The impact of the coronavirus crisis on HR

The past year was an unusual year for everyone because of the prevailing pandemic. Amidst uncertain times, many people were faced with the challenge of setting the right priorities. How big was the impact of Covid-19 on the functioning of HR? Via our online HR Barometer survey, a total of 363,631 employees in 104 organisations in Belgium shared their experiences with Hudson & Vlerick this year.

Ellen Volckaert

Shifting priorities

It is not entirely surprising that the remarkable year of 2020 brought about quite a few shifts in the HR priority list compared to the more stable years before. The health crisis pushed three priorities to the top of the agenda that did not rank so high before the crisis: well-being, new ways of working and digital transformation. However, this does not mean that the earlier top priorities, such as leadership development and learning & development, have lost their importance. On the contrary, these domains are reasonably stable and continue to be important areas of strength. 

What this mostly means is that, in 2021, HR will be juggling more tasks simultaneously. After all, other HR domains have also gained in priority. Consider aspects such as teamwork, performance management and HR operational excellence, all of which - thanks to better control - have developed into strengths.

Continuing focus on growth

Preparing the organisation for growth has dropped on the list of priorities but, like selection & recruitment, it remains important. Retention and employer branding are also less high on the agenda. This is remarkable, since employer branding had still been among the top-five priorities in the previous HR Barometer.

It is also notable that, even in these times of crisis, preparing the organisation for stagnation or downsizing has remained extremely low on the list of priorities. This shows that HR managers still have a strong belief in the future and the further development of their organisation.

Room for improvement

Nevertheless, we can indicate a number of areas of improvement. The HR practices which are assigned high priority but for which organisations feel they have less expertise are, for example, digital transformation and agility. Companies also do not yet feel fully prepared for strategic workforce planning. Organisations realise all too well how important it is to keep up with digital evolutions and work in an agile manner.

Impact of Covid-19

Obviously, Covid-19 and all the related measures have had a significant impact this year. The health crisis has created new challenges for HR Departments: particularly in the areas of well-being, relationships, teleworking and communication. To manage this, HR Departments have not only become more strategic and/or more focused on operational aspects, but also more digital. Overall, the number of non-coronavirus-related challenges remained limited.

We can conclude that Covid-19 has increased the scope of HR tasks and responsibilities. More HR domains have become priorities, the HR Department has become more important and gained in impact under the impetus of the pandemic.

What will the future look like?

HR managers expect that they will once again be able to focus on leadership development and talent management during the coming year. But new ways of working, well-being and digital transformation will remain on the list of priorities. Not just for the next year, but probably well beyond that.

About the HR Barometer

The HR Barometer 2021 was developed in cooperation with Vlerick Business School. This online survey is conducted among the HR managers of the largest Belgian companies. A total of 104 organisations participated in the study, where these companies together represented over 363,631 employees. The survey was conducted by Ellen Volckaert (Hudson) and Professor Dirk Buyens (Vlerick).

More information?

Download the complete results of the HR Barometer 2021 (available in Dutch).

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