Developing workforce resilience in the face of ever-changing risk

Published on Wed, 11/08/2021 - 10:46

By Dr Mark Parrish, Regional Medical Director at International SOS

Many businesses are facing challenges left and right, as the coronavirus pandemic has triggered a number of global trends which have increased the level of risk faced by employees.

Data from International SOS’ Risk Outlook 2021 research highlights this. The findings, from security and medical risk experts, indicate that global workforces are now facing a risk level which is as its highest point since 2016, when terror attacks had become a heightened concern.

In response to these challenges, businesses should carefully assess the range of risks which may impact their employees to protect their people and their business. It is not enough for organisations to sit back and hope for the best.

The pandemic has brought this to the fore, with its rapid spread causing disruption for every section of society and the economy. A proactive strategy for mitigating risk is vital – one which prioritises the needs of employees and provides the necessary support for a more resilient workforce.

Empowering HR teams as an integral part of this process has become a key aspect for many businesses, as these teams are attuned to the needs of employees and can help in communicating and implementing the necessary activities in the workforce.

We’ve observed that HR personnel have worked more closely with risk professionals over the past year, as they’ve contributed their understanding of the workforce to help their organisations assess and put in place proactive risk strategies, alongside robust business continuity planning. For instance, HR teams have become increasingly involved in championing the medical needs of employees, often working more directly with their health advisors and/or a chief health officer (CHO) in organisations large enough to have a dedicated medical expert on the C-suite team.

Additionally, HR professionals have also gained more of a prominent role in directly supporting crisis management teams. Our recent European Trends Watch survey demonstrates this clearly – 79% of relevant experts believe that HR teams now have a vital role when it comes to crisis management. This move has often been a necessary one, as COVID-19 has made crisis management a more democratic process within organisations.

Employees from lots of different roles are now contributing to crisis management plans, as a result of the wide-reaching nature of the pandemic. HR teams are particularly well placed to promote wellbeing, encompassing physical and mental health of employees in this context, as they have directly observed the ways in which the coronavirus crisis has affected employees.

In the field of crisis management and beyond, close collaboration between HR and risk management personnel will be key. Organisations should work to cultivate a close relationship between these two functions and strive to ensure that siloed systems don’t develop.

The challenges HR and risk management employees face moving forward are certainly not isolated, but rather often significantly overlap. Accounting for this and bringing these vital organisational functions together will allow businesses to build a truly effective people strategy and best uphold their Duty of Care responsibilities.

One aspect where this collaboration will be particularly important comes with the return to the office, as businesses across the UK, and indeed around the world, are currently undergoing this process. It is crucially important that this process is managed carefully to protect employees and reduce their risk exposure. This is something which we’ve been advising our clients on, working with them to initiate measures such as taskforce groups, which hold responsibility for managing this procedure. These groups provide a robust forum for bringing in personnel from different departments to form a collaborative and holistic working strategy.

Businesses and these taskforces should be particularly mindful of the following points:

  • The physical space – this should include gauging how employees feel about their return to a communal environment and specific concerns, in alignment with governmental / health authority rules and guidelines.
  • Mental wellbeing – some employees may feel extremely anxious about returning to the office and it’s important to take steps to ensure that they are supported and feel confident of a safe environment.
  • Returning to travel – for some sectors, the return to the ‘office’ may not mean one central location but rather returning to travelling and flying between offices around the globe. Organisations must consider the diverse needs of domestic workers, business travellers and assignees, as each are exposed to varying types and levels of risk, dependent on their mode of work as well as individual profile.

Accounting for these issues will be necessary for businesses moving forward. They must actively look to make the return to the ‘office’ as smooth a process as possible. A similar attitude also needs to be adopted when it comes to adapting to hybrid work models, which many experts are predicting will become the norm for a vast number of companies.

With employees working together both in the office and remotely from home, businesses must effectively deal with two connected yet unique risk outlooks, and, of course, a wider level of responsibility reaching into the personal space of employees.

Many of the same issues will be relevant – most prominently mental health concerns and health and safety issues – for both working situations, but some risks may be significantly more prevalent in one location than the other. Businesses must appreciate this nuance, devising a strategy and adhering to Duty of Care obligations in the varied working environments that employees will be operating in.

Looking forward, it will be businesses that take a proactive approach to enhancing workforce resilience that truly thrive in 2021 and beyond. This is not a one-off process but one that needs to be managed, tested regularly and adjusted to mitigate known and emerging risks. It also needs to be agile enough to respond appropriately to unexpected risks.

The pandemic has exacerbated and created a number of risks, which need to be effectively mitigated if long term continuity is to be ensured. Placing employee wellbeing and safety at the heart of a comprehensive strategy will be crucial, as the risks faced by employees will have a significant impact on business performance and resilience generally if not managed appropriately.