Workplace environments, policies, and priorities shifted dramatically throughout 2020 as employees and employers responded to the rapidly growing pandemic and social justice movements. Human resources officers at organizations around the world have spent the year pivoting their practices online and trying to foster a sense of employee confidence during otherwise unprecedented times. Here are some of the trends that can be expected to affect nonprofit HR departments this year.
HR professionals need to embrace the art of over-communicating, particularly when it comes to COVID-19-related changes and policies.
“Workers fear getting COVID and taking it home to their family members,” says Julie Gilbertson, senior HR Resources Manager at 501(c) Services. “Rules kept changing along the way and are continuing to change. And so, trying to keep up with that is overwhelming for employers.”
Uncertainty, insecurity, and fear were prevailing emotions for just about everyone in 2020, and managers on all levels should prioritize transparency and consistent communications with employees in 2021.
“I have seen situations when employers shifted into a mode of crisis-only communications,” Colleen J. McManus, a senior HR executive with the Arizona state government told Forbes. “This contributed to a sense among employees that the situation must be disastrous because other communications had stopped.”
Establishing consistent communication can help employees feel confident in their employer’s ability to handle the changing pandemic and keep them inspired and tuned-in to their organization’s mission.
Creating community — virtually
Social opportunities from casual break room catch-ups to team retreats were off the table in 2020 as employers transitioned their operations online.
In 2021, HR officers will have to find creative ways to translate workplace cultural experiences into digital life — and fill in the interpersonal gaps left by the office exodus.
It’s easy to think of e-mail communication as the virtual equivalent to talking in person, but Sonya Llewellyn, Director of Program Development at 501(c) Services says HR needs to develop more personal and interactive social experiences.
“When you onboard new employees, you go out for lunch, or you bring in muffins, you give people a chance to chit-chat and connect with the new employees…. it’s those things that you miss out on with virtual work,” Llewellyn says. “Now, you have to be creative and open to new ideas.”
Setting up employee chat and “off-topic” rooms on Slack, using Zoom for more casual check-ins with employees, and sending employees gift cards for virtual lunch events are all ways that HR officers can introduce a sense of community into the virtual workspace.
“Video calls now are the only time employees will actually see each other,” Alexandra Samuel wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “This can be as simple as taking a few minutes at the beginning of each call to see how everybody is doing. If a physical workplace is full of family photos and personal chitchat, asking people to share what’s going on in their home or family may feel quite natural, and indeed, essential to sustaining the character of team relationships.”
Virtual training, and re-training
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that patience is key. In 2021, employers, employees, and HR managers alike will put patience to the test as they navigate virtual training and development programs.
“Everyone has a different level of expertise in tech,” Gilbertson says. “Employers have to be patient, and they may have to train and retrain. Some people really are not comfortable with all this virtual learning.”
Virtual training is crucial for employee success both during and after the pandemic — a May survey by LinkedIn Learning found 74 percent of respondents believe building new skills is the most critical part of rebuilding organizations for the post-COVID-19 world.
In 2021, HR will embrace flexible, mobile-friendly, training programs and that offer good customer support for tech-troubled employees. Hppy, an HR employment and engagement community, recommends employers consider the 3 C’s test when assessing virtual training programs — which stands for clarity, conciseness, and compellability.
“You have to provide the right equipment and tools, but also ensure they [employees] know how to use them,” Gilbertson says.
Focus on employee financial planning
Employer-paid financial planning programs are among the fastest-growing employee benefits offered by HR.
The economic recession and widespread financial insecurity fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic have revealed the importance of financial planning for employees in all tax brackets, and employers are catching on.
A survey from Alight Solutions found nearly 90 percent of employers plan on introducing more comprehensive financial wellbeing programs in 2021.
“More and more and more organizations are connecting their employees with resources,” Llewellyn says. “Some offer free financial help, flexible schedules, stipends, for their internet, and even resources for setting up their home offices.”
Mental health: Employee assistance programs
The global pandemic and civil unrest exacerbated mental health problems for many Americans. Recent surveys show more than half of U.S. workers say they have suffered from mental health issues since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Employee assistance program (EAPS), originally designed to address alcohol and drug addiction, exist to help employees manage a range of mental health issues. EAPs often include short-term counseling, treatment referrals, consultations, and mental-health programs.
“Financial wellness and mental health issues go hand in hand,” Llewellyn says. “If you’re worried about your finances, of course, your mental health is going to suffer.”
About the author
Lia Tabackman is a freelance journalist, copywriter, and social media strategist based in Richmond, Virginia. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, CBS 6 News, the Los Angeles Times, and Arlington Magazine, among others.