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HR Departments Struggle As Pandemic Drags On

HR Departments Struggle As Pandemic Drags On

HR teams are facing unique challenges as businesses continue to rely on remote work while dealing with ongoing labor shortages, a new study has found.

The 2021 “State of People Strategy,” released by Lattice, an employee management platform, found that HR departments are facing a bit of whiplash, as they juggle meeting the needs of a workforce that frequently continues to work from home, at the same time that many are resigning, and new hiring efforts are being prioritized.

The new study also raises red flags about the competing priorities that HR departments are facing. “HR professionals in our dataset continue to report being overworked, understaffed, and emotionally exhausted,” the report said”.

Not enough resources at Human Resources

The study noted that HR teams have been bearing a heavy burden from the disruption caused by the pandemic. The survey found that 42% of respondents said their team faced an overwhelming number of projects and responsibilities. The same number said burnout and/or exhaustion were among their biggest challenges. When asked to identify the cause of burnout and exhaustion, 61% said their department was overworked, and 41% said they were understaffed.

“The challenges brought on by the pandemic have been particularly acute for HR professionals who, for the last 18 months, have been on a roller coaster ride that seemingly never ends,” said Russell Lobsenz, principal and talent management practice lead for Lattice Advisory Services. “Although the worst of the pandemic is behind us, there’s no reason to believe HR’s job will get any easier, especially with a supercharged demand for talent”.

Continuing reliance on remote work

The expected return to something-like-normal in the workplace hit a major snag as the delta variant caused a surge in COVID-19 infections in the second half of 2021. Instead, many Americans continued to work from home. As the end of the year approaches, HR departments are not expecting this situation to change: 60% of respondents said they did not expect a big change in the number of employees working from home over the next year. And more than 70% of respondents said they are expecting most or all of their employees will be working remotely at least part-time for the next year.

“Averaged across all industries, they specifically believe that more than half of their employees will be remote in 2022, at least part-time,” the report said. “Nearly a third of respondents are leaving it up to employees to decide whether or not they’d like to report to a physical worksite, with the clear exception being in industries like manufacturing and hospitality”.

Worker shortages are affecting DEI efforts

One finding of the survey is that efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have lost steam to some degree, as HR departments focus on addressing labor shortages. The report said that DEI efforts have fallen from being the third-highest priority of respondents in 2020 to the sixth-highest priority this year.

One area where DEI is continuing to be prioritized is in hiring. “When asked to identify their leading initiatives, 80% of respondents identified “diverse hiring practices” as a focus area,” the report said. “Although diverse hiring practices are important, most experts consider them only an entry point to more substantial work in [DEI]. Companies are less likely to keep these new hires long-term without investing in key areas like inclusivity, pay equity, and equitable performance management”.

The report concluded with some insights on what is working for HR teams. The survey found that high-performing HR teams are five times more likely to conduct quarterly performance reviews. More frequent reviews result in better employee satisfaction and retention, the results suggested. In addition, employee engagement is still an area of interest, with 43% of respondents listing it as a key top priority over the next twelve months. Technology that helps employees become more productive—and thereby reduces stress—is also seen as a plus by HR teams.

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