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HR challenges employers faced in 2020 and what they can expect in 2021

Members of Bethpage Federal Credit Union's book club,

Members of Bethpage Federal Credit Union's book club, The Page Turners, get together for a virtual gathering. Credit: Bethpage Federal Credit Union

The year that is about to end brought a host of human resources challenges as companies dealt with social, racial and political issues and mass disruption caused by COVID-19.

The top three challenges HR teams faced in 2020 were emotional exhaustion (58%); an overwhelming number of projects/responsibilities (54%); and maintaining employee morale/retention (51%), according to a survey by San Francisco-based Lattice.

Going into 2021 many of those issues remain, with companies focused on navigating a hybrid work environment between remote and in-office employees and making inclusivity and mental health long-term initiatives, according to the Lattice report.

"As companies continue hybrid or remote work into 2021, people teams will need to continue to plan for ongoing updates to remote work policies as well as address communication and culture disconnectedness," says Jack Altman, chief executive at Lattice, a people management HR software company.

HR will also need to be more cognizant of their employees’ mental health, he says, noting that "2020 brought fear to employees, uncertainty to businesses, and changed the scope and function of people teams working to keep up."

Beyond COVID-19, the death of George Floyd and public swell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement have fueled workplace change, he says.

Concurrently, over 60% of organizations are building on their diversity, equity and inclusion programs, says Altman.

Janover LLC, a Garden City-based CPA firm, has always striven for diversity and inclusion, says HR director Jennifer Yan, but in June created a formal diversity and inclusion committee made up of employees of different ethnicities, nationalities, ages and departments.

"The committee seeks to foster a culture of awareness, inclusion and an opportunity to share ideas and experiences," she says, adding there will be subcommittees in various areas including campus recruiting.

Janover also continues to be focused on employee mental health and pre-COVID had a health and wellness committee that remains active and among offerings recently had a virtual lecture with a psychiatrist that offered employees breathing and mindfulness techniques, says Yan.

Janover also opened up its paid time off policy offering employees’ flexible open paid time off and will continue that into 2021 to help alleviate stress, she says.

To be sure, mental health will be a core focus area going forward, says John Coverdale, president of the Center for Workplace Solutions, a Bayport-based HR management consulting firm.

"For managers going into 2021 emotional intelligence will be more important than ever before," he says.

But how management/HR look at employee engagement may need to be "reframed" in this new remote work environment, Coverdale says.

"Talent leaders will need to figure out how employee engagement is defined within the realities of this new environment," he says.

Engagement’s always been a priority at Bethpage Federal Credit Union, but the company has expanded on those initiatives since COVID-19, says Melissa Feeney, senior vice president of HR.

Pre-COVID, employees could tap into an employee assistance program that offered free counseling in areas including mental health. Since COVID-19, Bethpage launched an awareness campaign about their EAP program and its free offerings, she says.

It’s also picking up the copay costs for employees’ doctor visits recognizing that some may have put off appointments, Feeney says.

In addition, Bethpage also introduced mental health app Sanvello to employees that includes resources to deal with stress, and is offering employees’ multiple activities to stay connected including a virtual book club, says Amanda Shatel, employee experience and relationship manager.

And while its always focused on inclusive hiring practices, Bethpage launched this year a formal diversity, equity and inclusion program, Feeney says.

That included formally training all management on the program, and in 2021 all employees, and looking at their individual roles in "creating a more diverse and inclusive culture," she says.

Looking forward, companies that had layoffs or froze hiring may want to fill jobs in 2021 to reduce stress on existing employees.

Hiring came to standstill at the height of COVID-19 in March, but has been picking up steadily every two months since then, says Dina DeDonato, president of Solution Staffers, Inc. in East Setauket.

Companies are focused more on filling core/critical positions and are "moving a lot faster" in the hiring process to fill those positions, she says.

For 2021, "I think we’re going to be on the road to recovery," says DeDonato.

Top HR Initiatives for the next 12 months

  1. Employee Engagement (48%)
  2. Manager enablement and training (46%)
  3. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Programs (44%)
  4. Learning and Development (37%)
  5. Performance Management (33%)

Source: Lattice

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