How has the pandemic affected the work and priorities of the HR function and what is the function’s future and focus as we (hopefully) emerge from it in 2022? Reviewing a range of research sources, survey findings and employer experiences, Duncan Brown looks in this three-part article:

-first, at the phases of the functions’ generally positive response to the pandemic and the opportunities this now presents; then

-second, at the seven strategic trends and priorities for HR in 2022 and beyond, to take advantage of these opportunities; and

- finally in Part 3 at the implications for the roles and structuring of the HR function itself.

Part 1: The past: a three-phased and positive response to Covid-19

We can be a little ‘Eyeorish’ and overly-pessimistic in HR at times, prone to engage in excessive navel-gazing. It was a charge levelled at us perhaps most damningly by Peter Drucker almost 70 years ago who claimed our ‘constant worry is the inability to prove they are making a contribution to the enterprise, their preoccupation is the search for a ‘gimmick’ that will impress their management colleagues’.

Now, as we professionally and personally try to come to terms with a pandemic which is still very much with us, has already cost us more lives than World War 2 and caused probably the biggest ever retraction in the global economy in the modern era, we can be forgiven perhaps for some of that pessimism and introspection.

Yet the general consensus, from research commentators to CEOs, appears (perhaps surprisingly) to be that HR has had a relatively good last two year; that is, the scale and value of the function and its contribution is much better appreciated than when we first received news of the initial lockdown in early Spring 2020. As Jacinda Ardern, perhaps the most respected and effective political leader over that period, emphasises, Covid has demonstrated both our common human vulnerability and the importance of our collective and compassionate actions and management to address it.

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