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Fascinating times for HR or just a bag load of more headaches?

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I think it’s fair to say that the last 2 years have been some of the most challenging many of us in the HR profession will ever have witnessed.

To be honest, the last 2 years have been challenging whatever walk of life you’re in; personally, or professionally.

Clearly Covid infiltrated all our lives but with the vaccination programme society has learnt to live with an endemic disease. You and I were doubtless looking forward to some semblance of normality resuming. We were expecting life to resume its normal rhythm, and all the things that we had enjoyed over the previous couple of decades would just slot back into place: we could all go back to work, we could start and plan for those house moves or holidays, weddings or travel, we could start and see friends regularly again.  We somehow thought that the world would just revert to what went before.

Well, how wrong were we? Domestically we have a rudderless government beset with sleaze and partygate repercussions and a vitriolic leadership battle unfolding. Coupled with political uncertainty, we have inflation running at record levels and an energy crisis that will only deepen as winter approaches plus the ever so jolly Bank of England predicting a deepening recession as they nudge up interest rates.

Globally we see a geo-political amphitheatre that poses a real threat to peace and stability with the war in Ukraine and now China flexing its muscles.

Supply chains are under strain, water shortages abound, the, frankly, he lists goes on. You could be forgiven for becoming overly pessimistic about the future. But we are a resilient lot, and out of hardship and strife, we know good things can emerge and the future can be bright. We can choose our responses remember!

As HR professionals, I’m guessing we could all do without all this. There were plenty of challenges before, weren’t there? Or are these challenges the making of the profession? Do we see these issues as headaches with its consequent knock on to employees (cost of living concerns, the welfare crisis, burnout, redundancy, strikes, ill-tempered employee relations, normal work routines replaced by hybrid/flexible/home working, skills shortages, recruitment squeezes and so on), or is this not a fascinating time to throw away the tin hat, come out of the bunker guns blazing to tackle these challenges head on.

The CIPD People Profession 2030 outlines the trends we are likely to see over the next 10 or so years; trends that wouldn’t have taken into account pandemics, wars, rampant inflation, energy crises and cost of living challenges (and son on), but how relevant they remain as the context within we practice our professions witnesses change on a huge scale. The five major trends identified in this CIPD report point to the fact that

i)  change to organisations whether through internal or external forces, will see restructures, organisations adapting for growth or contraction, working patterns changing, and associated processes evolving.

ii) Digital and technological transformation will continue apace with AI, digitalisation of processes and the incumbent data challenges that will bring

Iii) Changing demographics and the continued progress on diversity and inclusion as we see more home working, new generations seeing work as part of a portfolio life where expectations are changing

iv) Diversifying employment relationships as employers grapple with new ways to communicate, engage and manage their staff

v) Sustainable, responsible, and purposeful business meaning employees increasingly seeking to be aligned to the purpose values and behaviours that matter.

For me, it is a fascinating time to be involved with the HR profession. As a sector, we have a real opportunity to prepare and develop staff and workforces to respond to the new challenges businesses face. For me, the opportunities to contribute to the bottom line are immeasurable. How? By placing emphasis on increased data analytics yet building a new psychological contract; relationships built on total trust and true mutual respect.

This all means a new way to lead and develop our leaders for tomorrow. It would mean developing strategies jointly to meet the current challenges……and to gain the buy-in to difficult choices and decisions. It’s a hugely complex solution involving systems theory; there are no quick win solutions. We cannot, for example, just pay more because inflation is increasing. The question is how do we reward people and let them participate in the success of the business when the good times roll? Do we look at variable pay and non-financial rewards but also better education?

To tackle skills shortages, we cannot just throw money at the issue without understanding the implications elsewhere in the business. We can’t just make people redundant without properly supporting change, offering re-training, or seeking alternative cost saving methods.

All that to say what? Is this the stuff of headaches? Or a fascinating. new way to re-craft the HR approach within organisations? Headaches can be cured with a couple of tablets! And there’s always a danger, the headache will not ease. For me, these are fascinating times for the HR profession to embrace and show how much a privilege it is work and practice in this sector, improving lives. Collectively we can contribute to real change.

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