CEO’s Letter: 2020 and the Path Back to “Human” Resources

By Elliot H. Clark

It has been quite a year. So many issues have pressed in on the walls of the HR executive suite that it would be redundant to revisit all of them again. At the virtual HRO Today Forum North America, I asked a group of panelists about all of the changes that occurred this year. The conversation drifted over several topics, including increased flexibility through remote work, reliance on technology, and use of data science and chatbots to cope with recruiting.

All were excellent points, but at the end, something occurred to me that I had not thought much about until that moment. It grew from my review of our 2019 event. I hope that one of the positives to come from 2020 is that we all appreciate each other as people more that we did last year.

No one ended 2019 thinking what we need in 2020 is more “social isolation.” No one put on their New Year’s resolution lists that they want to spend more time staring at screens. No one planned to spend less time with family or hesitate to hug relatives or friends with whom they do not cohabitate. No one planned to avoid social gathering or cancel their vacations.

But it all happened.

What did we learn? We learned that the need or craving to connect is still great. We saw inside each other’s homes. We were patient with co-workers whose dogs were barking in the background. We were supportive of co-workers who were dealing with the frustration of working from home while schooling their children. There were shared concerns about friends, family, and co-workers who were ill with COVID-19. I have spoken to many CHROs this year and they all grimly knew how many associates had been infected or had family members infected, and how many people their company had lost to the coronavirus.

I hope this kind of shared trauma, while tragic, will draw us closer together. As I write this myself, I am self-quarantining. At a Thanksgiving dinner of three people, I was exposed to my brother, a physician and hospital medical director who would test positive a few days later. Thankfully, I tested negative, but I have had a bit of “alone time” to think about these issues. As I write this, we are at a new all-time high in viral infections. We are entering a more subdued holiday season than any of us remember.

But as the vaccines begin to quell this terrible outbreak, my fervent hope for the future positives are as follows. I believe we will all shortly appreciate being in each other’s company a bit more. I think we will all find visiting friends and family more enjoyable than we remember. We will all be a bit more excited to travel and vacation in faraway places. We will go back to cheering for our children at school shows and sporting events. We will all appreciate hugs with family and handshakes with colleagues a bit more. All these things we took for granted only a year ago have been taken from us this year, and I believe we will appreciate them more when they are returned to us.

As for HR, it has fallen to these leaders to navigate the complexities and unpleasantness of 2020 more than any other group. HR has become more important in the executive suite this year, but that is by far the lesser of the important changes that I hope remain beyond 2020. HR has had to demonstrate empathy and understanding in leading a scared and disconnected workforce through this experience. HR has had to help assure and console those affected by all what happened in 2020. And while HR may have done this during video calls, they have listened and helped employees. HR has helped address issues that impact families in intimate ways that co-workers rarely see. While we often discuss our reliance on technology in the future, in some ways, we have hopefully put a bit more “human” back in human resources.

I want to thank all of our sponsors, advertisers, and readers for your support of HRO Today through a difficult year. We hope the information we distribute has been useful to you in the midst of this upheaval in society. We wish you the happiest holiday season you can manage and we look forward to re-engaging with you in 2021. Happy Holidays from everyone at HRO Today.

Tags: December 2020, Magazine Article

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