Covid-19 and future human resource management competencies

Covid-19 and future human resource management competencies

Chapter And Authors Information

Cecile Schultz

Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa
From the Edited Volume
Edited By:
Prof. Bhavna Mehta
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The rapidly evolving situation surrounding the coronavirus (Covid-19) is influencing all aspects of human life across the world including the working practices and human resource management. The question then arises: what are the essential future human resource management competencies to successfully deal with unforeseen challenges such at the Covid-19 pandemic? The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the future human resource management competencies necessary to deal with the Covid-19. A qualitative method of document analysis by scrutinising various articles about HRM during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, was used. Future intrapersonal human resource competencies entails future cognitive human resource competencies, future affective human resource management competencies, future conative human resource management competencies. Future interpersonal human resource management competencies are also discussed in this chapter. Companies should develop their human resource managers and human resource practitioners to better deal with the Covid-19 pandemic as well as with the future world of work. Being proactive and prepared are key ingredients to be a successful human resource professional.


future intrapersonal human resource management competencies, future cognitive human resource management competencies, future affective human resource management competencies, future conative human resource management competencies, future interpersonal human resource management competencies

1. Introduction

The coronavirus pandemic is fundamentally shifting how we live and do business and will accelerate the Fourth Industrial Revolution, fueled by smart technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and mobile supercomputing (Meister, 2020). The rapidly evolving situation surrounding the coronavirus (Covid-19) is influencing all aspects of human life across the world including the working practices and human resource management (HRM). The question now facing many organisations is not how to manage a remote workforce, but how to manage a more complex, hybrid workforce? Another question then arises: what are the essential future HRM competencies to successfully deal with unforeseen challenges such at the Covid-19 pandemic and a more complex, hybrid workforce? HR, today, has a pivotal role in the workplace and certain intrapersonal and interpersonal HRM competencies are therefore needed to excel in difficult times. Essential future HRM competencies necessary to successfully deal with the Covid-19 daunting challenges are non-negotiable but not yet known. This research aims to fill this research gap by identifying the future intrapersonal HRM competencies as well as the future interpersonal HRM competencies in order to effectively deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the future HRM competencies necessary to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
An awareness of these competencies will assist human resource (HR) managers with being proactive in the future. Competencies required for industry 4.0 include technical, managerial and social. Technical competencies refer to knowledge, skill or abilities needed to perform a specific task (Feng & Richards, 2018). Managerial competencies are defined as skills and abilities for general problem-solving and decision-making (Łupicka & Grzybowska, 2018). Social competencies are defined as the maintenance of interpersonal relationships in the organisation, in turn necessitating communication skills (Łupicka & Grzybowska, 2018).
The concept ‘competencies’ refers to the capability of applying or using knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviours and personal characteristics to successfully perform critical work tasks, specific functions and to operate in a given role or position (Wahome et al., 2013:498). In this chapter, the future HRM competencies are clustered into intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies. Intrapersonal skills are a cluster of talent and abilities that reside within the individual employee that can help him and her to solve any issues that might occur (Koenig, 2011). Ancient philosophers and modern psychologists share the concept of a three-part mind with separate domains for thinking, feeling, and doing (Waisel, 2013:3). The conative, or doing, part contains the striving instincts that drive a person’s natural way of taking action, or modus operandi (MO). Everyone has an equal amount of conative energy for engaging [with] the thinking (cognitive) and feeling (affective) parts of the mind to produce purposeful action. Kolbe (1998) discovered that the conative part of the mind contains what she labeled striving instincts that drive a person’s natural way of taking action. Lass (2020:1) states that early proactive intervention in the form of structured awareness-based intrapersonal skills education increases quality of life and decreases the chances of stress, burnout, depression and anxiety, all of which have become epidemic in their proportions and have serious consequences on individuals, companies and economies alike. Vijayalakshmi (2016) explains that an interpersonal skill is something that is related to talents or ability that helps individuals to socialise and interact with other people.
Koenig (2011) gives examples of intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies:
– Intrapersonal competencies: non-routine problem solving, critical thinking, systems thinking, self-management, time management, self-development, self-regulation, adaptability and executive functioning.
– Interpersonal competencies: complex communication, social skills, teamwork, cultural sensitivity and dealing with diversity.
Below, future HRM competencies are discussed under future intrapersonal and interpersonal HRM competencies.

