The ‘Fluffy’ functions have risen, but is the F-Team here to stay?
If your business has a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire……the F-Team.
So, who are F-Team and where do you find them? Finance, Sales, Operations…….not this time.
Step forward the ‘fluffy’ functions.
You’ve got the Faceman sweet talkers (communications), the BA Baracus enforcers (HR), the ‘howling mad’ Murdoch’s (well-being) and the ‘Hannibal’ Smith motivators (engagement). So where do you find them? Well right now they’re probably found at the heart of every business, performing pivotal roles to steer their organisations through this global crisis. They are wielding an influence, and responsibility, like never before. Perhaps now they’re also getting the recognition they have sometimes lacked as they’re considered functions with a ‘fluffier’ remit. As organisations have to consider what the future world of work could look like, more remote, more agile, it could be that these functions are going to be ever more important from now on.
I’ll start with the HR (or People) function, given it’s the world I inhabit as a specialist in HR search. It’s very apparent that HR Leaders have had to step up like never before – both in complexity of challenge, but also urgency and critical nature of the task in hand. Every HR professional I speak to seems to be bursting at capacity, dare I say beyond it. There is probably little going on in most organisations that doesn’t require People chiefs to be at the forefront as continuity plans are formed and implemented. If one furlough scheme wasn’t enough to deal with, along comes the flex-furlough! The proportion of the UK’s workforce now working from home has surged from c.14% to c. 40%, literally overnight, and HR need to make sure their staff remain not only effective, but healthy. Then looking ahead, how is the workforce going to return and when, and what is work even going to look like when they do?
The list of challenges confronting People teams is growing before our eyes, but so too are their complexities. In many cases, old solutions may not suffice. Matters of the heart as well as the head will need greater attention – you can’t just cast your workforce off to work from home and then expect them to carry on un-aided for example. The psychological contract between employee and employer has grown deeper in some regards, even if they’re physically more distant than ever before. In theory HR is the best equipped to help their organisations rise to these new challenges. It’s an opportunity those in the profession should grab with both hands.
Next is Comms. A function that is no stranger to a crisis, but most organisations haven’t had to deal with such seismic problems as this before! Employees have been looking to their employers for answers and certainty like never before, and given recent research by the communications firm Edelman, it was found that more people trust their employers as a source of information on the Covid crisis than they do the media, or even their respective government. So broadly speaking, comms seems to be doing a sterling job.
But what about the future? It’s clear that when confronting ongoing uncertainty or change, maintaining trust and engagement with the suggested course of action is a tricky thing to master. Let’s use the simple example of the UK Government during this crisis. During the first month of the crisis, the government approval had ranged from c. 60% up to beyond 70% at one point. People seemed to understand what was expected of them, and government messaging was generally clear, and decisive – Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. Fast forward another 6 weeks, and the government’s approval rating has plummeted toward 40%, public compliance is faltering, and in general the credibility of the Government’s statements seems ever more fragile. In short, they’re no longer able to take the people with them. Communication became more muddled, messaging less impactful and decisive (e.g. the switch from Stay Home to Stay Alert), and the style has grown incredibly stale (monotonous daily briefings), not to mention inauthentic (Dominic Cummings). It’s no wonder people have lost interest, or worse lost trust.
Granted, the task to set a positive course for the future, rather than pure crisis management, is arguably trickier, dealing with greater ambiguity, but this probably reflects what businesses will now also be confronted with. Business leaders can’t afford to lose the trust or engagement of their workforce, so comms will be integral.
This leads us to employee engagement. Traditionally this is seen as a matter to be championed by the business leaders, but in practise is normally managed by Comms or HR, if at all. It is clearly an important issue in today’s business world, with many CEO’s listing it as a business priority. I wonder how significantly it’s linked to their bonus calculation however, which to the cynical mind could question how ‘critical’ it has really been viewed? The arguments to spell out the importance of employee engagement are compelling. Gallup research suggested highly engaged teams showed 21% more profitability. Research by HAY Group in 2013 showed that firms that engaged and enabled their employees achieved up to 4.5 times more revenue growth than companies that didn’t. In a world where competitive advantage could be key to survival, let alone the ability to thrive, this is surely too important to only give passive attention to.
If workforces continue to be more physically dispersed, this field will no doubt play a greater role to keep them mentally attached. It may not reach the level of Hannibal Smith, as the mastermind or lynchpin driving success, but perhaps more ‘expertise’ will start infiltrating the ranks of organisations to compel them to do more than just push out a staff survey every year! Until then, HR or Comms can add it to their growing portfolio of tasks!
Which brings us to well-being – but I am compelled to say this really isn’t a field I have any claim to expertise in! However, my impression is that like ‘howling mad’ Murdoch, well-being is often over-looked in its contribution, perhaps even considered a bit of a luxury. This is the first time however I have seen that employers really need to stand up to be counted. If you’re not seen as an employer that cares enough about your workforce to stop them catching a potentially deadly virus, then you really are up the creek, with no ‘Murdoch’ to quickly to fly you to safety.
Mental health has emerged more prominently on the business agenda in recent times, but it will also be fascinating to see how physical health is also now managed, particularly in white collar settings where it’s typically been less of a priority ‘issue’. A survey by YouGov and Engage showed in May that over 50% of UK workers were not comfortable returning to work, which displays the heighted sense people now have for their personal wellbeing. Assuming this health scare may not have a complete resolution any time soon, people will continue to make choices to balance what is a reasonable commitment to their work alongside their well-being, extending beyond just a matter of personal health, but also personal safety. Businesses will have to anticipate that.
As a final note on this point, with an expansion of remote working, and balancing work and life commitments, there is also a clear risk in the spike of those experiencing mental and physical health problems. Isolation does not suit everyone, so could take its toll. Similarly, reports suggest the risk of burnout for home workers could be heightened, with many struggling with the additional burdens of life and work responsibilities, but also struggling to switch off to enable themselves time to rest. Maintaining a physical and mentally healthy workforce will be extremely important to avoid a drop in productivity.
These are all ones to watch, so keep your eyes out for the F-Team!
Here are articles which link to these topics, some of which have provided reference point for this article: