As 2022 draws to a close, one reflects on the passage of time. And while the title of this column reverberates with the recollection of the song “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller band, I could have just as easily gone with “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen. Another year in the books, but a very different year from 2020 and 2021. I have joked with our Editorial Director Debbie Bolla that next year our motto will be to “Bandemic” discussions about HR’s response to COVID-19 and focus on current or coming challenges. Well, it is not next year yet, so I am going to look back for a moment, once again, reflecting on the passage of time.
In 2020, everyone talked about the year that would never end. We all talked about the anxiety, the social isolation, the overwhelming workloads, and how “slowly” the year had passed. At the end of 2020, everyone celebrated the closing of a year people described as being awful. Some HR leaders used language that would have engendered a reprimand for profanity in the workplace. In fact, almost all the descriptions of 2020 were “NSFW.” It was a bad year and optimism was brimming over with the promise of a new year in 2021 when the Delta variant hit. At the time I thought the “Delta Variant” sounded like a sci-fi invasion movie. Turned out it actually felt like one.
Another wave of lockdowns promised that 2021 was going to also be a rough road, and it was. I don’t need to list all of the issues that were faced during this time—you all know what they were—and we all gritted our teeth, gave each other coffee mugs that said, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” and did just that.
At the end of 2021, it seemed like some degree of normalcy was returning, but the scars of the recent global trauma hung over the year’s end. While no one talked about how slow the year had gone, no one was singing the praises of 2021 either. It was a difficult year wrestling with many new problems. We were again relieved to flip the last digit of the calendar year forward, reaching 2022.
Does anyone think time moved slowly in 2022? I dare say not. In fact, it passed by in the blink of an eye. We are back to sitting at our desks in the latter weeks of December and wondering where the time went. Did we accomplish all the goals, initiatives, master plans, strategies, and global domination scenarios we had in our heads on New Year’s Day? Of course not, but at least for me, and some of the folks I asked about this, 2022 went by in the same rushed manner as life before the latest “Great Plague.” In the rush to cope with the current issues, we are back to the breakneck speed of life.
And what are those issues? We have talent shortages, retention issues, engagement concerns, poor workforce planning data, an overheated talent economy (there are significant issues in the consumer economy but those are not dampening the talent shortage at this time), multi-generational workforces, diversity equity and inclusion concerns, and unpredictable regulatory environments and governmental policies. Yes, I am relieved too. This list is just the ordinary stuff we have always dealt with in the past decade regardless of how much of the workforce is office-based.
In fact, the “new normal” (aren’t we all just tired of that phrase) is the “old normal” with a lot more “normal” than “new.” To be fair, it is the same old same old with additional challenges but decreasing levels of hybrid or remote work. There is actually comfort in the speed with which this year moved. There are some clouds on the horizon, but the extraordinary disruptions of the past years have largely receded in favor of the ordinary disruptions experienced in most years.
The biggest challenge for HR is to maintain the level of strategic importance it acquired during the crises when it performed its most admirable work.
On behalf of the HRO Today team, let me wish you all a very happy holiday season and a very happy new year!
Elliot S. Clark