2020 – the year that most HR professionals will say tested them above all others.

“Adapting to new working practices has been a challenge common to almost every employer in 2020. It is however, something that their employees have all experienced on a very individual level” identified Business Psychologist, Graham Mitchell.

As a community, we have witnessed responsive and impactful initiatives from People leaders that are remarkable.

Here 3 exceptional HR Leads who have made a substantial difference, share some of the strategies they deployed to offer significant support to their business.  Not all cost money, so read how you could make a difference.

Mental wellbeing 

Working from home over an extended period, business pressures, home educating children, health worries, uncertainties, changing government guidance, it is no wonder that a significant increase in mental health is predicted over the next 2 years.

While many are experiencing stress, loneliness and anxiety, it is anticipated that at least half a million more people in UK may experience mental ill health as a result of Covid-19, anticipates the Centre for Mental Health.

Paul Southgate, Head of People and Performance at MyBudget recognised his 300 colleagues in Australia, Sri Lanka, The Philippines and the UK were presented with both positive change and new challenges from the pandemic. “The role of a People leader has evolved at a rapid pace in 2020.  Understanding and being able to support employees with mental health is now a critical part of the role both in terms of individual catch ups and companywide initiatives”.

Paul enabled all staff unlimited access to their Employee Assistance Programme, offering professional face-to-face counselling, telephone support, live web chat support and a vast online library of health and wellbeing resources.

A similar approach was taken by Simon Masters, Director of People and Talent at Shieldpay who moved to a wellbeing provider on the basis of their leading mental health cover, and removed the excess to encourage utilisation.

Simon also rolled out a mental health day, enabling colleagues to (without notice) take a day once a month, as “you can’t schedule mental health”.

Uncertainty and insecurity being two damaging feelings, Paul allocated ‘Wellness’ time in his calendar for any staff to have access to speak to him directly about their role security, company plans, or personal mental wellbeing.

Communication – Zoom quizzes? “That’s so April 2020”

We live surrounded by connectivity. We work on computers or tablets, with work chats, emails, video meetings, conference calls and direct messages always on, just one click away.

A sad side effect of our hyper connected world is the blurred lines between working hours and personal hours. The Covid-19 pandemic only intensified this phenomenon.

Kate James, VP People at Curve recognised the need to adapt communication but also ensure transparency internally. “We have empowered employees in key decision-making activities, creating psychologically safe environments to work in and give as much certainty as possible, as well as taking time to celebrate the wins”. Kate set in place ‘rituals’ for her team to enable deliberate communication – some work focused, some social.

Similarly, Simon recognised that the repeated delivery of key messages (the need to reinforce them) was important. Additionally, the use of a weekly Pulse survey (with free text) enabled the leadership at Shieldpay to understand the feeling of the whole team and respond, as necessary.

MyBudget, introduced the use of Facebook’s Workplace, enabling their founder Tammy Barton, to upload company news videos frequently. The platform is also being used to praise openly and various groups have been set up to connect internal communities interested in books, podcasts, exercise, spirituality, and beer!

Sharing good news and recognising great work has long been a practice at expand. In fact, we share a percentage of company profit based on those who receive the most recognition for demonstrating our values. During 2020 regular ‘shout outs’ have been ever more valuable in allowing us to share positivity amongst the team.

At Shieldpay, a similar monthly mechanism allows Peter Janes, the CEO to share and recognise the great work of those nominated by peers.

Time  – A scarce resource

“Working from home has given our employees an extra degree of autonomy to prioritise tasks in the way that suits them best. Positives we saw immediately were a significant drop in unplanned absences and no commuting has given our employees more time in their day to focus on tasks.

Whilst working from home offers benefits, once the excitement of not having to leave your house to work fades, it’s clear that people get virtual meeting fatigue and loneliness can impact peoples’ mental health if the right support measures are not in place” said Paul Southgate.

expand launched flexible working and unlimited holiday in 2016, the expand team have consistently voted this our number 1 employee benefit. Projects in different time zones, demands of family life and the ambition to be the best at what we do, has often seen the team adopt a flexible work pattern.

This year Shieldpay has moved to Unlimited holiday, but with a requirement for the team to take at least a minimum amount of leave each year to maintain a healthy culture.

Learning and development

At MyBudget, a positive has been the upsurge in employees requesting training and new qualifications in 2020. With 26 people now studying virtually for a qualification – a result of people having more time in their day to focus on what is important to them.

Paul has been able to drive the learning and coaching opportunities in the business through their mentor program, leadership development program, lunch and learns and securing large scale funding from the South Australian Government.

While at Shieldpay the opportunity to create a culture of internal mobility has emerged. During lockdown skills were identified in individuals that were previously not known and this has created the opportunity to develop people’s careers.

At Curve, Kate has enabled a range of additional supplementary employee benefits such as an unlimited book policy and enhanced learning budgets. Demonstrating enormous drive, Kate completed her CIPD qualification this year, working full time in a start-up environment, as a mother, in a covid challenged environment.

The future

Graham shares his thoughts; “As we head towards 2021 the key may well be sustainability. The working environment provides people with access to so many vital wellbeing ‘nutrients’ – structure and purpose, contribution and achievement, community and social interaction to name but a few. Firms have worked tirelessly and innovatively to provide remote and virtual alternatives, to protect the wellbeing of their people, and through that, their businesses.

So many positive practices have emerged as a result, that will become organisational mainstays moving forward, but it is an on-going challenge, and one that it appears may be with us for a few months yet”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health is increasing. The need for employers to fill the gap is real but as Simon Masters said; “small ingredients can have a big impact in a business”.

Recent figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that 67% of more than 24,500 British businesses surveyed, said they do not intend to keep homeworking as a permanent business model in the future.

  • Will a balance of office and home working be the answer?
  • Will reliance on Employer Assistant programmes become the norm?
  • Will the way business’ deliver learning and development need to change?

We would love to hear your thoughts.  Contact us here info@expandexecutivesearch.com