The year of challenges and opportunities


Last Updated on Friday, 18 December, 2020 at 1:45 pm by Andre Camilleri

Employer-employee relations were put to the test this year, but HR professionals stepped up to work things out. Dayna Camilleri Clarke caught up with Misco director JOANNE BONDIN who shares the latest trends and developments in HR after months of commotion.

How will HR professionals remember this year?

It was a rollercoaster year! The pandemic forced an abrupt and radical change in the way people work so one of the major challenges for HR professionals was keeping employees engaged while dealing with all the uncertainty around them. People management was a constant balancing act, professionals had to repeatedly adapt and re-adapt to a volatile scenario.

This year also allowed professionals to show empathy and manage work interactions at a more human level. Indeed, one main responsibility was keeping employees and their families safe while also balancing work commitments

The uncertainty must have shifted the priorities for HR departments…

Absolutely. Our data shows that HR professionals this year were squarely focused on staff motivation, development and retention. They had a crucial job in empowering employees who found themselves in a new system of working.

How did the pandemic affect employees in general?

Through our constant interaction with HR professionals we have observed that employees have experienced challenges in adapting to working from home or altered work patterns particularly because the divide between work and home has become more blurred.

Companies reported increased investment by HR teams in the mental wellness of employees. The business environment was tough for most sectors, especially in the first months after the outbreak and companies had to quickly revisit their approaches to organisational communications to engage employees without hindering day-to-day operations.

How successful were they in achieving this balance?

Many companies exceeded their own expectations and reported strong employee engagement, but the experience was not smooth across the board. Issues of trust between employers and employees arose frequently as different management teams responded differently to the unfolding situation – from installing fully-fledged monitoring systems to implementing company-wide remote working initiatives.

Did employers adapt fast enough to the change?

It was unfamiliar territory for employers too and most companies were adjusting as the situation developed. Some employers are still adjusting to the day’s situation as it arises. Those companies that had invested in creating robust bonds with their employees before the pandemic and those which have a strong employer brand were able to reap the benefits as employees felt that they had to pitch in to help the company get through the storm collectively.

Interestingly, three-fourths of HR professionals said they have invested in communicating their employer brand in the last months. On the other hand, one in two professionals still does not consider becoming an employer of choice as a long-term strategic objective.

What was the impact on recruitment?

Employers had to rethink workforce planning and companies are still cautious about the future. Until last year, recruitment was more ambitious and forward-looking. The pandemic was an opportunity for companies to strengthen their internal teams and retrain employees where necessary.

The greatest challenge for recruitment was the lack of experienced applicants and HR professionals had the hardest time finding the right candidates for jobs in technical roles such as engineers and technicians. The biggest drop in vacancies, on the other hand, was observed in support functions like administration and finance.

How are companies addressing this situation?

Companies this year offered more training opportunities than usual and the rate of online learning, unsurprisingly, jumped by more than double from previous years. We expect this share to decrease slightly, but many companies will surely retain their e-learning programmes in the coming years.

While the methods have changed, most training initiatives are still driven by management priorities not by employees or training needs analysis. Engagement strategies should ideally lead employees to identify their own needs and demand training for themselves.

Is employee engagement working at all?

Our findings indicate that it is. Staff turnover from voluntary resignation stood at 69% this year, markedly lower from previous studies. Last year, for example, voluntary resignations amounted to 82% of employee resignations.

At the same time, fewer employers actually measured employee engagement levels this year than they did last year, despite the higher need to measure this important element that allows companies to gain insight on how employees are feeling about working with a company.

All in all, it has been quite a year for all of us. All the Maltese workforce has been faced with challenges that has pushed everyone to adapt and transform as the pandemic evolved. I would encourage companies to invest in developing employer branding strategies and also look out for employee wellness at their workplace. We have all had to take the leap and maybe even try new things that we never thought we would do before. These changes will have an effect on the working world of tomorrow and I cannot wait to see it unfold.

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