Managing Human Resources in the Post-Covid Business Climate

In the Post Pandemic Business Climate, Should HR Take a More Strategic Role?

Managing human resources has been a key focus for Britain’s businesses in the pandemic. This period has seen HR people play a central role. Furthermore, they’ve had a lot to do, managing COVID compliance, interpreting furlough guidance, and handling redundancies. In addition, in the lockdowns HR functions have also helped keep remote-working employees engaged, productive, and resilient.

HR manager talking to colleague
Managing Human resources within and after the pandemic can be a challenge

Where Should Decision Making About Human Resources Sit in the Business?

This article looks at the different ideas circulating about this important question. What’s the ideal relationship between leadership and HR? Then, we look at HR departments’ work and what makes a good HR professional. Finally, we also consider how you can make a career in HR and recommend some helpful resources.

What do We Mean by Managing Human Resources?

There are two common interpretations to consider. In the narrow sense, “managing human resources” refers to HR departments’ traditional administrative actions.

The wider meaning sees managing human resources as the bigger process of organisations getting the best from employees.

People sometimes refer to employees as human capital and talk of human capital management (HCM). In this context, HCM is owned by all the business leaders and resides with everyone in the organisation.

So, this brings us back to HR and leadership working together in the recovery for maximum synergy.  Leadership needs to be actively involved in developing talent. Otherwise, businesses may not nurture the leaders they need

So What’s the Best Definition?

One helpful summation is, “Human Resources Management is the practice of recruiting, hiring, deploying and managing an organisation’s employees.” HR involves effectively managing the people in an organisation. And it puts the emphasis on viewing individuals as assets of the business. Subsequently, management and HR share the responsibility.

Why Does Managing Human Resources Matter?

HR management in this wider sense helps bridge the gap between businesses’ strategic objectives and employees’ performance. In a changing business climate, organisations must adapt to be successful. Managing human resources also plays a key role in creating a success culture.

Understanding the Human Resources Dilemma

Getting to grips with this subject means going back to the start. 

Where Does the Term Human Resources Come From?

The first person to mention “Human resource” was the economist John R. Commons, in his 1893 book “The Distribution of Wealth.” From the 1910s to the 1930s business writers used the term to convey the idea that human beings had worth. And this was at a time when many businesses regarded labour as a disposable commodity.

By the 1950s, “human resources” had taken on its present meaning, a means to an end for employers.  The first academic to use it in this sense was the economist E. Wight Bakke, in a 1958 report.

What are the Traditional Roles of HR Management?

The traditional view of an HR manager’s responsibilities is that they fall into three major areas:

  • Staffing
  • Employee compensation and benefits
  • Defining/designing work

This view sees HR’s purpose being to maximise an organisation’s productivity by optimising employees’ effectiveness.

Our idea of human resources developed in the 1960s, when HR people focused on admin tasks. And these tasks are still important. However, today’s HR specialists are also expected to contribute to the organisation’s strategic management and organisational development.

Strategic HRM Explained

Strategic human resource management (SHRM) provides a framework linking people management and development to long-term business goals. This definition is from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Also, SHRM informs other HR strategies, including reward or performance, determining how they integrate into the business’s overall plans.

And What are the New Roles of the HR Professional?

Dr. Dave Ulrich at the University of Michigan identifies three new roles for HR. Each involves helping the leadership steer the business:

Strategic partner: Contributing to the development and accomplishment of the business plan.

Employee advocate: Playing an integral role in the organisation’s success through their knowledge about, and advocacy of, their people.

Change champion:  Helping implement change strategies which minimise employee dissatisfaction and resistance.

As we’ve seen with resilient organisations in the pandemic, HR plays a dual role in change management. First, it can initiate and lead change. In addition, it can also serve as a facilitator for changes that other departments initiate. In both scenarios, HR is involved with communicating, implementing, and tracking the changes.

This brings us back to the idea of human capital and the need for leadership to work closely with HR.

It’s Beyond My Pay Grade

Businessman handing over wage to colleague
HR manager can be a broad term that involves different tasks and roles

HR people can have various different job titles. Let’s look at the HR manager’s job.

