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How 2020 Changed HR and the Workplace

The workplace reflects the broader world around us — and this year, a global pandemic, social unrest, and political uncertainty weighed on employees’ minds and permanently changed the way we work. So what do HR teams make of the past twelve months? Earlier this year, Lattice published its first State of People Strategy Report. We surveyed over 1,000 HR professionals from companies in the United States and over 30 countries to see how the past year reshaped their teams, challenges, and priorities. Here are just a few of the key findings.

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1. Employees (and HR teams) are spent.

Mental health. Burnout. Exhaustion. These are problems HR teams usually face when working with other team members. But in light of everything that has occurred this year, those challenges have been more intense — and closer to home.

Over 60% of HR professionals say that their top challenge this year has been emotional exhaustion, including their own. Of those that named emotional exhaustion as a top-three HR challenge, 54% are VPs and HR directors. Respondents listed the following as causes:

  • Poor mental health (62%)
  • Downsizing (19%)
  • Conflict resolution (10%)
  • Performance issues (9%)

Morale and engagement were also of concern. Of all the challenges respondents cited, burnout (68%), lack of growth opportunities (30%), and not feeling recognized (43%) ranked among the top issues hurting workplace morale. Given the pandemics’ disproportionate impact on certain kinds of businesses, it’s no surprise that the healthcare, hospitality, and retail industries struggled the most with these issues in our survey.

2. DE&I became a top priority for organizations.

Following the murder of George Floyd and amid rising support for Black Lives Matter, a growing list of companies have spoken out on behalf of social change. But that wave of corporate activism has left some wondering what comes next. Are businesses willing to put in the hard work to make diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) a long-term priority?

Our report found that over 60% of organizations are building on their DE&I programs this year, while less than a third say they have no plans to make changes to their existing efforts. Respondents indicated they were monitoring diversity in hiring and introducing new programs to foster inclusion and belonging organization-wide.

HR professionals took a multi-faceted approach to the issue. The most common initiatives this year include:

  • Widening recruitment pools (47%)
  • Implemented unconscious bias training (35%)
  • Making benefits more inclusive (33%)
  • Investing in employee resource groups (23%)

What’s more, respondents also indicated they had additional initiatives planned for next year. Several of those will require manager involvement, including:

  • Diverse hiring initiatives (79%)
  • All-company unconscious bias training (71%)
  • Manager training (55%)
  • Manager unconscious bias training (50%)

While the above is promising, affecting change on DE&I isn’t easy — it takes time, hard work, and buy-in for additional budget. When asked to identify potential barriers to improving or initiating DE&I programs, respondents listed the perceived time commitment and lack of DE&I program knowledge. Just a fraction listed indifference from leadership as an obstacle.

3. HR teams are looking for ways to empower managers.

We expect a lot out of our HR teams. While they can help steer the ship for workplace issues like engagement, DE&I, and career growth, they can’t singlehandedly get those initiatives across the finish line. That can’t be everywhere at once — especially with the rise of distributed work this year.

That’s where managers come in. This year, manager enablement ranked as HR’s second-highest priority. Research shows that managers are often uncomfortable communicating with employees, and many may not know how best to adapt to the changes underway.

So how are HR teams equipping managers with the skills they need? Among respondents, the most important manager enablement initiatives include:

  • Manager behavioral foundations (86%)
  • Leadership training (78%)
  • Enhanced manager tools (42%)
  • Coaching services (40%)

Managers are responsible for more than just ensuring their reports’ work gets done. By planning learning and development initiatives like manager behavioral foundations, leadership training, and coaching services, HR empowers managers to excel in the current climate and face everything that it brings.

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Those are just some of the State of People Strategy Report’s key findings. As challenges emerged, HR teams have responded: setting employees up for success, prioritizing DE&I, and continuing to expand company-wide communication efforts to make sure no one feels left out. They’ve done this during hiring freezes and layoffs, a pandemic, and rising social change.

What comes next for the world — and work — remains unknown. But it’s clear HR teams are up to the task.

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