2. Future HRM competencies

Lass (2020) states that fatigue, boredom, lack of engagement, absenteeism and presentism are all symptoms of internal mental malfunctioning. As any HR manager and HR practitioner well know, stress, burnout and depression can deeply affect team relationship dynamics and cause loss of potential revenue. It is essential for the HR manager and HR practitioner to be proactive and to obtain the necessary future HRM competencies in order to deal with employee challenges that are caused by the Covid-19 in the workplace. Sheedy (2020) states that the constant reinvention of HR is critical because the competencies of HR professionals change about 30 to 40 per cent every four to five years.
2.1. Future intrapersonal HRM competencies
The future intrapersonal HRM competencies are discussed under future cognitive, affective and conative HRM competencies. The competencies below were investigated mainly focusing on the studies of Schultz (2017, 2019) and Gigauri (2020) but other relevant studies were also be added in this section.
– Future cognitive HRM competencies
Cognitive competencies refer to the acquisition of knowledge and the processing of information through thought, such as reasoning, intuition, perception, imagination, inventiveness, creativity and problem-solving. The future cognitive HRM competencies are discussed below.
Future HR leaders need to think much more innovatively than their predecessors (Schultz, 2019). According to Dhanpat et al. (2020) as well as Gigauri (2020), an HR practitioner must be a creative innovator in the future world of work. According to research, the most impactful driver of innovation culture is cohesion – where all employees feel a sense of togetherness (Rush, 2020). Business acumen or business sense is an understanding of the system of how a business achieves its goals and objectives. HR managers need to become more business literate and they need to understand the core of the business (Schultz, 2017). “Experts have stated that we are now entering the 5th Industrial Revolution, which focuses on leveraging ‘human capital’ (our people, the potential and resource that we, as people, arrive with and develop), combined and supported by all the benefits that our technological advancements bring” (Schneider, 2020:1). Self-efficacy is a general concept referring to the extent to which people believe they have the competency to cope with tasks or stressors (Bandura, 2006). High levels of Covid-19-related severity and self-efficacy predict a significant amount of variance in mental health (Yıldırım & Güler, 2020). Self-efficacy is needed to cope with the pandemic situation and lock-down (Prochazka et al., 2020).
Flexibility is essential in the Covid-19 challenge as well as in the future world of work (Dahik et al., 2020). Many organisations are planning a new combination of remote and on-site working, a hybrid virtual model in which some employees are on premises, while others work from home. This new model promises greater access to talent, increased productivity for individuals and small teams, lower costs, more individual flexibility (Alexander et al., 2020). Schultz (2019) states that HR managers’ flexibility is a vital future HRM competency. According to the findings of Schultz (2019), agility of an HR manager is essential in the future world of work (Schultz, 2019). HR agility is the capability of the HR function to respond more quickly and effectively to changing employee expectations, workplace disruptions, and business requirements. Presilience on the other hand, is when an HR manager incorporates the best aspects of compliance and resilience. Presilience focuses not only on the opportunities to bounce back more effectively when things go wrong, but also constantly on positioning oneself and the businesses to adapt, innovate and improve wherever possible (Schneider, 2020).
Foresight is an approach to assist with decision making in the face of uncertainty. Because the future is impossible to predict, foresight must be an ongoing process to continually monitor and update forecasts—it is not a single corporate project or event (Crews, 2020). It is essential to be future-fit and obtain foresight to become more focused on what is ahead than behind, and learning the skills of thinking like a futurist and dealing with disruptive change (Schultz, 2017). The foresight process has three major components: classifying and monitoring change, thinking the unthinkable, and planning under uncertainty (Crews, 2020). To be truly effective in this “new normal,” then, HR leaders need to adjust and develop a new core capability: a complexity mindset (Bingham, 2020). This new mindset change requires shifting away from complicated thinking and embracing a complexity consciousness. “In practice, this means that when a team or employee comes to you with a problem, probe for the underlying cause instead of jumping to a rulebook solution” (Bingham, 2020:1). Adopting a mindset of complexity means returning to the values of the company and allowing those values to become a filter for decision-making in high-pressure situations (Bingham, 2020).
– Future affective HRM competencies
