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‘Silver lining’ for HR

‘Silver lining’ for HR

Fyte regional director Tom Gowing examines the key role that HR has played in helping businesses through the pandemic. Despite a difficult landscape, there are however reasons for optimisms. Here are his thoughts:

On the Covid response…

Initially in most instances HR had to react very quickly, as you’d expect of the most people centric function in a business. Of course this wasn’t uniform across all businesses – some organisations cut heads quickly while others didn’t. Then furlough [at the time of writing the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or CJRS had just been extended until 2 December 2020] turned everything on its head. To say that HR directors and their teams have been incredibly busy is somewhat of an understatement.

On the state of the HR market…

We have seen a gradual improvement month on month as businesses have recognised the value of HR. There have been tentative improvements, in part down to some recruitment which was put on hold hence the pent up demand from Q2. Organisations still need particular skill sets and for some growing their teams is the right thing to do. Clearly, we’re not at the hiring levels of 12 months ago or at the start of 2020.

On operations and strategy…

This crisis is very different to the one in 2008, in which FDs were very much the protagonists. This time round HR is far more front and centre. The key challenges are twofold: 1) from an operational perspective, businesses are looking to HR to navigate the changing landscape in terms of the impact of the restrictions on their people, which vary country to country, city to city, postcode to postcode etc. and 2) from the strategy side, the talent requirements they need to meet their objectives.

On the new norm…

It will be different for each business but most have had to adapt to a higher degree of home working than previously. Many have found it beneficial and it has landed well with their people. The consensus is that a hybrid model is the way forward. Leaders recognise that there is a place for the office but you also need that flexibility of working. We’ve effectively fast forwarded three to five years to a point where companies would have ended up anyway.

On remote onboarding…

Tech will have made the transition to home working smoother, and many organisations will have been able to pick up where they left off prior to lockdown. For those that continued to hire, adapting to virtual onboarding has been key and overall the process has worked pretty well. Perhaps the bigger challenge for HR and L&D in particular is how to upskill and continue to develop people – some new hires for example won’t have physically met their employer yet. As organisations move away from the more traditional classroom based development, the demand for e-learning and digital learning specialists will inevitably grow. For some small and medium sized businesses, this will be an area they will need to consider.  

On mental health…

This is a very big topic, and with many people not having set foot in an office after seven months, wellbeing is absolutely vital. HR leaders are doing their utmost to support employees, which isn’t easy, especially for small businesses who are up against it. Too often mental health isn’t far enough up the list of importance but a silver lining of the pandemic is that it has helped shine a torch on employee engagement and wellbeing.

On 'unprecedented exposure'…

It’s a very challenging environment, but when we come through the other side, the ‘once in a generation’ lessons and experiences will serve HR practitioners well. Most have been in scenarios where they’ve been charting a course for their business and saving it from no end of difficulties. Their skills sets have come to the fore – many more people are thinking about how hard the job of HR is and how well the function is dealing with such change. When things return to normal dare we say in say 12-18 months’ time, this unprecedented exposure will boost the employability of those working in the sector – especially those in junior and mid-level HR roles.

If you’d like to know more about the latest HR recruitment market trends in the UK, you can email Tom at

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