Back to work: Three ways HR can have a fresh start in September

There’s a definite scent of new notebooks and sharpened pencils in the air as everyone gets back to work after the Summer break.

The fresh-start vibe that comes with September gives HR the chance to take stock and think about what challenges the business faces in the final quarter of the year and beyond.

Illustration of autumn leaves

The fall-out from Brexit, whatever shape that eventually takes, will undoubtedly be high on the – agenda. But with so much uncertainty surrounding the UK’s exit – with or without a deal – it’s hard to put detailed in plans in place.

So what are the key areas where HR can start to make a real difference and help the business prepare for the unknown and the unexpected:

1. Embrace flexibility

With unemployment at an all-time low and the war for talent intensifying, organisations are going to have to work doubly hard to attract and retain the best people. Flexible working is one of the key levers employers can use to keep staff motivated and engaged. But a TUC poll out this week has found that the concept still isn’t being fully embraced, with almost one in three requests to work flexibly being turned down.

Campaigners are now calling on the Government to introduce legislation for all roles to be flexible by default. Whether this will come to fruition remains to be seen – organisations faced with the practicalities of implementing this on the ground are likely to push back on the idea that any job can be done flexibly.

In the meantime, however, HR has a role to play in educating the business about the bottom line benefits of flexibility and breaking down some of the misconceptions that surround it. Line managers need help in understanding the many different ways work can be organised and resourced and in overcoming some of the obstacles they perceive surround it. They also need support in managing flexible workers effectively and building the necessary trust and support into their teams.

2. Get agile

Thanks to digitisation, globalisation and a volatile economic and political climate, the world of work is moving faster than ever before. New technology is disrupting markets overnight, old jobs are disappearing and new ones are emerging, competition is rearing its head in unexpected places. Organisations are increasingly finding themselves lumbering behind, hampered by outdated practices and wondering what happened.

In the past, HR, with its policies and procedures, has often been seen as a blocker rather than an enabler of progress. But forward-looking practitioners will be actively looking for ways to help the organisation respond more rapidly to changing customer and market demands.

There’s a real buzz at the moment around the concept of Agile HR – which is borrowing the ‘test and learn’ approach used in software development and applying it to people-related problems. HR can no longer afford to stick to the tried and tested and keep applying what has previously been seen as ‘best practice’. Practitioners need to be brave and experiment with new ways of organising work and managing people – learning from their mistakes and adapting and refining as they go along.

3. Prioritise communication

As the planned Brexit date draws closer, levels of stress and anxiety among employees are rising. EU nationals are worried about their status, projects are being put on hold and everyone is concerned about what the economic fall-out might be and how it will affect their jobs. In tumultuous times, communication is more important than ever. HR almost certainly doesn’t have all the answers, but it does have a role to play in providing reassurance and keeping everyone informed of whatever plans the business may be putting in place. Internal communications programmes need to be ramped up and HR and marketing teams need to work closely together to find ways of building trust and communicating quickly and effectively with employees. This is also a time when leaders need to be visible. When change and uncertainty is all around, employees want to know there is a strong hand on the helm.

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