What a year it has been. It’s incredible to think that January last year we were breathing a small sigh of relief that the Covid Omicron variant had probably peaked in the UK, and after a massive push to roll-out booster vaccinations we were beginning to feel a little more optimistic as hospital admissions had stabilised.
Another major event was developing at the same time as Russia was building up its military forces along the border with Ukraine, with the invasion starting on 24 February.
Of course, the UK went through its own political turmoil during 2022, and this will have only added to a sense of uncertainty and worry for many.
For those of us in the HR profession, as the year progressed it may feel as though we have had to jump from one crisis to another.
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While pressure on the cost of living challenges will continue it is very likely all organisations, both in the public and private sectors, will have to focus on delivering productivity improvements.
Some organisations will be performing exceptionally well, while others will be facing difficult times. Irrespective of the levels of financial and operational performance, all HR teams will face challenges in filling vacancies and all employees will be concerned about economic conditions and the general unsettled climate around the world.
During 2023 we will need to continue to support our employees through the ongoing increases to the cost of living. We will continue to focus on reward and benefits policies and innovative ways of providing financial wellbeing support.
There will be pressure from employee representative groups and trade unions to increase compensation more in line with inflation and this means that organisational leaders will need to invest even more time in honest, open and sincere dialogue at all levels.
Regular two-way communication will be the heart of maintaining strong engagement. This should incorporate acknowledgement of employees’ circumstances and concerns.
It should also support the maintenance of awareness of organisational performance, including the challenges faced by customers, clients and suppliers. During times of uncertainty, communication activities and events should be more frequent and personal.
In the height of the Covid pandemic, I was incredibly impressed with the approach to internal employee communication that was taken by a business unit CEO. Each day he would call a cross-section of employees across the business to just see how they were feeling, to thank them for their hard work and to answer any questions that they had.
If he felt concerned about the wellbeing of an individual he would speak with their manager or supervisor in order to ensure that appropriate support was provided. This simple, sincere and personal level of communication had an extraordinarily positive impact on the people and the business and it’s an approach that might be considered by all leaders, particularly during challenging times.
In 2023, leaders will need to double down on bringing their organisation’s values to life. During unsettled periods particularly, the values are key to providing the safe framework in which employees can work collaboratively. The values provide the reference point when difficult decisions need to be made and they guide managers in treating people fairly.
All this is of course true at any time, however challenging periods raise stress levels and that’s when the risk of unhelpful behaviour and rash decision-making can creep in. HR will need to increase support for leaders at all levels, with coaching and mentoring sitting at the heart of that support.
The effective implementation of change will be critical in the coming year. Many organisations will need to accelerate initiatives to increase productivity, efficiency and quality; possibly with less resource than in the past.
It will require cross-functional teams to work collaboratively with carefully prepared and well-executed project plans and change management processes.
There is a great opportunity to involve employees, to enable them to help create the longer-term organisation and to learn during a period of change. This can be the year to identify and develop the senior leaders of the future and to create a stronger and even more engaged organisation which is ready for the growth opportunities that will come.
HR will be responsible for guiding the way through the complex maze of challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. To stay match-fit let’s ensure that we continue the collaborative and supportive approach that HR professionals really do role model; continuing to mutually support each other as we have done so well over recent years.
David Frost was inducted into the HR Most Influential Hall of Fame in 2022 and is people and organisational development director at Dole.
This piece first appeared in the November/December 2022 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.