Steve Herbert looks back at one of his less successful predictions, and forward to the challenges for Human Resources professionals in the years ahead.
In December last year we were all preparing for a new decade and new challenges, and my closing post of 2019 for Employer News included this rather bold prediction for the coming year;
“the General Election result – coming as it does in the last few working days of the decade – does at least represent some much-needed stability and certainty for businesses, if only until the end of the transition period in 12 months’ time.”
As predictions go this is up there with weatherman Michael Fish’s 1987 reassurance that there wasn’t a hurricane on the way, or the claims that The Titanic was “unsinkable”.
Because 2020 has turned out to have all the “much-needed stability” of a plate of jelly placed on the seat of a fairground rollercoaster.
Before Covid (BC)
Now in my defence the above predications were made before COVID-19 hove into view. Had I recognised the potential scale of the problem that was about to face the United Kingdom, then I might have been a little more cautious with my forward-thinking!
That said, my assumption that the period of business trading stability might only last until the next UK/EU deadline currently looks rather well thought through. So I can perhaps recover just a little of my lost credibility on that point at least?
But it remains the case that the world before COVID-19 was very different to the one that lies ahead for the nation and its Human Resources (HR) professionals in December 2020.
Or is it?
The current situation
Certainly COVID-19 represent little short of a national disaster. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, recently stated;
“Our health emergency is not yet over. And our economic emergency has only just begun”
And it sadly follows that many more employees will lose their jobs, and many businesses will be forced to cease trading before the end of this crisis is eventually reached.
Yet vaccines are now becoming available, the Job Retention Scheme extended until March, and many businesses and employers have adapted to the new socially-distanced world surprisingly well. So although things are currently very bleak, there might well be room for some cautious optimism by the time we reach (say) the middle of 2021.
And those businesses that have been able to survive 2020 are likely to be in a much stronger market position to capitalise on the inevitable pent-up spending demand from individuals and corporates in the months that follow a full reopening of the British economy.
After Disaster (AD)
So now it’s time to look ahead again.
Certainly there will be some new challenges that were not considered a high priority by many organisations in 2019. In particular the need to rebuild the financial resilience of employers and employees, and how HR professionals might effectively manage a more widespread adoption of home working across so many job roles.
And of course the UK’s relationship with our closest and largest trading partners will also define many of the plans and action ahead too.
Yet despite all the corporate problems of 2020, the reality is that most of the challenges for employers – and by extension HR professionals – that I outlined a year ago still remain relevant even in the post-disaster world of 2021 and beyond.
That list included the following items that are as relevant today as they were before the crisis:
- Environmental concerns (including global warming and plastics pollution)
- Company culture change (particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement)
- Pay gaps (gender/ ethnicity/ disability/ executive to worker)
- Pensions (including ESG investments, Auto-Enrolment, and possible changes to tax reliefs)
- Improving workplace mental health & stress
- The UK’s ageing workforce
- Employee financial wellbeing and/or worker poverty
- Low productivity
Indeed the only item that might have temporarily reduced in importance as a result of 2020 is the war for talent. Yet the need to attract and retain the right employees at the right price remains key even in a time of high unemployment.
And, as I said last year, all these challenges have one key thing in common; they require the input, engagement, and motivation of employees before they can really improve. And if the workforce is involved, then Human Resources must be too.
2020 has shown us all how difficult it is to predict the future, but we can all be confident that there will continue to be many HR challenges ahead as we regroup after a tragic and turbulent year.
So as we approach 2021 it’s time to once again look ahead and plan not just for the next 12 months, but (a little belatedly) for the remainder of the decade to come also.
A Happy (and hopefully much more stable) New Year to you all.
Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing