HR Leaders Anticipate Greatest Talent Challenges

Kyla Holcombe, Ph.D., Insights Consultant & Organizational PsychologistCOVID-19 Response, Employee Engagement, Strategic ListeningLeave a Comment

Many companies are moving out of the first phase of crisis – managing and responding to COVID-19 – and into phase two: trying to define and transition to a new normal. Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic is difficult because the timeline is completely up in the air, leaving all of us wondering just how long we have to weather social distancing, extraordinary health and safety precautions, working from home, and financial and economic impacts.

Business have made and will continue to face tough decisions. To support leaders in making decisions about talent, we surveyed 96 Human Resources leaders about actions their teams have taken in response to COVID-19 and what they expect will be the greatest talent management challenges in the coming months.

You can download the full report and summary here. Here is what HR leaders shared with us:

Well-being and Work-Life Balance are Employees’ Biggest Concerns

Balancing caretaking responsibilities with work (e.g., childcare, eldercare, other) is the top employee concern right now, especially with schools and many daycare facilities closed. This is exacerbated by the reality that they possibly will remain so through the summer and even fall.

  • 69% of HR leaders reported mental health and managing stress as one of employees’ top concerns and 42% indicated physical well-being or illness as a top concern.
  • 55% reported job security as one of employees’ top concerns, though most organizations we surveyed have not experienced layoffs or furloughed employees.
  • Maintaining work connections and relationships was also among top employee concerns.

Data suggest it will be important to support employee well-being and connectedness while people work remotely. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, 64% of salaried workers in the U.S. are working from home right now and our research shows that 60% of organizations have the majority of their workforces working remotely now. HR teams need to focus on fostering connection virtually, providing health, wellness, and leave benefits, enabling team collaboration, and ensuring people have what they need to be productive. Now is a good time increase the frequency of checking in with employees and make space in teams for one-on-one conversations to ask people how they are doing, what they are concerned about, and their ideas for moving forward.

Organizations Are Focused on Communication to Build Confidence

Almost 90% of HR leaders report being satisfied with how their organizations managed the COVID-19 crisis. Why? We’re seeing organizations communicating with more frequency, intentionality, and reach than ever before. 

  • About 80% of organizations are sharing regular company-wide communications about how the company is navigating COVID-19 and expected impacts of COVID-19, often once a week or more.
  • 73% of organizations are having regular virtual all-staff meetings with leadership.
  • Managers play a critical role is sharing and disseminating information too; 72% of organizations are seeing frequent communication from managers to their teams.

Leaders are often overconfident in the effectiveness of their communications. It is common to see a gap between leader and employee perceptions, where employees see more opportunity for leaders to communicate consistently and transparently. During this time of fast-moving change and high levels of uncertainty, closing this gap is important, so HR teams would be wise to check in with employees about their current experiences with communication. Take the time to explain the process that goes into decision making, and that you expect you may have to adjust as scenarios unfold and new information become available.

Talent Management Challenges Moving Forward

HR teams have been busy transitioning employees to remote work and addressing safety. Most HR initiatives are also moving forward, with adjustments.

  • Over 70% of HR teams say they are adjusting organizational, team, and individual goals.
  • 69% of HR teams are continuing manager and staff trainings with some adjustments.
  • 43% of HR teams are offering leaders training on managing teams virtually.
  • 47% of HR teams have postponed hiring; 41% are continuing to hire with adjustments.
  • 43% of HR teams are conducting performance reviews with no change; 40% are continuing reviews with adjustments.

Moving forward, HR teams anticipate these areas as their top talent management challenges:  

  1. Addressing business continuity
  2. Planning and adjusting workforce utilization
  3. Compensation planning and adjustments
  4. Maintaining employee morale

The change management required to enact systematic changes like these is a tall order for organizational leaders and HR teams. Regular check-ins and soliciting feedback from people across the organization are critical to help them understand the reasons behind changes, minimize resistance, and sustain desired changes. Right now it is important to have a listening strategy, implement the methods of employee listening that make sense for your organization, and use that feedback as part of decision-making.

With all that’s going on, some organizations aren’t prioritizing employee listening, but this is exactly the time when it is most critical to solicit input. Leaders will have to make tough decisions, so it is important to understand what will cause the least harm to the fewest number of people. Customers are paying attention too and we’re seeing that talent decisions right now are impacting customer decisions. Only 18% of organizations are checking in on employee well-being with surveys and 10% say they’re not monitoring well-being at all. If you’re not checking in somehow with employees – for example with pulse surveys, wellness checks, or regular one-on-on conversations with managers – it’s time to start.

Tough times and difficult decisions lie ahead. Now is the time for leaders and HR teams to stay disciplined with communication, monitor employee engagement and well-being, and solicit input as part of decision-making in the months to come.