The Role of Covid-19 in Changing Human Resource Management
As at February 23, 2021 there were more than 112 million reported cases, 63.1 million recoveries, and 2.48 million deaths globally resulting from the highly contagious Covid-19 virus. According to the World Health Organization, the virus affects the respiratory system and can be transmitted through respiration (Kirby, 2020). The ease of catching the virus has put the world on high alert while motivating the introduction of measures that are changing the way departments operate. For instance, the human resource department, responsible for the welfare of the employees, has to content with the adoption of preventive measures proposed by the government, among them; vaccines, social distancing, self-isolation, wearing of face masks, and maintaining respiratory hygiene, hand-washing, surface cleaning, proper ventilation, and healthy diet/ lifestyle (Kirby, 2020). Besides, the restrictions on movement means that the human resource management is and will continue to be more complicated as long as the virus continues to lurk. It is upon this backdrop that this research paper analyzes how Covid-19 is changing human resource management.
Role of Covid-19 in Changing Human Resource Management
Research drawn from multiple sources, namely; Vnoučková (2020); Khudhair et al. (2020) and Reio (2020) present details on how Covid-19 has and continues to affect the management of human resources in organizations. For instance, Reio (2020) explains that the virus has led to adjustments in the workplace as a coping mechanism and a mitigation against the spread of the virus in the workplace. This includes the acceptance of remote working as a norm, so as to prevent human contact which is the primary means of transmitting the virus. Other commentators observe that the pandemic has led to introduction of new workplace policies on hygiene and procedures for personal protection. This includes policies on social distancing and wearing of masks. Invoking the P-E fit theory, Vnoučková (2020) asserts that employees and employees are likely to attract different groups of workers who share in the new workplace culture and norms. For instance, health conscious employees are likely to shift or prefer workplaces with a culture that strictly protects its employees against virus-related risks. These adjustments in employment patterns will force the human resource department to respond appropriately in favor of the demands placed by its current and new employees. Besides, the government is introducing new measures to safeguard the workplace and its citizens against the virus. These changes will potentially force human resource to change tact and make the workplace more adaptable to the pandemic. Kirby (2020) adds that the human resource management is mandated to invest in up-skilling, building trust, training employees on new technologies, and guiding the workers into nurturing new behaviors, values, and mindsets that will enable them to quickly adapt to the workplace. These concerns therefore guide the identification of the changes in human resource management instigated by Covid-19 pandemic.
The first change demanded of HR managers is rapid reskilling and up-skilling of the workforce. There is an urgent need for the management to introduce training sessions to adequately equip their employees with new skills and mindsets required for them to adapt to the new environment caused by the virus. For instance, there is a need for the employees to learn technology etiquette. Such skills will enable the employees to use information technologies in a more responsible manner thus increasing its usefulness and contribution towards the productivity of the firm. In addition to reskilling, the human resource manager will equally need to reskill by learning new ways of managing a tech-savvy workforce. This observation implies that both the HR management and the employees will need to up-skill and reskill to better capitalize on new information technologies to increase the productivity of the firms. Also, it will help the organizations to be more flexible and adaptable thus, optimizing their competitiveness against rivals who will not embrace these changes in their HR management practices.
Regarding up-skilling and reskilling, it is notable that the pandemic has led to increased structural unemployment especially among the youths. Governments are becoming worried on the high rate of youth unemployment which has skyrocketed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The World Economic Forum notes that some of the concerns that raised by business leaders that could be contributing to the high unemployment is the fact that the recession resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic might have a prolonged impact on global economies leading to continuous drop in performance. Other reasons for the high unemployment include the fear of resuming normal operations since there could be a new outbreak or a totally different infectious disease. Firms are also fearing that the economy might experience a prolonged weakening of their fiscal position which reduces the productivity of most industries. The unemployment levels are likely to rise further as some industries are vulnerable to complete failure or might fail to recover properly post-Covid-19. The surge in bankruptcies especially by the SMEs and big firms and the imminent possibility of widespread industry consolidation further casts fear on the future of unemployment. Lastly, the World Economic Forum reports that the restricted cross-border movement of goods and people might negatively impact expatriation and labor mobility across countries. In the long run, the human resource managers will be forced to teach their workers new skills to enable them take up more tasks as part of austerity measures to reduce costs and optimize profitability of the struggling firms. These measures are likely to impact the workers too as they will be required to possess multiple skills and knowledge to merit for employment in the organizations of the future.
