The topical study sheds light on pandemic-induced HR policies and practices such as the popularisation of flexible working arrangements.
It brings attention to the challenges HR professionals face as organisations navigate COVID-19.
Conducted in August 2021, the HKIHRM’s topical study “Emerging from the COVID-19 Crisis: HR Policies & Practices” interviewed a total of 150 Institute members and other HR professionals, whose completed questionnaires were factored into the analyses. The topical study’s objectives are to understand current practices and challenges related to remote working arrangements; to explore health and wellness initiatives offered by organisations in response to COVID-19; to find out the approaches adopted by organisations on vaccination; and to understand the challenges facing HR practitioners as organisations emerge from COVID-19.
Flexible working measures
COVID-19 triggered the popularisation of flexible working arrangements, with 98% of the respondents saying they had measures put in place amid the of outbreak of COVID-19. Even though the percentage of respondents putting flexible working arrangements in place declined to 61% when the outbreak subsided in August 2021, the data showed a significant increase compared with pre-COVID times. To cope with the challenges presented by COVID-19, the top flexible working measures introduced by the majority of the respondents were working from home (76%), flexible working hours (51%), and rotating periods of office and home working/split teams (46%) respectively.
Working From Home
Among the responding companies with work from home arrangements, the proportion of workforce working from home at the peak of COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 was recorded at 60%. The proportion of workforce working remotely declined sharply to 17% in August 2021 and only 16% expected the flexible working arrangement to persist in the long term.
Although the measure of working from home has successfully mitigated the risk of exposure to COVID-19, it has had a negative impact on staff engagement. 4 out of 10 responding companies with remote working arrangements conceded that they encountered challenges in staff engagement, thanks to working from home arrangements.
How could we overcome the challenges brought about by remote teams? For the responding companies with workforce working from home, the top three measures to surmount these challenges were organising regular meetings/check-ins (55%), setting clear deadlines (44%), and equipping staff with suitable technology and tools (40%) respectively.
Health and Wellness Practices
Despite the eagerness to provide wellness programmes to enhance employees’ health and wellness, 57% of most of the respondents agreed that a limited budget was one of the biggest obstacles, followed by motivating staff to participate (53%) and measuring effectiveness and impact (47%).
Among the majority of the responding companies, 58% expressed that they had no intention to change the spending on employee wellness in 2022, while 35% planned to significantly or moderately increase the spending, starkly contrasting with companies which forecasted significant or moderate decreases in corresponding expenses in 2022 (7%).
Almost all the responding companies did not implement mandatory vaccination policy (97%). Among these companies, 78% concurred that employees should be free to choose whether or not to get vaccinated. Respondents also demonstrated their understanding of employees’ concerns with vaccine safety (37%) and potential liability in case of severe reaction after vaccination (33%).
More than a half of the employers responding to the question have provided incentives to encourage vaccination among their employees. The top three incentives provided by the employers to encourage vaccination were additional paid vaccine leave (91%), pre-vaccination health check subsidy (16%), and lucky draw for vaccinated employees (15%).
According to the majority of the responding companies, the top three managerial competencies for HR professionals to manage hybrid workforce were communication skills (51%), adaptability/flexibility (31%), and collaboration skills (28%). These are aligned with the top three challenges emerging from COVID-19, suggesting that going forward, the HR function can lead their staff in navigating the next normal by offering various communication channels for employees’ concerns to be addressed and creating a flexible environment for them to succeed at work.
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