New Research Indicates the Pandemic Hit HR Teams Disproportionately Hard


The global pandemic has altered many aspects of the world, from our healthcare systems to unemployment rates, but it has had an especially profound impact on the world of work — and experts anticipate that impact will linger for a long time. Specifically, they predict that more people will continue to work from home even after the pandemic ends.

Some employees are thrilled about the opportunity, as remote work eliminates commute time and enables them to spend more time on meaningful activities. Companies benefit from remote work, too, as it can reduce real estate costs and travel expenses.

On the other hand, some employees struggle to focus while working in households shared with roommates, significant others, or family members. Working remotely during a global pandemic has taken a toll on employee engagement, productivity, and other crucial people metrics. This has put HR in a challenging spot: While every department has been affected by the pandemic, HR teams have had to quickly reprioritize their efforts to address the current situation.

In light of the pandemic’s effects on how we work, we at Reflektive developed the Coronavirus Sentiment Survey to take the pulse of employee engagement and productivity during this difficult time. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we structured the survey’s questions around employee support, employee connectedness, and employee productivity.

From March 26 through April 23, dozens of Reflektive customers sent the Coronavirus Sentiment Survey to their employees. Seven thousand employees responded. Here’s what we learned from them:

Key Survey Results and Highlights

The sentiment survey results indicate high engagement overall during this unprecedented time. Across the five questions included in the survey, we saw a range of 76-92 percent of employees responding favorably. We believe two major factors are contributing to this positive sentiment:

  1. Since the respondents work at companies that are Reflektive customers, we can infer their organizations invest in performance management tools in an effort to proactively boost engagement and productivity.
  2. Employees are exhibiting significant resilience during this crisis, most likely thanks to support from managers and leadership.

However, we did see significant differences in employee sentiment based on department. HR teams in particular reported that they feel less productive than other departments, about 12 percent less than their peer average. There are several reasons that HR teams are feeling overwhelmed:

  1. Workforce planning is taking priority over other tasks: HR teams need to ensure their organizations have the right people in the right roles to handle all of the unknowns of the moment. Many companies are engaged in workforce planning now, including furloughs, reductions in force, or role adjustments.
  2. Staying up to date on laws is time consuming: Regulations are evolving rapidly, and staying informed becomes an even more time-consuming activity for companies with offices in different jurisdictions.
  3. Addressing evolving workforce needs is challenging: From Zoom fatigue to mental health issues, employees are experiencing many stressors right now. Staying on top of employee needs — and educated on the best ways to address them — is a difficult ongoing task for HR teams.

As HR consultant Claire Seeber empathetically writes, HR professionals are working tirelessly to help employees cope during the current crises: “I see you trying to manage your own self-care and mental state whilst juggling the emotional demands of all of those in the business that you support.” Seeber also mentions, however, that HR is “in a unique position to influence and change the course of the future of work for your organization.”

Clearly, there is plenty of room for improvement going forward. Across all departments, we found that the most significant employee challenges are a lack of alignment, isolation, and workspace issues. Best practices can help organizations address these issues:

  1. Lack of alignment: Performance management tools and processes can help employees stay connected with their managers and their peers and help ensure they’re working on high-priority tasks.
  2. Isolation: HR teams can provide employees with opportunities for meaningful connection with their peers. At Reflektive, we rolled out a weekly CEO Fireside Chat, weekly social hours, and a social calendar so employees can engage with peers on other teams.
  3. Workspace issues: The most common challenges employees cited here were inadequate home office setups and having to take care of children while working. To help employees improve their home office environments, we recommend developing a work-from-home best practices guide and providing a stipend so employees can purchase ergonomic products. We also recommend creating resources and building empathy for working parents.

What Comes Next?

With millions of employees continuing to work remotely — some indefinitely — many companies are unsure what to do next. After running an engagement survey and addressing the highest-priority needs of employees, we recommend sending a follow-up survey to your workforce. This second survey can help in a couple of different ways.

First, it can help HR teams identify whether the companywide actions taken previously were helpful to employees. Second, the survey can assist HR teams in identifying whether employee needs and priorities have changed. Staying in tune with employee sentiment can help boost employee morale and performance during this unprecedented time.

Rachel Ernst is vice president of employee success at Reflektive.

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