There has been much conversation recently about the propulsion of HR into the frontline in the fight by organisations against Covid-19.  And it’s a battle that we’re fighting on many fronts, writes Sandra Porter.

On an organisational level, as many industries and businesses have had to adapt to survive, HR has been front and centre supporting their business survival plans.  

This has included making sure that any people processes have been followed correctly to ensure legislative compliance, equipping organisations with the new skills and processes that have been needed to pivot businesses and supporting teams that have been facing incredible change in purpose and format.  The change curve for businesses has been more like an extreme rollercoaster. 


HR teams are a conduit

On an individual level, HR professionals have needed to recognise and respond to the impact of this national emergency on the employee.  

The unique role that HR plays in any business as conduit between the employer and the employee experience has been invaluable at a time when the crisis is felt as much at home as it is in the workplace.

Individual reaction to the physical, psychological and societal impact of an air borne virus has demanded significant understanding, time and empathy. Overall HR professionals should be proud of the service and value that they have brought to businesses as they navigate this torrent of competing demands.  


Is the HR profession ‘looking after its own’?  

Obviously, no-one could have seen this coming.  Many organisations will have built contingency plans for risks to their business, but I doubt any would have covered a global pandemic of this magnitude and the crisis has exposed where frontline HR professionals may be fundamentally underequipped.  

Junior HR professionals are experiencing an extended period of excessive workload.  We may initially have thought this would dissipate.  The excess is in terms of both the volume but also the emotional demand of that workload. 

They are so busy resolving the needs of other employees, that they may forget about themselves.  


A case of cobblers’ children, perhaps? 

Junior HR professionals have not had the experience or the training to navigate the professional and personal challenges that Covid-19 has brought.  While many HR professionals will have taken the common path to learn their profession via CIPD assessment and qualifications, text books cannot teach the confidence and composure that has been needed to navigate the last 18 months. 

In my day-to-day work as an HR coach and consultant HR colleagues continue to comment on their excessive workload, long working hours and feelings of overwhelm.  If we were dealing with any other function these would all raise alarm bells and I am concerned we are at risk of failing to fulfil our duty of care to those that have supported so many.   


Silver lining

I believe that the HR profession is on the brink of well-deserved greatness.  From the Covid-19 cloud there is the potential silver lining of a permanent seat in organisations’ ‘war rooms’. This will require that practitioners have the necessary commerciality, professionalism, compassion, courage and self-discipline to continue to earn their stripes.  

HR needs to take a breath, reflect on how far we have come and evolve the skill sets required so that we can deliver on the demands of this new uncharted territory.   


Sandra Porter is an experienced HR leader who runs a successful HR Dept franchise, providing HR consultancy services.  At 29, she was appointed HR Director for Starbucks UK & Ireland. She is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and author of ‘How to be an HR Superstar’