Affective competencies refer to a person’s ability to understand and express his or her emotions or feelings with complete freedom and to maintain emotional control. The future affective HR competencies are discussed below.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created great uncertainty, elevated stress and anxiety, and prompted tunnel vision, in which people focus only on the present rather than toward the future (Mendy, Stewart & Van Akin, 2020). Especially in the context of a sudden shift to remote work, it is important to acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathise with their struggles (Larson et al., 2020). Schultz (2017) found that emotional intelligence to be an important future HR competency. “It is worth noting that emphasis of HRM should be put on emotional intelligence in order to make appropriate decisions from the viewpoint of management who tries to deal with a sudden crisis, and simultaneously from the perspective of the employees who have their own needs or difficulties caused by the pandemic” (Gigauri, 2020:23). Emotional intelligence will lead to increased productivity and higher engagement levels (Binham, 2020).
Brooks et al. (2020) documented available evidence about the impact of COVID-19-related measures on psychological health of individuals. They found that such measures significantly affect the experience of various mental health problems including fear, anxiety, nervousness, boredom, distress, depression, anger, indecisiveness, and suicide ideation. Another study reported that patients with confirmed or suspected virus infection experience emotional trauma associated with the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis resulting in provoking fear, anxiety, depression, and insomnia (Lai et al., 2020). Gigauri (2020) found that is important for an HR manager to be able to deal with panic, uncertainty and fear deriving from a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. The office-to-home transitions have caused workers to break down emotional barriers, giving both colleagues and clients a true lens into who people become once they leave the office—a side many colleagues never shared previously (Robinson, 2020).
– Future conative HRM competencies
Conative competencies refer to actions, behaviour and initiatives to achieve some goals. The future conative HR competencies are discussed below.
Schultz (2019) found that an HR manager must make a strategic contribution in the future world of work and this concurs with Ulrich et al. (2017) in the sense that that HR managers must be a strategic positioner. It is essential to develop a strategic crisis action plan in difficult times such as the Covid-19 pandemic (Hirt et al., 2020). An HR manager should be able to develop scenarios for multiple versions for the future and then future investigate the strategic moves (Hirt et al., 2020). HR managers should be able to understand and execute analytics and metrics to make better decisions and to measure impact (Schultz, 2019). As workers continue to work from home, data used to evaluate employee productivity and engagement will become more important (Lewis, 2020). HR managers can expect corporate investments on data analytics to increase (Lewis, 2020). Common HR metrics are for example, absence rate, cost per hire, Human Capital Return on Investment (ROI), time to fill, turnover costs, training investment factor, vacancy costs and yield ratio (Mello, 2019). It is even more important to use metrics to manage HR better during and after the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure organisational performance.
Technology proponents are vital because of the fact that we are in the digital age (Jesuthasan, 2017). A great deal of the portfolio of an HR manager will be automated or will be eliminated in the simplification induced by digitalisation and the rethinking or reinventing of HR is therefore necessary (Schultz, 2019). Averbook (2020) states that digital transformation was never about technology; it’s about designing work for people. Averbook (2020) found that companies would continue to accelerate their digital transformation post-Covid-19 and HR managers must make sure there is an established digital HR/people strategy. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are in the midst of the greatest work-from-home experiment in history (Kelly, 2020). For many employees, working from home may be new. It is important to cope with challenges and distraction at home and therefore need to confine a workspace to a specific clear area and set clear boundaries (Weill Institute for Neurosciences, 2020). As remote working from home intensifies, HRM has to cope with the stress of their employees associated with the removal boundaries between work and family (Giurge & Bohns, 2020). Work and private life mixture during remote working from home can be the core challenge HRM is facing (l).
2.2. Future interpersonal HRM competencies
Interpersonal competencies are needed to communicate and interact with other people, both individually and in groups. These competencies are discussed below.
Events like Covid-19 are the ultimate trials of leadership and business sustainability, suggesting that leaders should find outlets to stay calm because one’s personal health and energy are passed down to the team (Robinson, 2020). The future HR managers should be able to influence management and employees in order to forward into the future workplace (Schultz, 2019). An effective HR leader should take a two-pronged approach, both acknowledging the stress and anxiety that employees may be feeling in difficult circumstances, but also providing affirmation of their confidence in their teams (Larson et al., 2020). With this support, employees are more likely to take up the challenge with a sense of purpose and focus.