What are the Roles of an HR Manager? 

  • Plan, direct and coordinate an organisation’s administrative functions.
  • Oversee the recruiting, interviewing and hiring of new staff.
  • Consult with top executives on strategic planning.
  • Serve as a link between an organisation’s management and employees.

HR managers deliver people-related processes, vision, and strategy across the company, aligned with the law. They also support other colleagues in resolving challenging issues related to the employment and dismissal of staff.

Depending on the organisation’s size, this role can carry the title of HR director. Typically HR directors do more of the strategic and link work. Therefore, they leave the day to do admin and overseeing to the HR manager. So, if your title is HR manager but you’ve got HR Director’s responsibilities, make sure your salary reflects it!

The Functions of HR Seem Quite Fluid

Different writers break out the functions of HR in different ways, but cover the same ground. Similar to other business thinking, you need to pick and mix the learnings to suit.

What are the 5 Main Areas of HR?

The Lumen Learning website sees human resource activities falling under five core functions:

  • Staffing
  • Development
  • Compensation
  • Safety and health
  • Employee and labour relations

What are the 7 Major HR Activities?

The HR tech site lists seven “Human Resource Management basics” it reckons every HR professional should know about:

  • Recruitment and selection
  • Performance management
  • Learning and development
  • Succession planning
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS)
  • HR data and analytics

HR people need to know about succession planning and information-based forecasting, in the form of HRIS and analytics. This supports the idea that people who manage human resources should play a wider role in business decision making.

HR analytics enable businesses to use past performance to make predictions about future requirements and likely results. Moreover, this is especially important for global businesses involved with International Human Resources Management, or IHRM.

How is IHRM Different to ‘National’ HRM?

International HRM involves the interplay of HR activities, different cultures and different countries’ employment regulations. However, the benefits of human resources management are consistent, whether you operate in one country or more.

What are the Benefits of HR to an Organisation?

sticker with the inscription Benefits hangs with a clothespin on a rope
HR can provide many benefits for both employees and organisations

These are some consistent, recognised benefits:

  • Selective hiring: finding the right people.
  • Self-managed and effective teams.
  • Fair and performance based compensation.
  • Training in relevant skills.
  • Creating a flat and egalitarian organisation.
  • Making information easily accessible to those who need it.
  • Providing security to employees.

Reach Out, We’ll be There

Providing security to employees is an important part of HR’s work, including in times of stress.

How Does HR Support Employees?

  • Providing career growth
  • Offering continuing education
  • Training and supporting managers
  • Supporting health and wellness

Employees need to be able to feel comfortable reaching out to their HR department. So, here are some instances when they might wish to do so:

  • Experiencing harassment or discrimination from colleagues, including their line manager
  • Having questions about benefits
  • When their personal circumstances change
  • Having questions about advancing in the company
  • Needing an objective listener to go through a work-related issue
  • Mental health and wellbeing issues

Another time HR supports employees is when businesses change.

How does HR support people during change?

HR supports employees in order to facilitate changes being completed successfully:

  • Being an advocate for employees during change
  • Providing vital answers to clear up confusion
  • Ensuring employee training is adequate to support the project goal

A sure sign your HR management is effective is when employees are comfortable at work:

  • People fit the company culture.
  • They are happier, stay longer and are more productive.
  • People are engaged.
  • They deliver higher quality work and make customers happier.

Sometimes You Need to Tough it out                                                                              

Businesses have opposing views of human nature and managerial control strategies. Ultimately, they are set up to make money. Therefore, business leaders can take changing positions on their human resources management approach as conditions demand. This is especially so in smaller businesses.

Soft HRM Versus Hard HRM

The soft HRM model is based on control through commitment. Motivation and engagement are the key. By contrast, hard HRM involves tight strategic control and discipline, seeing people as economic commodities. This is particularly true in gig economy businesses.

What Effect has the Gig Economy Had on HRM?

In the gig economy, people work for businesses without traditional contracts. Independent contractors, contract workers, on-call workers, and temp agency workers are all part of this growing workforce. Meaning, they are paid for the job they do, and no more. However, the argument runs that this business model is not sustainable. To optimise workers’ performance, they should be seen as human resources and valued. Therefore, it will be interesting to see how this sector develops.

