The pandemic has clearly weighed heavily on organizations and workers alike as the health crisis spurred businesses to shut offices and send staff home to do their jobs remotely.
Almost overnight companies had to ensure their staff could function productively from improvised home offices located in garages, crowded kitchens and bedroom closets.
More than a year later, studies have shown that the shift to remote work has been a resounding success for businesses and employees, with productivity in general equaling or outpacing pre-pandemic times.
Still, while working from home eliminated stressful and time-eating commutes and allowed many employees to work in their sweats all day, worker issues didn’t disappear.
Far from it, according to a survey of workers and human-resources professionals by Paychex, a provider of human-resource, payroll and benefits outsourcing services.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in early 2020, almost half (48 percent) of U.S. employees reported at least one issue to their HR department, the study said. About 55 percent of HR managers said the number of issues reported to them by staff had jumped since the pandemic began.
Company size played a factor in reported issues. About three-quarters (79 percent) of small businesses, or those with 11 to 49 employees, reported having an employee issue reported to HR, compared with 58 percent of midsize companies (between 50 and 249 employees), and 21 percent of large firms (250 or more employees), according to the poll.
At the same time, 44 percent of workers indicated having received some form of disciplinary action while working in a remote environment.
What concerns were workers reporting?
According to HR leaders, the top five most prevalent issues during the shift to remote work have been issues about employee benefits (48 percent), employee stress (39 percent), employee disputes (35 percent), workplace safety (32 percent) and equipment or technology (31 percent).
“The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the way employees are thinking about benefits, shifting the benefits they value most for themselves and their families,” the study said.
The survey also revealed that women were more likely than men to report being denied time off to HR and are more likely to report issues with employee productivity to their HR teams.
Gauging employee morale
Remote staff also saw HR as a key component in ensuring success in the move to working from home, the survey found.
Sixty percent of employees polled expected their HR departments to ensure that they had what was necessary to work remotely during the pandemic. In addition, almost half of workers believed HR should be responsible for managing employee benefits, promoting employee work-life balance, hiring employees and building an inclusive workplace environment.
For HR professionals, adapting to the remote workforce has posed its own challenges, the study showed.
About 48 percent of HR staff reported that appraising employee morale has been the most common challenge created by the pandemic.
“Other common concerns included employee mental health as a result of remote work (48 percent), being unable to monitor employee behavior (45 percent) and the overall challenge of adapting teams to working outside the office (40 percent),” the study said.
HR staff appreciated by employees
Finding talent during the pandemic also has weighed on HR departments, the study said.
Thirty-eight percent of HR professionals said they have struggled to recruit new talent during the health crisis, while about a third said interviewing employees or potential recruits also posed a challenge.
While workers have leaned heavily on HR during the switch to remote work, almost half (47 percent) of those polled said that HR at their company had improved since the outbreak began and three-quarters agreed that staff is “handling HR responsibilities well since going remote,” the report said.
HR departments at small businesses received the most praise, with 87 percent of those at working at small organizations more likely to feel positive about the department’s presence at work. That compares to 69 percent of those working for large companies.
HR staff have enjoyed some of the perks of remote work as well.
The benefits HR professionals appreciated since the remote-work shift include spending less time commuting (55 percent), having happier employees (45 percent) and fewer HR issues to deal with (43 percent).
The Paychex study surveyed 1,006 professionals, including 408 employees and 598 HR professionals in September 2020.