR leader needs to enable remote inclusion by looking at everything from technology, compensation, and promotions to how meetings are run and which benefits are offered.
  3. COVID policies and mandates. There have been mixed responses around company masking and vaccination policies, as well as government mandates, both of which your HR team is responsible for implementing and enforcing. In the United States, an approaching COVID vaccination mandate for all companies with more than 100 employees will also need to be addressed. While some team members may feel more comfortable returning to the workplace, others may resign. And HR will need to determine how to maintain and track compliance. 
  4. The Great Resignation. The Great Resignation is well underway, with 88 percent of executives already seeing higher turnover than normal. HR leaders are scrambling to prevent a high volume of voluntary resignations, while also backfilling positions and addressing burnout related to understaffed teams. This may be exasperated further by poorly timed return to workplace plans, hybrid work failures, and pending COVID policies and mandates. The Great Resignation applies to HR teams as well. After a stressful couple of years, many HR professionals are reevaluating their employers—or even their careers. This puts added pressure on the remaining team members to fill in, perpetuating the cycle of burnout and resignations on the HR team.

How CEOs can better support Chief People Officers

Your Chief People Officer needs your support, so they can better support the rest of their People team and your entire workforce. This begins with opening the lines of communication. Ask your HR leader what challenges they’re facing, and what they need to overcome them. This will vary by company, so enable your HR leader to become your strategic advisor by asking for their input and taking action on it.

You may also need to consider some key investments in the People function. Seventy one percent of People leaders viewed their lack of budget investment as a moderate to major challenge. There are a few key areas that may make a strong impact:

  1. Headcount. HR headcount may be low due to voluntary or involuntary turnover throughout the pandemic. And, as the HR function evolves, new specialists may be needed to build a stronger People function. For example, many organizations are hiring a Head of Remote Work and a Head of Diversity and Inclusion. Rather than asking your HR team to accomplish more with fewer resources, invest in HR headcount so they can make the strategic changes your organization needs to be successful.
  2. Employee development. The market for HR and recruiting practitioners is competitive. Investing in HR development will help your team build the skills they need to be successful when the talent shortage prevents them from hiring specialists. This has the added benefit of improving retention on your HR team, particularly when paired with promotions and raises.
  3. Technology. The right HR technology stack can enable a more strategic, productive, and successful HR function. For example, a modern People Operations Platform can automate administrative tasks so your HR team can focus on your people. A performance management system can help ensure equitable promotions and raises. And the right project management software can enable better collaboration between remote, hybrid, and collated team members. As your workforce changes, your technology should change along with it. 

Final thoughts on the transformation of People leaders

The world of work is vastly different than it was just two years ago, and will continue to evolve as we journey into the “next normal.” Building a strong relationship with your People leader and investing in their success will better enable you to support your organization’s greatest asset—your people.


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