Secondly, the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to lead to changes in management and leadership competencies. The viral pandemic has caused uncertainty, anxiety, and fear in the workplace. There is a lot of doubt on the future after the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, firms are taking all the precautions to avoid collapse and being phased out of the market. Part of the measures taken in response to government requirements for social distancing was to encourage the employees to work from home. With these measures in place, the human resource management has to develop new competencies to effectively tap into the work from home arrangements. Similarly, these leaders and managers need to adopt new strategies that will tap the most out of their employees even as they adjust to the new norm of working. The managers and leaders equally need to upgrade their digital skills and to advocate for the improvement of Information Technology (IT) infrastructure to support the new work arrangements which are mostly online. Kirby (2020) adds that apart from mastering these skills, leaders and managers are more than ever, required to learn soft skills especially empathy to properly cope with the frustrations that could arise among the workers as they try to adjust to the new work environment and work-related demands during the pandemic.
In line with the second change required of the human resource managers, there is need for a culture of openness, transparency, and trust. The workplace needs to be more supportive than it was before the pandemic. It is the responsibility of the human resource manager to create an environment where, despite working remotely, the employees can still bank on each other for support in work related and personal challenges. The essence of trust, openness, and transparency is that it enhances the bond among employees thus encouraging greater employee engagement which is important in the retention of employees. In addition, as employees learn to work with less supervision and oversight, it is important that that they are transparent in giving feedback on the whole transition, and sharing their experiences with each other. The process is a learning experience that could enrich the workplace with knowledge on how to be productive while working remotely. Kirby (2020) emphasizes the importance of creating tight knit and adaptive teams that are more connected through social media platforms. The resulting work community is important in keeping the employees emotionally connected and improving their productivity.
Third, the human resource management is required to focus more on improving the social wellbeing of its employees. Carnevale et al. (2020) report that the pandemic is pressuring employees in different ways. For some employees, the loss of loved ones to the virus, or the loss of job for a partner is putting pressure on resource distribution across households. In line with this statement, the World Health Organization notes that 45% of the health workers globally are suffering from depression and anxiety. As such, the human resource management needs to create a workplace that is accommodative of the social wellbeing of the individual employees. Where possible, there is need for mental health interventional programs to help the employees cope with the negative life changes they might be experiencing.
Lastly, Covid-19 is forcing human resource managers to work in an agile manner. As more people work remotely, the human resource managers are forced to be more adaptable than before. Khudhair et al. (2020) explain that agile workplaces are designed in a manner that optimizes flexibility. Such workplaces focus on empowering employees and facilitating their working through the use of technologies. The agility should not only target the employees but also the management. For instance, the managers need human capital management systems and tools to monitor the contribution margin of each of the employees. Since digital transformation is an inevitable necessity triggered by the pandemic, it is important that technologies help in promoting good decision making. Even though most of the past research shows that these changes are currently happening, Aitken-Fox et al. (2020) caution against overgeneralization. These authors explain that the impacts of the pandemic have been varied across countries and industries. For instance, in Australia, the mining, insurance, administration, and finance industries were least affected and some continued with their operations as normal. Therefore, they insist that there is need for further research on whether remote working is effective for all organizations and industries. The authors add that the switch to remote working and agile technologies is likely to disadvantage the older generations that are less tech-savvy and less willing to fully adopt the new technologies.
Aitken-Fox, E., Coffey, J., Dayaram, K., Fitzgerald, S., Gupta, C., Tian, A. & McKenna, S. (2020). The impact of Covid-19 on human resource management: avoiding generalizations. Retrieved from: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2020/05/22/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-human-resource-management-avoiding-generalisations/
Carnevale, J. B., & Hatak, I. (2020). Employee adjustment and well-being in the era of COVID-19: Implications for human resource management. Journal of Business Research, 116, 183-187.
Khudhair, H. Y., Alsaud, A. B., Alsharm, A., Alkaabi, A., & AlAdeedi, A. (2020). The Impact of COVID-19 on Supply Chain and Human Resource Management Practices and Future Marketing. Int. J Sup. Chain. Mgt Vol, 9(5), 1681.
Kirby, S. (2020). 5 ways COVID-19 has changed workforce management. Retrieved from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/covid-homeworking-symptom-of-changing-face-of-workforce-management/
Reio Jr, T. G. (2020). Uncertainty and fear of the unknown: What can human resource development do? Human resource development quarterly, 31(2), 147.
Vnoučková, L. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on human resource management. Latin American Journal of Social Research, 3(1), 18-21.