Managers expect the future HR manager to engage with employees and with them (Schultz, 2019). Engagement is not an exercise in making employees feel happy – it’s a strategy for better business outcomes. It is true that engaged employees are more enthusiastic, energetic and positive, feel better about their work and workplace, and have better physical health, and it’s a way in which leaders can improve key performance outcomes (KPIs) (Hickman & Robison, 2020). Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when there are expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams (Larson et al., 2020). Technology tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams can be used to engage with staff but the organisation’s IT department can be contacted to ensure there is an appropriate level of data security before using any of these tools (Larson et al., 2020).
Social connectivity enables employees to be collaboratively productive (Dahik et al., 2020). HR leaders will need to start collaborating more with employees at every level (Bingham, 2020). It is important to focus on interpersonal relationships rather than control, standards, and hierarchy. According to Schultz (2017), HR managers need to ensure that they assist line managers to properly manage relationships in the workplace to ensure a harmonious and productive environment. Smith (2020) states the importance of the collaboration between HR, management and unions during Covid-19-times. An essential HR competency is to be able to handle complex communication during the Covid-19 pandemic. Transparency and the sharing of ideas are important in assisting with complex communication. Transparency builds trust (Mendy et al., 2020). When dealing with the uncertainty of Covid-19, HR leaders need to look at communication from the perspective of the employees and have empathy for them rather than fear of doing the wrong thing (Argenti, 2020). Complexity conscious HR leaders view company performance as the result of open and clear communication, positive assumptions, and self-management (Bingham, 2020).
Ways should be structured for employees to interact socially (that is, have informal conversations about non-work topics) while working remotely (Larson et al., 2020). Loneliness is one of the most common complaints about remote work, with employees missing the informal social interaction of an office setting. Over a longer period of time, isolation can cause any employee to feel less “belonging” to their organisation, and can even result in increased intention to leave the company Larson et al., 2020). It is therefore important for an HR practitioner to connect with others in their remote-work environment. The HR practitioner should use the hybrid virtual model that best fits the organisation and let it lead to a new shared culture for all your employees that provides stability, social cohesion, identity, and belonging, whether your employees are working remotely, on premises, or in some combination of both (Alexander et al., 2020). Recreating social connectivity in virtual and hybrid settings is tough but essential. This will be even more critical as companies start to hire new employees who have not built social capital from pre-Covid-19 times (Dahik et al., 2020).
Unlike other aspects of personality, cultural intelligence can be developed in psychologically healthy and competent people (Early & Mosakowski, 2004). Cultural intelligence is more than just cultural awareness and sensitivity, which are also vital within a corporation; it is the ability to relate to culturally diverse situations, as well as work effectively in them (Randstand, 2020). HR managers should actively use the diversity scorecard to assist with the proper diversity management (Schultz, 2017). The diversity scorecard measures the progress and results of diversity initiatives as a key strategic requirement to demonstrate its contribution to organisational performance (Hubbard, 2004). Diversity is not a program; it is a systemic process of organisational change that requires measurement for organisational improvement and success. Collective intelligence is group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration, efforts, and engagement of diverse teams. Surowiecki (2004) states that collective intelligence needs four conditions to flourish: (1) diversity of opinion to guard against groupthink; (2) independent thinking that frees each person to express their own opinions without judgment or pressure to conform; (3) decentralisation, which means that the closer a person is to the problem or the customer, the likelier they are to offer a meaningful contribution; and (4) a good method for aggregating results.
Future HR requires more than a semantic shift from “human resources” to “people operations” (Schultz, 2019). “Put the humanity back into human resources”, says Bingham (2020:1). HR leaders can help fight this instinct by putting a greater focus on demonstrating fairness and a passion for their people (Bingham, 2020). “Employee care isn’t a buzzword. It’s an ethos that prioritizes employee health, safety, and well-being above all. It connects company success and employee well-being, and it should be a beacon that guides your decision-making as you optimize your company culture for a post-COVID world” (Kelly, 2020:1).
In remote teams, there is more of a need than ever for HR professionals to work to break down silos to keep the one team culture (Edwards, 2020:158). Dahik et al. (2020) found that virtual team activities can be fun by for example encourage its employees to play videogames that simulate a collaborative environment and enable complex problems to be solved by the group. Trust among team members starts lower in virtual teams than in face-to-face teams, but over time, it can build to the same levels (Abrams, 2019:54).

