This is an Accepted Manuscript for the Journal of Management & Organization as part of the
Cambridge Coronavirus Collection. Subject to change during the editing and production process.
Human resource management and the COVID-19 crisis: implications,
challenges, opportunities, and future organizational directions.
aFaculty of Management, Canadian University Dubai, Dubai, UAE
Salima Hamouche ORCID : https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7637-4680
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The author declares no conflict of interest.
Dr. Salima Hamouche is an assistant professor, corporate trainer, and consultant at Canadian
University Dubai. She graduated from Industrial Relations School, University of Montreal
(Canada), with a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in Industrial Relations with a major in human
resource management. Dr. Salima Hamouche has strong academic background and practical
experience in human resources management. She has been practicing human resource
management for more than 12 years, as an HR consultant, human resource director, general
director, human resource manager, and talent acquisition specialist in small and large
organizations, in different sectors of activities (industrial, services, education) and multinational
companies. She made several presentations at scientific conferences and she led corporate
training and workshops in different public and private companies. Dr. Salima Hamouche was
sitting for several years on boards of directors in Canada, as administrator and vice president.
Human resource management and the COVID-19 crisis: implications,
challenges, opportunities, and future organizational directions.
The COVID-19 has grandly shaken all organizations, creating a complex and challenging
environment for managers and human resource management (HRM) practitioners, who need to
find ingenious solutions to ensure the continuity of their companies and to help their employees
to cope with this extraordinary crisis.
Studies addressing the impact of this crisis on HRM are sparse. This paper is a general literature
review, which aims at broadening the scope of management research, by exploring the impact of
the COVID-19 on HRM. It identifies the main challenges and opportunities that have arisen from
this new pandemic and it offers insights for managers and HRM practitioners into possible future
organizational directions that might arise from these opportunities.
Keywords – COVID-19, Human resource management (HRM), Remote work, Work from
COVID-19 is an unprecedented health crisis that has strongly shaken the whole world,
plunging it into great fear and uncertainty. It has heavily impacted economies, societies,
employees, and organizations. This crisis has started first in the city of Wuhan (China) which has
witnessed in December 2019 the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2
(SARS- CoV-2) that has known a fast spread propelling its status to a global pandemic on March
11, 2020, by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2020b).
Given the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, these countries have implemented several
non-pharmaceutical measures intended to reduce its spread, like social distancing. Lockdown
measures have been imposed; people were quarantined; schools, universities, nonessential
businesses, and non-governmental organizations have been temporarily closed; travels were
restricted; flights were canceled; mass public gathering and social events have been prohibited
(Brodeur, Gray, Islam, & Bhuiyan, 2020; Gourinchas, 2020).
Coupled with these measures, the COVID-19 outbreak had led to a significant slowdown
in the world economic activities (Brodeur et al., 2020; Gourinchas, 2020), triggering furloughs
and layoffs (World Economic Forum, 2020), that led to the increase in the unemployment rate in
many countries. The “Current G7 jobless totals vary widely, from 30 million in the United States
to 1.76 million in Japan” (Kretchmer, 2020). According to Gourinchas (2020), the COVID-19
has generated a situation where in a short period 50 percent or more of the workforce might not
be able to work.
Trying to recover from this economic shock, companies have started reopening (Major &
Machin, 2020), in the mid of this ongoing pandemic, under extraordinary rules and a new
functioning (e.g. physical distancing in the workplace) (Shaw et al., 2020) that no one can
predict when it will end. Therefore, this pandemic has obviously led to the emergence of a
complex and challenging environment for managers and human resource management (HRM)
practitioners who needed to find ingenious solutions to sustain their company’s business and to
help their employees to cope with the challenges of this unprecedented situation. In this context,
there are very few studies on the impact of COVID-19 on HRM, its challenges, and its potential
opportunities for HRM in organizations, while managers and HRM practitioners need relevant
information that will help them to go through this crisis effectively and efficiently, to be able to
support their employees and to sustain their company’s business. In fact, organizations are
generally not sufficiently prepared to deal with crises when they occur (Wang, Hutchins, &
Garavan, 2009). Whence the importance, for the scientific community, to support organizations
by providing relevant information related to this new pandemic. Therefore, the principal goal of
this research is to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on HRM, to identify the main challenges
and opportunities, and to provide insights into future directions in HRM. From a scientific
perspective, this paper aims at broadening the scope of management research, considering the
scarcity of papers on this topic.
This paper is a general literature review, with an informative purpose, that aims to
examine recent and relevant literature which investigated the impact of COVID-19 on HRM.
