‘One Foot in Front of the Other’

HR professionals struggle during unnerving times.

With the pandemic, human resources professionals have been forced into uncertain terrain. “We’re trying to guide the process and explore all options—what’s best for the safety of our employees while trying to ensure their livelihoods, and how to help business owners keep their businesses running,” says Marissa Hill, HR manager and consultant at Markham Norton Mosteller Wright and Company, an accounting and consulting firm in Fort Myers. “All of that is incredibly complex.”

Hill’s approach to navigating the crisis has been to stay informed. She attends webinars and online guidance groups, keeps up to date on the latest legislation out of Washington and Tallahassee and consults subject-matter experts when she has questions. What she’s learned from the process: The best practices for HR remain the same, pandemic or not. “Communicate often. Make sure we’re consistent in our communication. Take time to answer questions.”

Joseph Liu, assistant professor in the management department at Florida Gulf Coast University, says the biggest challenge for HR professionals in the coming months will be trying to project their staffing needs. “When we think about HR, they’re always forecasting for planning purposes. If you need something done weeks from now, you need to start hiring today. That way you can train new employees so they will be able to do the job to full capacity down the line.” In a shaky economic environment, Liu said, that’s next to impossible. The main upside for Southwest Florida is that we’re in the slow summer season, what would normally be a contracted economic time anyway. Local businesses will be able to watch other parts of the country reopen and can try to plan for the fall accordingly. But those in HR should be prepared for some conflict.

“We’ve assumed that employees are itching to go back to work,” Liu says, “but there will be a subset of people who are hesitant, even with financial motivations, because of a countervailing weight of uncertainty about their safety.”

For professionals like Hill, this will mean juggling an array of needs in a difficult environment. “We’re in HR because we care deeply about employees and owners and their livelihoods,” she says. “When that’s threatened and completely out of our control, it hurts.” For now, like many in the business world, she’s sticking with an age-old adage: “One foot in front of the other.”