How can essential employers cope with increased demand on HR?

Essential businesses such as supermarkets have faced increased demand in terms of recruitment, keeoing workers safe and managing workloads
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With so much focus on furlough and emergency support for struggling employers during the coronavirus crisis, what about those organisations that are now faced with unprecedented demand for goods and services, such as supermarkets or smaller essential businesses? Ed Hussey looks at the key HR and recruitment considerations.

As more businesses shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, some are being forced to lay off workers or furlough them for a temporary time period. Meanwhile, other employers such as supermarkets, distribution centres, utility repairers, food bank organisers, care homes and the NHS of course, are seeing demand for services soar to unprecedented levels.

For those experiencing a massive uptick in demand for goods and services, these are incredibly challenging times.

As well as protecting the interests of existing workers, by adhering to the rules surrounding social distancing and providing access to protective products and equipment, they also need to find a way of scaling up operations and recruiting more staff quickly, at a time when absenteeism is rising.

Many large employers, such as the major supermarkets, already have access to significant HR resources to manage their recruitment processes and they are unlikely to be short of candidates.

Even so, recruiting workers at speed, at a time when it is necessary to minimise use of physical interviews, is not a straightforward matter.

Essential checks of individual candidates must continue to be carried out, no matter what, but it may be possible to adapt online processes to assist individuals in making more complete online applications. Some employers have introduced more focused ‘key questions’ to guide individuals in making an application quickly, uploading required documents and using video-based interviewing as they do so.

Seeking support

For smaller employers operating essential services, such as care homes and foodbank organisers, access to HR resources may be more of an issue. These employers may need to reach out for support to help them to hire the additional staff they need to get them through the crisis.

For retailers that are temporarily shutting up shop but expanding their online operations, there may be a need to re-skill workers to support with processing online orders or fulfilling deliveries. In some cases, employers may need to select workers to keep on and re-deploy in this way, while furloughing others.

To de-risk such decisions, it is important that employers remain objective, ensuring their selection is well evidenced to avoid potential discrimination claims.

It is helpful wherever possible to ask the workforce to make the right choices for themselves and their colleagues – after all, workers will have a better idea of each individual’s domestic circumstances and their suitability for continued working or any new role.

Employers could find that involving staff in such decision making has a positive effect on wellbeing too; allowing workers to feel that they are doing something practical to help keep the business going.

Where training is required to re-skill workers quickly, this may also need a rethink. Instead of providing traditional training packs and courses, HR professionals may need to give individuals access to self-training videos or other online materials, to ‘watch and learn’ while at home.

A buddying scheme could also be established to ensure workers in new roles learn from their more experienced counterparts.

Feeling the pressure

The longer the lockdown continues, the more pressure points are likely to emerge and employers should try to pre-empt these as far as possible. Where businesses are experiencing high demand, employees are being asked to increase their workload, at a time when their domestic circumstances have changed significantly and ways of working have also transformed.

Employers need to recognise the pressure this is placing on their workforce and extend their support – not just in connection with their individual roles and responsibilities, but their home life too. In a busy warehouse or distribution centre for example, managers should aim to be more visible than usual, practising ‘walk and talk’ on the shop floor so they can stay in touch with how workers are feeling.

For many businesses in the services sector, where remote working has become the new normal, online coffee and chat sessions hosted on Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Skype for Business can help to increase face time with managers and fellow workers; nurturing a sense of community and strengthening team spirit. Managers must also stay alert to capacity issues and intervene where necessary to ease pressure on individuals.

Checking that workers take regular breaks and have a chance to share their experiences of living through the current crisis, is going to be critical to protect their wellbeing.

This will ensure that the business bounces back with the support of a strong and healthy workforce once things get back to normal.

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Ed Hussey

About Ed Hussey

Ed Hussey is director of people solutions at accountancy firm Menzies LLP
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