There are very few studies that have investigated this impact. Thus, we have started to search for
articles which examines generally the relationship between COVID-19 and HRM, then we
searched for articles that examined the impact of this pandemic specifically on each HRM
functions and practice, e.g. staffing (recruitment), compensation. We searched for articles in
Google scholar, Ebsco, and Semantic scholar using a combination of terms related to coronavirus
OR COVID-19; Human resource management; HRM; pandemic and HRM functions ( e.g.
Compensation, staffing). The search for articles was performed manually. We searched for
articles published between December 2019 and February 2021. We have excluded
epidemiological articles. The articles analyzed in this paper are all listed in the section
Human resource management facing the COVID-19: implications and challenges
Human resource management “is about how people are employed, managed and
developed in organizations” (Armstrong & Taylor, 2020, p. 3). It has been grandly impacted by
the COVID-19, generating significant challenges for managers and HRM practitioners. This
impact and these challenges are explored in this section, in relation to strategic HRM, working
conditions, as well HRM functions, specifically: staffing, performance management, training and
development, compensation management, safety and health management, and employees’
relations. Each HRM function is discussed individually, however, they are interrelated. This
suggests that any change in one HRM function will affect the other function (Mondy &
COVID-19 and strategic human resource management
Strategic human resource management refers to the vertical connection between HRM
functions and the organizational strategy as well as the horizontal consistency between HRM
functions (Wright & McMahan, 1992). Its main purpose is to effectively utilize the human
resources to serve the strategic needs of the organization (Chapman, Sisk, Schatten, & Miles,
2018; Navío-Marco, Solórzano-García, & Palencia-González, 2019; Schuler, 1992).
In order to ensure the achievement of the organizational goals in a time of crisis, strategic
agility is required (Liu, Lee, & Lee, 2020). Organizations need to be able to prepare and allocate
their resources; to coordinate the needed mechanism; and to properly use the organizational
resources and knowledge (Liu et al., 2020). In this context, the novelty and the complexity of the
COVID-19 represent a significant challenge that might compromise the achievement of
organizational goals. According to Baert, Lippens, Moens, Sterkens, and Weytjens (2020),
standard economic models in organizations are mainly trained to use data from “normal times”
perspective. Thus, it is challenging to make predictions related to ‘abnormal times. This might
suggest that making predictions related to the company’s business, e.g. the preparation and the
allocation of resources might be a complex exercise. In fact, the COVID-19 has generated
uncertainty. Some authors go so far as to predict the COVID-19 endemic (Regmi & Lwin, 2020)
while many economists predict the outcomes of this pandemic will remain till 2021 (Akkermans,
Richardson, & Kraimer, 2020). Currently, no one knows when this virus will end and if its
consequences on the work patterns in organizations will be temporary or permanent (Bartik,
Cullen, Glaeser, Luca, & Stanton, 2020), even after the recent development of different types of
vaccines (Yu et al., 2021). Thus, performing strategic planning or implementing the initial one
can be challenging for managers and HRM practitioners. In this case, most organizations were
not able to provide their employees enough information about their management plan or their
intended reactions toward the pandemic (Elsafty & Ragheb, 2020), while having clear workplace
guidelines during hard times helps to reduce employees’ stress and to increase their motivation
and confidence (Wong, Ho, Wong, Cheung, & Yeoh, 2020). The study of Elsafty and Ragheb
(2020) showed that access to information and the update related to the pandemic is associated
significantly with employees' retention. Nonetheless, it might be difficult to achieve it if
organizations are not able to get this information, especially when they are in a reactive and
survival mode, due to the novelty of this pandemic. Although challenging, enhancing
organizational resilience is crucial to ensure the sustainability of the organization in COVID-19
era (Ngoc Su, Luc Tra, Thi Huynh, Nguyen, & O’Mahony, 2021). In fact, despite the
uncertainty generated by this pandemic, organizations need to develop ingenious practices that
can help to absorb and face disturbance that threatens their survival (Ngoc Su et al., 2021)
Working conditions represent “the core of paid work and employment relationships”
(ILO, 2020). They “cover a broad range of topics and issues, from working time (hours of work,
rest periods, and work schedules) to remuneration, as well as the physical conditions and mental
demands that exist in the workplace”(ILO, 2020). The COVID-19 crisis has drastically altered
working conditions in organizations. Indeed, to ensure their business continuity, most
organizations have moved to remote working, requiring their employees to work from home
(Aitken-Fox et al., 2020a, 2020b; Gourinchas, 2020; Koirala & Acharya, 2020). For example,
Google announced that its employees will continue working remotely until at least Summer 2021
