Future of Work
Communication is key to healthy workplace futures
By Anthony Ariganello
At this point, all roads leading to any return to “business as usual” have been severed.
After more than two years of pandemic living, the working world as we knew it has not merely been transformed, but has been forced to reevaluate its greatest asset — people.
For those in human resources, it has been a great challenge, and an even greater validation of a profession that has long been grounded in the precepts of keeping people first in the minds of decision-makers.
Given that the issues facing leaders across industries have been almost entirely people-focused since March 2020, HR has become a key driver in maintaining the health and hope of organizations and individuals alike.
From managing the seismic shift of remote work to navigating the impacts of overnight industry lockdowns, vaccine passports and labour shortages — all while fostering employee safety, culture and professional development — HR has risen to the challenge and been recognized as integral to the changing equation of business success.
Given the ongoing impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, and the very real possibility of another mutation at any time, HR professionals will need to not only maintain, but also build upon, the lessons learned in 2022.
Expecting the unexpected
With full expectation of the unexpected, the challenges of the year ahead are familiar to all businesses, but acerbated by the pandemic forces and mixed communications in play across the globe — including here in Canada.
As is widely recognized, with miscommunication comes mistrust and that sentiment is one on the rise in 2022 due to a confounding lack of leadership at federal and provincial levels of government alike.
With policies changing not only overnight, but even more widely and wildly from province to territory to province, one thing has become apparent — organizations will need to lead from within.
As was perhaps inevitable and happened first and worst in our neighbour to the south, our pandemic efforts have swerved from the science and become politicized.
The result? A patchwork of provincial policies ranging from iron to ham-fisted with a large side of waffling guaranteed to keep HR’s plate full.
With no clear mandates or policies applying across the country — and provinces left to selectively apply or ignore the available science — that need for internal leadership has made truly strategic HR input essential.
For some C-suites, this marks the first time they have quite literally been forced to move HR out of its transactional role to make full use of the strategic skill set.
Towards people-first thinking
In fact, if there is a single silver lining to the pandemic that will only continue to increase in value in years to come, it is the commitment and impact of people-first thinking at all levels of business — particularly amongst previously resistant leadership.
As HR professionals, we need to acknowledge the evolution of this mindset, while continuing to lead with future uncertainties and current challenges in mind.
Where those uncertainties lay may vary from industry to industry — just as the possible solutions may vary across our provinces and territories — but there are common hurdles to be met in these uncommon times.
Case in point, with concerns around mental health continuing to rise as uncertainties prevail, HR needs to play a visible role in reaching out to their teams and promoting open-door discussions between employers and employees alike.
Mental health issues, much like COVID-19 and its mutated cousins, can afflict any one of us, regardless of title. Moreover, while less visible symptomatically, it can have an equal or greater impact on individuals and organizations.
This is where HR has a key role to play, not just in ensuring the health and safety of employees within a given workplace, but wherever they might be.
Given the studies that have proven the devastating effects of long-term stress, the random, chronic uncertainty with which we have all lived poses an even more pervasive threat.
The latter might seem self-evident, but an October 2021 Leger online survey showed that while two-thirds of the country believe the mental health of Canadians has declined, almost half admitted they did not know where to turn for access to mental health care.
Mitigating that stress with regular communications is key, as is sharing any help available to employees through the various EAPs.
Most importantly, getting leadership on board to share their own stories of mental health can be invaluable, with the added benefit of added retention in an open culture built on communication and trust.
HR priorities in 2022
Without doubt, retention will continue to be a priority.
For many in the hospitality industry, the struggle to simply retain their workforce in the face of cyclical closures has proven near insurmountable, but their visible trials speak silent volumes of what is happening across every industry.
Alternatively, with many employees still working remotely, but effectively, for the past two years, any forced “return to work” needs to be predicated by a rethink and redefinition of both talent and work itself.
The challenge for employers is getting their heads around the fact that the power dynamic has shifted.
Flexibility is now paramount in the emergent paradigm, wherein hunter has become the hunted.
The challenge for HR lies in developing hybrid models of communications that foster the connective tissue needed to not only retain, but grow the existing talent and thereby help ensure the health of the greater organizational body.
Given the recruitment, training and development costs involved with sourcing and bringing new talent up to speed, retention is essential.
It also hinges entirely upon our profession’s ability to not only maintain existing communications in a virtual setting, but to evolve models that will thrive regardless of setting.
From fostering meaningful, virtual moments to crafting genuine gatherings in a new era, the role of HR as the key connector remains essentially unchanged — except for the suite of tools at our fingertips and the genuine support of leaders engaging with a whole new mindset.
Combining software with soft skills had already shown hard results prior to the pandemic, but has exponentially evolved since.
That elemental need and desire to connect is something we have long been aware of in our profession, both in terms of its potential when prioritized, as well as the impacts on mental health in its absence.
Moving forward, we need to acknowledge that ours has always been a profession grounded in adaptation and we have proven able to pivot and innovate as never before.
Now, with leaders turning to HR in our people-focused future, we need to step into our true role as the people architects of tomorrow — today.
Anthony Ariganello, CPHR, is the president and CEO of CPHR Canada, with headquarters in Vancouver.
This HR Corner commentary was published in the 2022 issue of Talent Canada.
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