3. Research Methodology

The researcher followed a qualitative method of document analysis by downloading, scrutinising and classifying 29 value-adding articles that were published about HRM during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

3.1. Sampling

In view of the strict delimitation of the topic, confinement of the study to a single source of information, and of the specific purpose of the present review, no sampling was done. Instead, the population of all relevant journal articles and other pertinent unpublished articles about HRM and Covid-19 for the year 2020 were used.
3.2. Data analysis
Included articles were thematically analysed by following the six phases of Nowell et al. (2017):
Phase 1: Familiarise yourself with the data
Phase 2: Generating initial codes
Phase 3: Searching for themes
Phase 4: Reviewing themes
Phase 5: Defining and naming themes
Phase 6: Producing the report
The final identified themes and sub-themes are discussed below.

4. Findings

The identified themes and sub-themes as part of the findings of the study is summarised in Table 1.

Table 1

Future intrapersonal human resource management themes



Future intrapersonal cognitive HRM competencies

Innovation (Dhanpat et al., 2020; Gigauri, 2020; Rush, 2020)

Business acumen (Schneider, 2020)

Self-efficacy (Prochazka et al., 2020; Yıldırım & Güler, 2020)

Flexibility (Alexander et al., 2020; Dahik et al., 2020)

Agility and presilience (Schneider, 2020).

Foresight (Crews, 2020)

Complexity mindset (Bingham, 2020)

Future intrapersonal affective HRM competencies

Emotional intelligence (Binham, 2020; Larson et al., 2020; Gigauri, 2020; Mendy, Stewart & Van Akin, 2020)


Emotional management (Brooks et al. 2020; Gigauri, 2020; Lai et al., 2020; Robinson, 2020)

Future intrapersonal conative HRM competencies

Making a strategic contribution (Hirt et al., 2020)

Analytics and metrics (Lewis, 2020)

Ability to deal with technology and digitilisation (Averbook, 2020)

Remote working (Giurge & Bohns, 2020; Kelly, 2020; Peasley et al., 2020)

Future interpersonal HRM competencies

HR leadership (Larson et al., 2020; Robinson, 2020)

Engagement (Hickman & Robison, 2020; Larson et al., 2020)

Collaboration (Bingham, 2020; Dahik et al., 2020; Smith,  2020)

Handle complex communication (Argenti, 2020; Bingham, 2020; Mendy et al., 2020)

Social intelligence (Alexander et al., 2020; Dahik et al., 2020; Larson et al., 2020)

Cultural intelligence (Randstand, 2020)

Caring (Bingham, 2020; Kelly, 2020)

Ability to handle virtual teamwork (Edwards, 2020; Dahik et al., 2020)

