Re-engaging in a post-pandemic world: the great HR challenge of 2021

Image credit: Amy Hirschi

Is a significant reset in the offing? From a human resources perspective, the answer appears to be a resounding ‘yes’. Here in Australia and elsewhere in the world, we’re seeing professionals and leaders addressing some big issues in the wake of the COVID pandemic and the extraordinary changes it has engendered, to our way of life and work

The past 12 months have provided few opportunities for pondering. Much of the time has been spent in crisis mode, grappling with pressing operational issues. HR personnel have been in demand on multiple fronts: managing the perennially traumatic process of rationalising headcounts; redeploying resources to new areas of need; and supporting senior leaders to implement remote working arrangements on the fly.

By dint of their contribution, many HR chiefs were afforded the opportunity to finally take their rightful place in the C Suite, working shoulder to shoulder with other members of the leadership team.


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Re-engaging with the workforce

Continuing economic recovery and Australia’s national COVID vaccination program now presage a return to more ‘normal’ ways of living and working. Recovery and rejuvenation have become the focus but they’ll be difficult to attain without a highly engaged workforce.

That’s another ‘job’ for the HR department but what will effective employee engagement look like in the post-COVID era and how can enterprises achieve it?

They can start by acknowledging that the traditional levers of engagement – leadership, communication and recognition – have been augmented by two more: health and wellbeing.

Connection, safety and inclusion will be the name of the (new) game and organisations that don’t invest in all three will struggle to reinvigorate their teams and motivate them to tackle the hurdles that lie ahead.

Battling burnout

Motivation and morale can be difficult to foster and sustain when employees are forced to spend weeks and months isolated from their colleagues and physically disconnected from familiar places of work.

A recent global survey by Gartner Group highlighted the extent to which this has become an issue. More than 25 per cent of the 5,000 respondents described themselves as depressed, despite the fact many had participated in employee wellbeing programs throughout 2020.

Gartner vice president of HR advisory Aaron McEwan attributes increased instances of burnout, exhaustion and fatigue to ongoing mental strain caused by COVID.


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Recognising high achievers

Boosting and sustaining engagement is the key to rebuilding morale and fostering a renewed sense of purpose in employees who’ve been battling on in survival mode.

Acknowledging and rewarding high achievers who meet and exceed their performance targets is integral to that process but the way in which it’s done may need to change, particularly for employers that seek to maintain hybrid working environments permanently.

HR leaders must ensure that the contributions of individuals who toil diligently in the home office are recognised and valued just as highly as those of employees who’ve returned to headquarters and are hard at it under their manager’s eye.

Adopting digital tools and infrastructure to formalise and streamline the recognition and reward process may make it easier to ensure the efforts of every individual are appropriately acknowledged.

Walking the walk

While HR chiefs will need to take the lead, the effectiveness of their efforts can be amplified enormously by support from across the enterprise.

Engagement is a whole of team game and buy-in from business unit leaders is needed to engender a culture which appreciates, acknowledges and safeguards its greatest asset: its workforce.

Getting that buy-in and translating it into positive action is likely to be a top of agenda item for people leaders who are serious about ensuring employees are ready, willing and able to tackle the challenges the next 12 months have in store.


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By Matt Seadon

Matt is General Manager of Asia Pacific at Achievers, an industry-leading provider of employee recognition and engagement solutions. He is responsible for the organisation’s Asia Pacific business, including sales and client service teams in Melbourne, Sydney and Singapore. With nearly two decades of industry experience, Matt was previously General Manager of Recognition at Blackhawk Network, Asia Pacific and General Manager and Director at Grass Roots Group.