HR rises to the challenge as Coronavirus changes hit every UK employer

While millions of employees have been forced to stay away from work over the past two weeks, HR professionals have faced an unprecedented deluge of demands on their time, knowledge and expertise, according to research from employment experts XpertHR.

A survey of 400 UK employers conducted this week reveals that nearly half the HR professionals who took part were currently working full-time on issues arising from their organisation’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Just 5% of HR professionals said that they were spending less than a fifth of their working week dealing with the issue – with some reporting that this was because their organisations had, in effect, already closed down all operations for the foreseeable future.

The survey shows that, of the organisations taking part in the survey:

  • Nearly half (43.8%) are already using the government’s job retention scheme, with a further one in three (28.8%) expecting to do so in future;
  • Similar numbers (41% and 16.5%) have had to postpone start dates for new hires or are planning to do so; but
  • Very few (5.3%) have so far had to make people redundant, with more (22%) planning to do so in future.

The research also reveals the extent of the nation’s switch to home-working, with more than nine out of ten respondents (91%) saying that they had adopted more flexible and home-working since the crisis began, and still more planning to introduce measures in the days ahead.

HR professionals taking part in the survey said that the main challenges facing their organisations were in:

  • Ramping up health and safety measures to protect key workers still required in the workplace;
  • Helping managers acquire the skills and tools they need to manage remote teams, often with little or no previous experience; and
  • Supporting employees who may feel isolated at home, keeping in touch and providing social contact as well as help to work remotely.

Many said they were aware that employees were often struggling to juggle work and childcare or other caring responsibilities, and that this meant being as flexible as possible in the working hours expected of them.

One HR manager told XpertHR: “We are focusing on making sure we provide support for people and being aware that everyone’s circumstances will be different so offering a range of support.”

Another explained: “Communications have developed to be both personally and professionally focused; sharing home events amongst staff, pets, quizzes and social chat groups to keep the workforce in the loop, have fun and respond individually to personal challenges. Wellbeing is critical and in the early weeks some people were feeling ‘cabin fever’ symptoms. We encourage exercise, time out during the day, regular breaks and change of room scenery in the house wherever practicable.”

XpertHR content director Mark Crail commented:

“HR professionals have done an amazing job in managing their way through the crisis that has unfolded over the past few weeks. They are having to put in place, often at a moment’s notice, entirely new systems and processes for their organisations that would, in normal circumstances, take months to introduce.

“At the same time, employees are looking to them for answers, when they themselves are still waiting for some certainty from government or their own organisation. HR departments often don’t get a lot of recognition for the work they do – but in this instance, both the senior leadership and individual employees owe their HR people a huge thank-you.”

About our research

  • The findings published today come from a snapshot survey of 400 invited UK employers conducted between midday on Wednesday 1 and midday on Thursday 2 April.