There Must be Apps for all this

There is plenty of HR software on the market to manage HR, business processes and data.

The generic term for these is human resources information systems, or HRIS.

Close up of phone screen showing apps
There is much HR software on offer

What do HRIS Systems do?

HRIS systems enable data entry and tracking and management for HR, payroll, and accounting. They help HR teams work efficiently, productively, and accurately. Keeping secure records and automating basic processes. Then, HRIS frees up HR people for more interesting activities.

Can you Give me Some Examples? 

  • Applicant tracking systems (ATS) help the hiring process.
  • Benefits administration software manages employee benefits.
  • Payroll management tools for compensation management.
  • Tools to manage talent or manage employees.
  • Workflow, scheduling or resourcing tools.
  • Time and attendance data.
  • Human capital management (HCM).

What’s the Difference Between HRIS and HCM?

HRIS (or HRM) software covers the core HR needs of small and midsized businesses. By contrast, HCM solutions cover a wider range of functions across the entire employee lifecycle. They support the global compliance and international payroll needs of large businesses

The term ‘human capital’ relates back to responsibility for managing human resources being shared across the business.

So you Want to be an HR Star

Is HR a Stable Career?

Definitely! Careers in HR offer challenges, promotion, and plenty of prospects. Additionally, HR offers a wealth of opportunities in every business sector. Therefore, it is a competitive industry and, as we’ve been saying, forms an integral part of any successful organisation.

To build a career in HR, you must develop a specific set of skills.

What Skills are Required for HR?

Successful HR professionals need these attributes:

  1. Communications skills.
  2. Admin experience.
  3. HRM knowledge and expertise.
  4. Proactive personality.
  5. Advisory skills.
  6. Coaching ability.
  7. Knowledge of recruitment and selection methods.
  8. Familiarity with HR Information Systems (HRIS).
  9. Intercultural sensitivity and language skills.
  10. Be analytically driven and oriented.
  11. HR reporting skills.
  12. A team player.

You can develop these skills through training.

What HR Courses are There?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) offers qualifications and training for HR and learning and developments. Additionally, various UK colleges and universities also offer HR courses.

What Exams do you Need to be an HR manager?

You don’t need a set degree or post GCSE qualifications to become an HR manager. However, the CIPD website says being educated to degree level is desirable. Also, a CIPD qualification is expected.

Student in library studying for exam
Whilst no exams are required, achieving a certain level on CIPD is ideal

What CIPD HR Qualifications are There?

  • CIPD Level 3 Certificate in People Practice
  • Level 5 Associate Diploma in People Management
  • Level 7 Advanced Diploma in Strategic People Management

The CIPD says graduates with a level 7 qualification will be in the highest demand. Equally, an MBA in human resource management is an alternative. Some employers also welcome a BTEC, HNC, or HND in HRM. Also, you should have three to five years’ proven HR experience.

And Finally… How to Get Started in HR

There are plenty of resources to help you take the first steps.

Is There a Beginner’s Course?

There is. And better still, it’s free. The Oxford Home Study College offers an exclusive entry-level HR course. Providing an overview of the basics of HR and the role of the HR manager, the course is ideal for both existing HR workers and newbies.

What About Books?

Google Books calls A Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice by Michael Armstrong “a classic text for all students studying HRM.” Michael Armstrong has also written various other handbooks on management topics.

Another option is Managing Human Resources by Scott Snell, Shad Morris, George W. Bohlander, and Arthur W. Sherman. It’s now in its 18th edition.

To end on, here are 7 signs that HR could be the perfect career for you.

Regina Duffey Moravek has produced this checklist of qualities that could make you cut out for a career managing human resources. 

  1. Fascinated by what makes people tick
  2. Able to strategise with the best
  3. Interested to know what makes businesses succeed – or fail
  4. Not afraid of sticky situations
  5. Approachable
  6. Know how to influence people
  7. A master of tact

Sounds like your kind of thing? Good job!

If you’ve found this article helpful, please share it. Everyone needs a hand progressing their career -and we’ll always need HR experts.

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