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Who knows what’s going on? I blame HR…

When uncertain times are on the horizon, the job of an HR leader gets that little bit more complicated. As the focus on organizational efficiency intensifies, there is a danger that the needs of individuals can be pushed to one side. This perceived dual agenda can hamper relationships and the level of trust between the HR function and the workforce risks taking a nosedive.

For anyone working in HR, if employees don’t think that their personal development is your number one priority anymore, there is a very real challenge to maintain meaningful engagement. In uncertain times, a feeling of “them and us” can easily develop if not properly managed.

Performance discussions turn into chess-like defensive posturing – somehow employees feel that HR are not entirely on their side. HR goes into secret meetings that they can’t talk about, and even line managers aren’t entirely sure what is going on. Gradually, a fog of fear descends, and the HR team are somehow no longer trusted.

We all know you don’t take pleasure in making redundancies, but it is as much a part of your job as handing out bonuses. It doesn’t mean that you care any less – this sort of thing really hurts. Suddenly, HR is perceived as the judge, jury and executioner.

You simply have to try to remind your people why you are there.

Human Resources. These two words are possibly abbreviated a little too often into the snappier title of “HR”, but the second word gives a clue as to the true nature of the HR role. Your responsibility is to squeeze every drop of potential out of the resources at your disposal – encouraging, engaging and motivating people at every turn.

The role of HR in uncertain times is to ensure that your “resources” are able to perform to the best of their ability, no matter what the circumstances.

The role of HR is to help people to face their fears, deal with their problems and engage with the challenges that difficult times produce. You may provide a calming influence, a shoulder to cry on, or a rousing few words of encouragement. When employee backs are against the wall, HR will stand shoulder to shoulder. When everyone is overcome with stress, a coaching-style chat with an HR expert can put everything into perspective.

Just because times are hard, you shouldn’t stop investing in your people.

In a downturn, learning and development needs to change its focus, but it should not be erased from the P&L altogether. Retaining and developing the best people is critical for any business to stay afloat. Lessons from past downturns can come in useful – those companies who “backed” their people through the 2008 recession came out all the stronger the other side. Invest in your people at the bottom, later to reap the rewards at the top.

In uncertain times, the role of HR is crucial. You have every tool at your disposal to steady the ship – the business needs to know it is not in your interests to sink it.

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