As the hotel industry continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19 changing the way we live, travel and work, we know this situation has been anything but normal. It has caused a level of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (termed as VUCA) never experienced before.

As a result, human resources has taken the spotlight as being crucial to the survival of business, making tough calls about workforce reductions, managing legislative and policy changes, and implementing the swift shift to remote work — all while trying to protect employees’ physical and psychological safety.

With glimpses of hope that a post-pandemic era is near, HR leaders should resist simply returning to the familiar ways of the past. There is an opportunity to invent a new normal, laser-focused on re-designing an employee experience that is more purposeful, connected and enabled than before.

How do we achieve this new normal?

Put Care at the Heart of Re-integration
When the crisis subsides, not all employees will enthusiastically embrace work with open arms. Some businesses may have a divided workforce, with some employees returning to work after furlough and others working through the pandemic to keep operations afloat.

According to the November 2020 Morneau Shepell Monthly Index Report, 24 per cent of Canadians indicated that the pandemic has led them to reconsider their professional future and think about switching jobs. This highlights the need for a plan to re-capture the hearts and minds of employees and prevent further drain of skills and knowledge from the industry. The re-integration process should place focus on creating an intentional and immediate sense of welcome, care and belonging at the individual level. The process of re-integration presents the most important opportunity to repair trust and deepen connection, while preserving well-being.

Connect People through Purpose
Deloitte Canada’s 2021 Best Managed Company award winners all share one trait — they use their company purpose as their organizational foundation and can thrive and innovate despite disruption. HR leaders should look to their organizational purpose as a grounding force for employees.

Employees will find many aspects of work have changed, including job structures, duties and people. It’s reasonable to expect conflict will arise as people re-establish their place in the team, typical of the “storming” stage of development. Finding common ground through purpose will serve to mitigate power struggles and conflict. A strong communication plan, and when it is safe, team building, will be an important way to accomplish this.

Help Employees Overcome Stress
HR professionals will need to recognize that the anxiety the pandemic has caused — especially for those who have suffered loss of career, friends, or family — will not subside immediately when the pandemic ends. Aligning wellness support and communicating resources available, including EAP’s, deeper mental-health benefits coverage and de-stigmatizing acceptance of mental-health services, are critical. Leaders should not only focus on returning employees. “Survivor’s guilt,” resentment for overwork
and the burnout of juggling work and family are common feelings held by those employees not furloughed. This includes leaders at all levels who could benefit from additional services such as external coaching support.

Ground EVPs in New Workforce Ideals
This is what I’m hearing from my coaching clients. “I have finally re-connected with my children;” “I need a job, but I am willing wait for the right employer;” and “I will structure work around my life, not the other way around.” Their words illustrate that employees are subscribing to a new set of ideals.

HR leaders who want to be successful in attracting and retaining talent will use these new ideals to re-design their Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and the employee experience.

Rewards such as parties, outings and perks have fallen down the list of what employees’ value, while wages, benefits and job stability have moved up. Candidates will be drawn to an EVP that underscores personalized growth, mentorship and excellent leadership as core to the culture.

Employees want positions that offer flexibility. They seek employers who understand that work, life and family are intertwined. Employee’s wellness and productivity are greatest when supported to take care of these parts. They are not just seeking work-life balance but work-life integration.

Long-term remote-work plans and flexible scheduling are items hoteliers will need to implement to remain competitive with other industries.

Upskill and Re-skill Talent
With workplaces becoming more autonomous, employees will need to be self-directed, take ownership of their own roles and think like entrepreneurs. They will also need to be comfortable with digitalization and embrace technology as an essential part of delivering the customer and employee experience. With the rise of video conferencing and collaboration platforms, employees will need to communicate differently, using a style of brevity and levity to get concepts across most effectively.
Empathy is the most critical soft skill to enabling employees to understand the challenges of others and to advance efforts around diversity, equity and inclusion. Adaptability is core to building resiliency, empowering employees to function despite feeling uncomfortable or during times of flux.

Re-think Talent Attraction
Career pivots, declining post-secondary enrollments and the large exodus of women from the workforce will shift us back into a tight labour market with concerns in core departments such as housekeeping and culinary.

HR leaders should apply customer-attraction philosophies to better attract talent. Technology now exists for HR leaders to analyze employee demographics and behaviour and build robust talent funnels before the need arises. HR will need to be pro-active, mitigating shortages by experimenting with new work structures, automation, the gig economy and diverse candidate pools.
When we can finally say we have entered a post-pandemic era, HR will have to be ready to help guide the business and workforce to recovery. Now is the time for HR to think beyond immediate survival with strategies for greater resilience, attraction, retention, capability, and productivity — all critical elements to stabilize business growth and boost profitability moving forward.

Cayley Dow is the founder and CEO of Thrivity Inc., a human-resources consulting and coaching firm that helps service-oriented businesses to thrive in the ever-evolving world of work. With a career of more than 20 years, she has worked as an HR executive overseeing nationwide talent functions in the hotel industry.


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