How to manage the rising demand in HR during the Coronavirus crisis

Ed Hussey - Menzies Accountant

Ed Hussey – HR Specialist
DD: +44 (0)1784 497105

As more businesses shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, some are being forced to furlough their workers for a period of time.

On the flip side of this crisis, other employers such as supermarkets, distribution centres, utility repairers, foodbank organisers, care homes and the NHS, are seeing demand for services soar to unprecedented levels.

For those businesses experiencing an uplift in demand for goods and/or services, these are incredibly challenging times. As well as protecting the interests of existing workers, by adhering to Govenrnment rules on social distancing and protection, they also need to find ways of scaling up operations and recruiting more staff. This is especially difficult, at a time when absenteeism is on the rise.

How are larger essential services employers coping?

Large employers, such as the major supermarkets, are likely to have access to significant HR resources to support their growing recruitment drives. It’s also worth remembering that they are unlikely to be short of candidates. That said however, recruiting workers at speed, especially when it is necessary to reduce use of physical interviews, is not easy. Essential checks of individual candidates must continue, but it may be possible to enhance online processes to assist individuals to complete more of the application online.

Examples of how to adapt

Some employers have introduced more focused ‘key questions’ to guide individuals in completing an application quickly, uploading the required documentation and using video conferencing tools to carry out interviews.

What about smaller essential service employers?

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For smaller employers operating essential services, including care homes and foodbank organisers, access to HR resources is likely to be a growing issue and these businesses may need extra support to help with the hiring of necessary staff to get them through the crisis.

For retailers that are expanding their online operations whilst temporarily shutting physical shops, re-skilling their workforce to support with online order processing or delivery fulfilment are likely to be key. In some cases, employers may need to think carefully about which employees to keep on and re-deploy, while furloughing others. To de-risk such decisions, it is important that employers remain objective and ensure their decisions are well evidenced in order to avoid potential discrimination claims. Wherever possible, it is helpful to ask the workforce to make the right choices for themselves and their colleagues as workers are likely to have a better idea of each individual’s domestic circumstances and their suitability. By involving staff in such decision making, employers may find this has a positive effect on staff wellbeing; helping staff to feel that they are doing something practical to help the business. 

Training staff

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Where training is required to re-skill workers quickly, HR professionals may need move away from traditional training materials and give individuals access to self-training videos or other online materials, to ‘watch and learn’ from home. A buddying scheme is a great idea to ensure workers in new roles learn from their more experienced counterparts.

Thinking to the long-term

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The longer the lockdown continues, the more pressure is likely to be placed on employees and so – where possible – employers should attempt to pre-empt. Where businesses are experiencing high demand, its employees are also experiencing rising demands in their workloads at a time where domestic circumstances and ways of working have evolved at pace. Employers need to recognise this pressure and the impact this will have on their workforce by extending their support – not just in in the workplace, but to their home life as well. For example, in a busy warehouse or distribution centre, managers should become more visible to staff by practising ‘walk and talk’ tactics on the shop floor in order to stay in touch with how workers are feeling.

What about the services sector?

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For businesses in the services sector, remote working has become the new norm with online coffee and chat sessions via Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Skype for Business being used to increase face time with managers and fellow workers. This helps to nurture a sense of community and strengthening team spirit.

Managers must also stay alert to capacity issues and intervene where necessary to ease pressure on individuals. It is also important that managers check that workers are taking regular breaks and have a chance to share their experiences of living through the current crisis. It is going to be critical to protect their wellbeing and sharing in this way will ensure that the business bounces back with the support of a strong and healthy workforce once things get back to normal.

Posted in Blog, Healthcare, Hospitality & leisure, Manufacturing, Not-for-profit, Property & construction, Retail, Technology, Transport & logistics, Recruitment, Legal Services, Financial Services