CHRO: Chief HR Officer, Critical Leadership Role

by Susan Power, Founder & CEO of PowerUp Leadership

There has never been a more critical time for having your best leader in the role of Chief Human Resources Officer.

With COVID-19, the CHRO role has been thrust into the driver’s seat to lead employees in the economic recovery to this crisis. The Chief Human Resources Officer role is critical in leading employee wellness, health and safety, communication, and supporting leaders in employee engagement and business recovery.

The CHRO role is the most senior leader in an organization responsible to advocate for employee interests, while also balancing the employer’s interests, and is the steward of the organization’s most important asset, its people.  The CHRO recommends what employee programs are invested in and the organizational policies for leaves of absence, sickness leave, benefits programs, and remote working.  Across our workplaces, employees have never been more anxious about their health, job security, and financial future than now. Our employers need to help employees feel safe returning to work. Our collective future wellness and the economic prosperity of our children depend on getting this economic engine humming again.

New York has been hardest hit with COVID-19 in North America and the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, says:

“Reopening is both a public health question and an economic question and I’m unwilling to divorce the two. There is no economic answer that that does not attend to public health. … you can’t ask the people of this state or this country to choose between lives lost and dollars gained. … I understand the need to bring back the economy as quickly as possible. I understand people need to work. I also know we need to save lives and we have. One cannot be at the expense of the other.”

The discourse around COVID-19 must equally consider the cost of economic shut down on our children’s future prosperity and our collective mental health.  This is not solely a public health issue, and the dialogue needs to balance out the two.  Otherwise, we will likely see suicides start to sky rocket, and there may be a tipping point where people become too fearful or become too reliant on government pay outs to go back to work, if we are shut in too long.

HR needs to step up and lead, like it has never done before. This will directly impact how well our businesses rebound. Human resources is pivotal to leadership’s response efforts because of its portfolio of responsibilities   Human resources has high influence and decision making authority over the following areas:

  • Layoffs:  The volume of lay-offs over the past four weeks has been astronomical.  In Ontario, alone, there have been over 400,000 job loses just in the month of March with more expected in April and May.  Human resources can support the economic recovery by reducing lay-offs  by tapping into government programs such as the work share program, the supplementary unemployment benefit top-up program, and the government 75% emergency wage subsidy.  To learn more about the different government programs see the Government of Canada’s Economic Response Plan. Employers need to avoid knee jerk reactivity, and keep the long-game in mind when making cost reduction lay-off decisions. The CHRO can remind their Senior Management Team of the high costs of recruitment and on-boarding, and identify all options for reducing labour costs.

Ontario’s Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade said,

But it is incumbent upon us to look ahead and map out a plan that considers life after COVID-19, a plan that will guide us into a future filled with hope, new employment opportunities and steady economic growth.”

  • Employee Communication: daily communication is recommended in a crisis to inform employees of the organization’s financial health, and the actions taken to support customers, employees, and suppliers to stabilize the business.  Each business needs to start communicating its economic recovery plan, ready to execute immediately once our public health restrictions subside. Human resources can provide critical messaging that resonates with employees, however, the CEO is the best sender of the communication. Here are some resources to support HR leaders on employee communication.
  • Health and Safety practices and policies to keep employees safe during COVID-19  are set by human resources.  HR is often responsible to ensure health and safety standards are in place such as disinfecting our workplaces at the right frequency, and setting policies around taking employee temperatures at work, etc.  Expectations need to be clearly communicated to employees about the protocol for staying at home if they have a sick family member with COVID-19. Also, managers need to be instructed to send employees home from work if they show up with COVID-19 symptoms.  Here are some resources to guide employers on health and safety and employer best practices.
  • Concern for Employees Mental Health: human beings are very resilient. However, we are all being seriously tested right now.  Leaders need to step up and increase positive encouragement. The CHRO needs to encourage its leaders to communicate with care and empathy to employees right now, more than ever.  Many employees are home schooling their children and trying to keep up with full-time jobs.  Others are taking on additional risk by showing up in manufacturing environments, while others perform essential services. Recognition, monetarily (if possible) and non-monetarily, to say to our workers, thank-you and we care about your well being is crucial. People are struggling: you can hear it in their voices on the phone, and on video, and leaders may be struggling too.
  • Absence Management and Return to Work: the CHRO needs to recommend to its Senior Management Team its policy around paid sick leave when an employee is absent from work, quarantined for 14 days due to COVID-19. The CHRO leads the organization in setting pandemic policies.  This involves consultation with its benefits provider, and understanding evolving employment standards.  Employers need to be flexible and set policies that optimize our labour pool to keep our businesses operating while also keep our employees safe and well.
  • Employee Wellness: the social isolation and anxiety about health, finance, and our future security is the perfect   petri dish for fostering mental health issues.  The CHRO can lead by getting information in the hands of all employees on what wellness programs are available, and how to reach their Employee Assistance Program.  Many excellent COVID-19 resources on mental health are available online.

This is the time for human resources to step up and lead to protect our employees and accelerate our business recovery.

If your organization does not have a dedicated human resources specialist on staff or needs additional support, reach out and PowerUp Leadership would be pleased to serve that role for you and your team during this critical time.

Learn more about PowerUp Leadership’s Human Resources Advisory support and reach out to book a complementary 30 minute consultation.