Human Resource Function has without a doubt led from the front during the pandemic, helping organizations transition to a virtual and hybrid way of working, drive business continuity and recovery while ensuring employee wellbeing and experience. It is one of the most important and prominent pillars of any organization. Apart from being a critical function of every organization, it is ever-evolving for the better. Initially driven by the need to keep their workforce safe from the COVID, HR professionals are now grappling with longer term issues on how they should best manage and support business and employees, how best to collaborate, with what technologies, and what ways of working are best suited to both evolving business models and employee wellbeing.

Some of the biggest corporates and conglomerates have always initiated benchmarking HR policies, taking a welcome lead to align with changing times. However, over the past 17 months, employees’ needs, and expectations have evolved and so have the employers’ approach towards HR Policies and practices. Viewed in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic and particularly the second wave which impacted so many, peoples’ focus has moved towards what matters most in their work-life – a desire for workplaces that create a sense of community and purpose. A workplace that not only gives them the wings to fly but also the right direction in their own sky.

In a recent pulse survey conducted by team Marching Sheep, 48% of the workforce is looking for improved work-life balance through systemic and structural changes. Employees are asking for more with respect to flexible work arrangements, empathy and psychological safety from managers at different life stages, and, improved holistic healthcare for self and family.

When we talk about HR Policies and Practices, most employee handbooks include policies like anti-discrimination, confidentiality, code of conduct, leave and attendance. Though these form the basis of a functioning company, they may not be enough to create a happy and engaged workplace anymore. In today’s evolving workplace, progressive and enabling policies are the need of the hour where employees feel empowered to bring their true self to work and be comfortable in their skin. Here are a few progressive HR trends to create policies around at workplace:

1. Employee Health and Wellness Policies: Employee wellness programs have become a staple in many companies as a way to attract top talent, keep them happy and productive, and decrease employee turnover. According to studies, 80% of employees at companies with robust health and wellness policies feel engaged and cared for by their employers. With COVID taking a toll on the mental, emotional and physical health of the workforce, relooking at the medical insurance benefit to cover COVID-19 medical expenses and introducing “Extended Paid Time off” to cater to the mental health needs of employees is a must for every organization. And the latest to emerge from the stable of HR practices are offerings vis-à-vis medical cover to employees for egg-freezing. Accenture India and We Work have come out with this offering for its workforce, keeping it gender neutral and giving a whole new dimension to Diversity and Inclusion. This initiative gives women employees the freedom to choose their motherhood window and break the stereotype of “earlier the better”.

2. Long Term Value Creation Policies: For any organization, it is vital to be able to create leaders of tomorrow and provide them with an environment conducive for their growth. Employees often ask the question – “What Next” and when confronted with such conversations, the organizations should be able to empower them with clear and transparent career frameworks, a variety of career options, inspiring experiences and personalized learning and rewards – to build a career as unique as they are. A perfect example of such enablement is the Ernst & Young Badges program (EY Badges), which gives its employees the opportunity to continuously improve, transform and stay relevant. In order to earn a badge, an employee needs to participate in a required skill and focus on up skilling in role relevant courses like Data Science and AI or Transformational Leadership and Inclusive Intelligence and share it among the community. For every skill enhancement, you earn a badge.

3. Inclusive Policies: As stated by Paolo Gaudiano, a famous Ted-X speaker, “you should focus on achieving inclusion, and track diversity as a measure of your success”. In other words, just having diversity alone is not enough for businesses to reach their maximum potential. Ultimately, while Diversity may be the end goal, Inclusion is the means to that end. Some of the path breaking HR measures in building inclusive workplaces includes extending medical insurance to same-sex partners for their LGBTQ+ employees by Tech Mahindra, hotel chain Lalit and Godrej group. These organizations also provide cover for gender-reassignment surgeries of transgender employees. Recently, when Google announced “Google Cloud’s Autism Career Program” in collaboration with Stanford Neurodiversity Project to train as many as 500 Google Cloud managers, with Autism, it was a step forward towards overcoming unconscious bias attached to the hiring of Persons with Disability. A perfect example of Google Cloud’s commitment to inclusion, it is initiatives and inclusive policies like these which raise the bar of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for organizations.

4. Flexible Work Policies: Development and changes in the HR policy of an organization play a key role in the work performances of the employees and the workplace culture. Organizations often strive to create flexible HR policies that can help them achieve the right work life balance. Pernod Ricard India recently announced that its employees can work from anywhere they wish to – Home, Office or a Co-working space. However, to build a culture of flexibility, an understanding of what flexibility means today is a must. Flexibility is not only about having Flexible Work Policies, a culture of flexibility stems from an understanding and belief that every employee in the organization is accountable and responsible for their deliverables. Flexibility does not come at the cost of accountability. With organizations introducing “Zero Hour”, that time of the day when there are no office meetings and the employees get complete off work, flexible work hours have moved from mere policies to a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.

It is a known fact that all organizations can not have the same policies. But there are ways, through which we can our employees at the center, understand their needs and evolve our policies and practices to enables, empower, and engage them while driving business outcomes. While the above policies help you stand out as an employer, they are not the only ones. As an employer, remember that the best company policies don’t police. Instead, they give employees the means to become more productive and engaged!