It is clear form Table 1 that future intrapersonal cognitive HRM competencies, future intrapersonal affective HRM competencies, future intrapersonal conative HRM competencies and future interpersonal HRM competencies were reported as the themes of this study.
According to (Dhanpat et al., 2020; Gigauri, 2020; Rush, 2020), HR professionals should use innovation to effectively deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. Business acumen (Schneider, 2020), self-efficacy (Prochazka et al., 2020; Yıldırım & Güler, 2020) and being flexible (Alexander et al., 2020; Dahik et al., 2020) are also of utmost importance. Agility and presilience (Schneider, 2020) are essential future HRM competencies. Having foresight (Crews, 2020) and a complexity mindset (Bingham, 2020) are the beginning of reinventing HRM.
On an affective level, emotional intelligence (Binham, 2020; Larson et al., 2020; Gigauri, 2020; Mendy, Stewart & Van Akin, 2020) and emotional management (Brooks et al. 2020; Gigauri, 2020; Lai et al., 2020; Robinson, 2020) are vital. Without these competencies it is going to difficult for HRM professionals to compose themselves during further hardships caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Conatively, strategic contribution (Hirt et al., 2020), analytics and metrics (Lewis, 2020), technology and digitilisation (Averbook, 2020) as well as the ability work remotely (Giurge & Bohns, 2020; Kelly, 2020; Peasley et al., 2020) will be expected of HR professionals.
On an interpersonal level, HR leadership (Larson et al., 2020; Robinson, 2020) is crucial. The HR professional must be able to influence others with a sense of purpose and focus. Their ability to engage (Hickman & Robison, 2020; Larson et al., 2020), collaboration (Bingham, 2020; Dahik et al., 2020; Smith, 2020) and to handle complex communication (Argenti, 2020; Bingham, 2020; Mendy et al., 2020) are important. Without these competencies it might be difficult to properly assist management and employees during the Covid-19 pandemic and other traumatic situations. Social intelligence (Alexander et al., 2020; Dahik et al., 2020; Larson et al., 2020), cultural intelligence (Randstand, 2020) and caring for others (Bingham, 2020; Kelly, 2020) are expected form HR professionals. Lastly, virtual teamwork (Edwards, 2020; Dahik et al., 2020) is challenging and the ability to be able to successfully manage virtual teamwork is expected of HR professionals.
The overall contribution of this study entails the extension of the body of knowledge about the future of HRM, with specific reference to the HRM competencies needed to deal with challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic. The empirical contribution entails the identification of the future intrapersonal HRM competencies, future cognitive HRM competencies, future affective HRM competencies, future conative HRM competencies and future interpersonal HRM competencies. In this regard, the study adopted a pioneering document analysis approach by treating the future of HRM competencies holistically.

5. Recommendations and Limitations

It is recommended that HRM professionals be trained, mentored and coached in order to ensure that they possess all the above-mentioned intrapersonal cognitive HRM competencies, future intrapersonal affective HRM competencies, future intrapersonal conative HRM competencies and future interpersonal HRM competencies in order to effectively deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. HRM professionals should constantly reinvent the HR function and therefore need the necessary future HRM competencies to do this. It is also recommended that HR professionals should continuously engage with managers and employees in order assist them to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic properly.
For future research, it is recommended that further investigation about the future HRM competencies are conducted by including 2021 sources. A quantitative study can be conducted to determine if future intrapersonal HRM competencies will predict future interpersonal HRM competencies. Interviews and focus groups can be conducted with HR professionals from different industries to further investigate future HRM competencies.
A limitation of this study is that only 2020 sources were used and the analysis of future HRM competencies may require further investigation by using 2021 sources. Another limitation is that the researcher could have missed other relevant 2020 sources about HRM and its relevance to Covid-19.

6. Conclusion

This chapter aimed to shed light on the future HRM competencies needed to deal with Covid-19. Companies should develop their HR managers and HR practitioners, with specific reference to their future intrapersonal and interpersonal HRM competencies to better cope with changes and uncertainties in the future world of work. The essential future HRM competencies to successfully deal with unforeseen challenges such at the Covid-19 pandemic and a more complex, hybrid workforce were covered in this chapter.


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