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From ‘I’ to ‘we’: HR vows to embrace contingent workforce

Prior to the pandemic, the trajectory was already leaning towards the “collective” and “teams”, following a previous ten to fifteen years that saw most businesses target their workforce planning around “I” and individual benefits.

“For much of the 2000s, HR directors have been inclined to tailor rewards and benefits packages around individuals in recognition of increased age diversity across the workforce,” explains Deborah Frost, chief executive at Personal Group, a leading provider of traditional and digital employee services, including employee benefits and insurance products.

She adds: “However, this individualised model has failed to take into account the evolving nature of workforce make-ups that have transpired in recent years”.

Frost refers to the “multi-layered onion” of employee levels that now exist, expanding from simply a full-time employee group to also include part-time workers, zero-hour staff, temporary workers, agency staff, the self-employed and the gig economy.

“Many organisations now have a situation where they have a full-time employee receiving all the company benefits and perks, sitting next to a temporary worker, who does all of the same jobs but doesn’t get life cover or sick pay,” she says. “This feels incongruent in today’s environment to seemingly recognise that individuals have different circumstances for work, without remunerating or protecting all those different statuses consistently.”

‘We’re all in this together’

HR’s acknowledgement of the “onion” theory has since been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 and Personal Group has seen first-hand what the effects on employees can be.

Unlike some other insurers, the company has continued to represent its clients and pay out on COVID-19 claims. Such claims have sadly been required at severe ends of the spectrum in regard to policyholders who have died and many more who have been hospitalised.

“Many of our clients fall into the ‘essential workers’ category and comprise agency staff in warehousing and distribution centres or part-time staff in care homes,” says Frost. “I think this reality has hit home for many HR directors who, as part of the ‘we’re all in this together’ ethos, don’t want to leave this contingent workforce out of the equation anymore.”

This exaggerated focus on both mental and physical wellbeing has shown that struggles or challenges often don’t discriminate depending on employment status or background, encouraging HR as an entity not to omit such large swathes of the modern workforce structure either.

“HR, of course, knew these things were important,” says Frost, “but quite often people who struggle with their physical and mental health, especially if they’re not full-time or long-term employees, don’t feel comfortable going to their HR support team with such concerns.

“This virus has exposed how many vulnerable people there are in every sphere, though, and it’s accelerated a whole host of conversations built around providing support systems to all layers and levels.”

Shaping the future of HR

The change in perspective and tack that Personal Group has witnessed, even in these few months, has been drastic and the company is spending a lot of its time guiding businesses towards this new normal.

Current intentions are likely to shape the future of HR and businesses are already requesting assistance to not just address the idea of wellbeing among all staff, but to prioritise and invest tangibly as a result.

“Under the HR strategy of individualisation and ‘I’, benefits would have been offered in the form of free cinema tickets or retail discounts,” Frost concludes. “Now, HR departments have realised that what people really want is security, health, stability and to be covered should challenges arise. And these concerns are universal.

“As the HR mindset shifts back towards one of ‘we’ and of ‘teams’, we urge HR directors to begin their workforce planning now, so they can go on to meet the needs of everyone who represents them, not just full-time employees.”

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