The S-Storm Trifecta of 2020 (for HR and Everyone Else)

John Whitaker Change Management, COVID-19, Diversity, Employee Relations, politics, Race

So here we all are, this is really happening. A pandemic response of historic significance, social unrest like we haven’t seen since the 1960’s, and it’s less than six months until we have an election that promises to provide an explosive outcome – no matter who is found to be the victor. That’s one huge matzah ball. If it wasn’t enough to manage yourself, your family and your employees through one of these events, let’s juggle three chainsaws and hope we catch the right end.

When COVID-19 became a reality for US companies, Human Resources was thrust to the forefront of corporate responsibility. Protecting our employees, reinventing the workplace, formulating communication plans, and contingency workforce planning made HR a very sexy occupation. Surely those words have never been linked previously, but for a 3-month time period we were the Heidi Klum of professions.

I hope we all enjoyed it, because Heidi has left the building.

Remember how not too long ago every company was updating us on the great care they were taking with their respective employees and customers? Remember “We’re All In This Together” being the hashtag of the moment? Yeah, that was nice while it lasted. Oh, the irony.

As drastically as our jobs in Human Resources changed in March, 2020, we just took another trip through the looking glass in June, 2020. America is a raw nerve being poked continually by an overzealous “news” industry more concerned with clicks than facts. There are increasingly emotional divisions in views of race, political affiliations, social justice, and criminal justice. To think we can keep these events out of the workplace would be naive at best, so once again HR is as critical, if not more so, than any business function in corporate America. Except this time, it ain’t sexy; it’s potentially dangerous.

So here’s three very simple reminders you need to tape to your computer screen.

  1. Be more visible: People are returning to work; they are (probably) scared, they are (possibly) pissed off, and they are (certainly) unsure of what the rest of this year holds for them personally and professionally. They need to see you more than they need to hear you. Even your virtual workers need your presence to be known visually. Don’t be the emailer, be the human being.
  2. Speaking of Email: Good God, be careful. Now more than ever, written communication could be the end of us all. Scrutinize, proof, draft, and over-think the use of any communication vehicle that doesn’t include your voice. Until we emerge from the “Cancel Culture,” you need to protect yourself from being misunderstood.
  3. Be Like Fonzie: When all around you is chaotic, you need to keep your cool, Cunningham. I think we’re all challenged with separating our personal viewpoints from our professional duties even in the best of times; these are most definitely not the best of times, so that makes the importance of our role as a source of calm even more critical. And while others may have the luxury of opining on current events, you do not.

It’s a mess right now, truly. I pray we can all look back and see how we contributed to the recovery process, however long that may be. Newton taught us that every action results in an equal and opposite reaction, so trust in a return to better times. In the meantime, take care of yourself.

Come back soon Heidi, we miss you.