HR is not just a nice-to-have, but a business imperative

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Pandemic-related uncertainty and stress saw human resource departments emerge as valuable partners.

The role of HR practitioners has evolved and they are now more important than ever as crucial support structures for employees and facilitators of their overall wellbeing, writes Nthabiseng Masike, people lead South Africa at Mondelēz International.

The Covid-19 pandemic was undoubtedly the driving force for one of the greatest workplace transformations in recent history, compelling businesses to think and operate differently to keep the lights on. As they were thrown into periods of uncertainty and chaos, human resources departments emerged as the saving grace, with all business spheres looking to them to lead the way forward.

No longer was human resources viewed as a cost centre, but the function now joined the ranks of importance of other revenue-generating departments such as sales. Investing in retaining valuable employees is important, particularly given the impact of the ongoing Great Resignation trend, which is seeing countless employees resigning from their positions. Replacing them is costly, and studies indicate that the average employee exit costs as much as 33 percent of the person’s annual salary. Employers can spend an equivalent of up to nine months of an employee’s salary recruiting and training a suitable replacement.

As such, the role of human resources has become increasingly valuable, wielding greater corporate and C-suite influence than before. The pandemic expanded the role of human resource practitioners as they took on more responsibilities, including duties that transcended their traditional roles and obligations.

From the implementation of new operational ways of working to addressing employee post-pandemic fatigue, the focus is firmly on the ‘human’ aspect of human resources to support businesses’ most valuable assets – their people.

While some report that their business’s employee wellness initiatives were negligible before the pandemic, the mental, physical and financial strain over the past two years has pushed employee wellness to the top of the business agenda.

Research suggests that more than 60 percent of employees reported concerns of stress and burnout in 2021. A survey conducted by McKinsey reports that nine out of 10 employees noted that the pandemic had negatively impacted the behavioural health of their workforce, with Silvercloud Health’s 2021 survey indicating that over two-thirds of employees claimed to have distinct signs of anxiety and depression as a result.

To address the psychological toll of the pandemic, businesses need to create an internal change in company culture, communication and leadership. Creating an inclusive company culture to support the emotional wellbeing of employees is only the first step. Notably, communicating the available mental health support is crucial to its success.

Addressing employee mental wellness can be achieved in several ways, including conducting employee surveys to better understand their thoughts on the company’s standpoint on mental health and what they can do to improve, reducing workplace stress by implementing flexible working and additional resources, and encouraging time off. Importantly, this can be achieved by equipping leaders with the skills to identify employees who may be dealing with mental health challenges and offer them the support they need.

Physical wellness is intrinsically linked to overall wellbeing, and improving on it will allow employees to lead healthier, happier, and more productive lifestyles. Employers can assist by ensuring that the workplace is equipped with the right practices to keep employees engaged, for example, encouraging meetings away from the typical office space, enabling de-stress activities (meditation, yoga, breath work) and promoting healthy eating habits.

The financial wellness of employees is a major contributor to attracting and retaining talent, and a key driver of employee productivity. According to PWC’s 2022 Employee Financial Wellness Survey, financially stressed employees are twice as likely to look for employment elsewhere, with 76 percent attracted to businesses that care about the financial wellbeing of their employees.

Businesses can provide support by offering employees retirement benefits, access to emergency funds through payroll advances, education benefits to help them grow within their positions, and regular financial planning and coaching sessions to help them plan for their financial futures.

Human resources practitioners are the architects of change and are the key to bridging the gap between employers and employees. While the pandemic may be over, much of what was learnt, such as the need to focus on workplace wellness, must continue to take precedence and be seen not as temporary fixes, but as integral parts of the business strategy that will be the most impactful to employees and the overall future prosperity of the business.

 

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