COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change in the way people work globally, but what do these changes mean in terms of employers adjusting their approaches to retaining and recruiting talent? Sibongile Bobo Mngxali, Head: HR at Roche Diagnostics, shares some personal insight into the new reality from an HR leader’s perspective.

A working world in flux

“COVID-19 has seen a dramatic shift in how we work. This is not new news anymore. In fact, our new ways of working have become second nature very quickly. Our focus has changed. We are more concerned about our health and our safety than ever before, and organisations are no longer just our places of employment, we have come to expect them to support us more broadly in areas such as mental health and advice around wellness.

“Most working people have needed to learn new skills from a digital point of view due to remote working. The global community has collectively adapted out of sheer necessity and become comfortable with digital platforms at a rapid rate. We rarely see our customers one-on-one as often as we used to and managers or team leaders are unable to physically connect on a daily basis.

“The very core of management has changed and HR has adopted a more future-focused mindset. With these new ways come new insecurities. Those who are not office based anymore may feel a disconnect, having been removed from the world of collaborative cubicles, water cooler talk and communal printing areas.

“How are they able to be visible to their employers and show their worth and productivity first-hand? To add to the novel stresses during the pandemic, work life balance is difficult to manage as your home is now your workspace and many feel that there is more pressure to prove that they are productive remotely.

“Then, there are those nagging questions employers face: ‘Do we have a right to make vaccines mandatory? What is the humane thing to do? Are we allowed to have our personal stance on the vaccine if it affects others in the workplace?’ In a controversial move, Discovery recently made vaccines mandatory for staff. Will other employers follow suit? And more importantly, should they?

“It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it…”

“One of Dolly Parton’s verses from the movie theme ‘9 to 5’ laments, ‘What a way to make a living. Barely getting by, it’s all taking and no giving…’. In our new reality, that is about to change – or so it should.

“We are moving towards a more employee-focused workspace and inwardly driven leadership. This has been born out of the trust that employers were, quite simply, forced to afford their staff working remotely. And work is never going to be the same. Even if we go back to the office, it is likely to be hybrid and not to the full capacity. The personal, physical connections will not be of the same nature they were before. But human connection and purpose remain vital, and it is up to employers to make this happen for their staff.

Innovation taking the lead

“Companies must be innovative in fostering interpersonal relationships, employee relationship building and continued learning and development. All the tools are at our disposal. We may not be seeing each other face-to-face, but we now have the capacity to facilitate wider-reaching, more meaningful interactions. Learning initiatives are more affordable when everyone does not need to converge in a single location. Snacks don’t need to be provided and facilitators don’t need to print out reams of content when they can simply share their screens.

“Interaction is no longer limited to the confines of a central office. Employees now have opportunities to engage with a far broader cross-section of colleagues, clients and thought leaders from around the globe at the touch of a button, and are able to prove their value without supervisors physically looking over their shoulders. This brings us back to the concept of purpose. These newfound freedoms and possibilities have opened our eyes to a whole new reality, which begins with the question: ‘What value can we offer our employees’?

“Value, purpose and the connection opportunities your organisation offers internally sell your organisation to the talent that you need to attract. By and large, employees are looking for a more flexible working environment that brings value – through work-life balance, learning opportunities, freedom and trust. They are looking for a purpose that gives them a reason to work every day; and they are looking to connect with likeminded people.

How HR connects the dots

“There is no better time to be in HR. We are the partners in the organisation that connect talent to purpose, value and the new age of human connection. Purpose and value speak to people. When your organisation is driven by these, it offers more than just jobs, it offers careers. There is a marked difference between the two. You do a job because you are compelled to do so as a means to an end. A career goes beyond that as it is framed in true purpose. That purpose connects the individual to the organisation on a personal level.

“The Employer value Proposition (EVP) is the new reason to get up for work every morning. It is wrapped in purpose and finished off with a touch of meaningful human connection. It puts the ‘human’ into human resources and has repackaged Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for a new generation. Self-actualisation and purpose for our employees now rest in our hands. We are using muscles that we have never used before and we need to develop them to stay future fit”.

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