Agility under pressure – HR during a crisis

As HR professionals we are used to working in a changing environment, responding to new legislation, case law changes, developments in best practice, new theories and HR trends.

We are used to having to keep our knowledge and expertise up to date, and to ensuring we can advise managers and business owners of the impact of wider developments on their businesses, and guide them in their people management activities in such a way as to bring out the best in their people, deal with challenges appropriately and minimise legal risk.

All of this requires research, discussion and debate, drafting and amending policies, letters and other documents.

I hesitate to use the word ‘unprecedented’ as it is being bandied about all over the place at present, but it’s certainly accurate when it comes to the activities of HR people all over the country at the moment.

Normally when there is a new piece of legislation, it is discussed and debated by Government committees, stakeholder groups are consulted, proposals are drafted, changed, and eventually go through the parliamentary process. HR professionals can and do follow this discussion and have a very good idea of what the end result will be far in advance. Even in circumstances where the final details aren’t confirmed until just before the implementation date, there is plenty of time to develop and then finalise new policies, guidance notes and any other documents required.

When there is a piece of case law that has an impact on how things are done, or on employment obligations, although a ruling is immediately relevant, even then, significant cases often go through multiple appeals, or at least one, giving HR people a head-start in terms of planning changes, and the chances of a similar situation arising immediately are usually fairly low.

But over the past couple of weeks HR professionals have had to be agile like never before. We have had a single external event happen that has in itself had a huge impact on the practicalities of people management, with no warning (or no real indication as to the extent of it). We have had new Government initiatives, changes to current legislation, major decisions being made, daily changes in rulings on how life must be conducted, all happen at lightning speed.

We have had a constant stream of queries from managers, business owners and employees alike, who have all never been through anything like this and need guidance. Legal changes are being notified very speedily, because that is needed, but this means there is lots of detail missing at first, meaning a huge volume of ‘what-ifs’.

All will become clear in time but the problem is employers need to act on these things right now, because the situation these rulings are designed to address is happening to their business right now. We can’t wait to see what the exact details of the furlough scheme will be before enacting it, because businesses are collapsing right now and need the lifeline, and so do employees. So we have to do it now and where necessary, tidy it up later.

We have never drafted letters, guidance notes, FAQs and advice so quickly in our lives. When we do, sometimes it is out of date the next day, but we continue because of the hunger for guidance and information.

Many HR professionals are utterly exhausted. Some are unwell. Some are concerned about losing their jobs, and some already have. But HR as a profession is standing strong, and proving agile, capable and resilient.

I am immensely proud of all the HR professionals I have the privilege and pleasure to work with or know, and the ones I don’t as well.


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