while Twitter’s employees were given the opportunity to work remotely indefinitely (Leonardi,
2020). Notwithstanding, the category of employees working from home represents a small
fraction of the overall workforce (Gourinchas, 2020), mainly because remote working is not
suitable for manufacturing industries (Koirala & Acharya, 2020) and it cannot be applied to all
job positions (Bartik et al., 2020). In this context, there were two possible scenarios for
companies whose nature of their business does not allow them to adhere to this type of working
conditions. Either to require their employees to be physically present while respecting the
measures of physical distancing (i.e. allow an interval of 2 minutes between individuals) and
wearing personal protective equipment or to lay them off (Blustein et al., 2020). The study of
Adams-Prassl, Boneva, Golin, and Rauh (2020) showed that employees whose job tasks cannot
be performed from home are more likely to lose their jobs. In these circumstances, HRM
practitioners are urged to identify the job positions that can be performed remotely, those which
can be performed in the physical workplace, and those positions that need lay off due to the
situation provoked by the pandemic. Therefore, these unexpected and drastic organizational
changes represent significant challenges for managers and HRM practitioners. In addition, they
might have significant implications on employees mental health (Hamouche, 2020) and person-
environment fit perceived by employees (Carnevale & Hatak, 2020) as well as the employee
experience related to the job design, the workspace and interactions with their peers and
managers (Aitken-Fox et al., 2020a).
Physical presence in workplaces has been maintained with rigorous protection measures
(e.g. physical distancing, wearing protection masks) with the implementation of work schedules
for different groups of employees (Akbarpour et al., 2020). The principal challenge, in this case,
is to ensure the respect of these protection measures and to plan work schedules that consider
As for remote working, it seems that managers and HR practitioners have faced major
challenges. Firstly, to ensure that employees working from home have the necessary tools to
perform their job (Aitken-Fox et al., 2020b; Hamouche, 2020). Actually, remote working
requires the availability of technological tools which will facilitate communication between
employees and managers, like Zoom, Microsoft remote desktop, team viewer, Microsoft team
(Prasad & Vaidya, 2020), that cannot be afforded by all organizations, considering that the
financial capacity varies from one organization to another. Secondly, to ensure for the employees
working from home effective communication, supervision, support, performance management,
and a realignment of their compensation (Aitken-Fox et al., 2020b). Moreover, HRM
practitioners need to support managers who are leading remote teams for the first time (Caligiuri,
De Cieri, Minbaeva, Verbeke, & Zimmermann, 2020). Finally, HR practitioners need to take into
consideration the fact that remote working might lead to employees’ isolation due to the absence
of interaction between employees, lack of peer advice, lack of one-to-one communication which
can be sources of stress that might undermine employees’ mental health (Prasad & Vaidya,
2020). It can also be psychologically demanding for these employees considering the
possibilities of family distractions and the multiple roles that they have to assume while working
from home (Prasad & Vaidya, 2020). In addition, the increased use of information and
communication technology (ICT) can lead to the perception of an everlasting urgency,
generating possible expectations about the constant availability of employees (Molino et al.,
2020). Working from home can lead, as well, to an increase in the volume of information treated
by employees, considering that they regularly use their emails (Leonardi, 2020). Some authors
refer to a technostress related to the use of ICT, which has increased among employees working
remotely (Molino et al., 2020). This can undermine the psychological health of employees,
especially those who isolate themselves by choosing only emails as a means of communication.
Many HRM practitioners have implemented some activities to support their employees,
like creating virtual socialization activities, e.g. virtual lunch or coffee breaks (Carnevale &
Hatak, 2020; Maurer, 2020). Undoubtedly, these practices help to support employees in this
tough crisis while they are far from each other, and from their workplace (Hamouche, 2020).
However, they also represent a great challenge for organizations, considering that besides being
applied in a context of unexpected changes, these practices are new for employees and managers,
who have not been previously trained or psychologically prepared for such changes, which may
lead to an increase in their perceptions of person-environment misfit and dissatisfaction if they
prefer the face-to-face interactions that they used to have prior to this pandemic outbreak
(Carnevale & Hatak, 2020). Moreover, virtual interactions might affect the socialization process
recognized for its importance to help employees acquire the tacit knowledge related to the
organizational culture, and contributing to its development (Asatiani, Hämäläinen, Penttinen, &
Staffing refers to “ the process of attracting, selecting, and retaining competent
individuals to achieve organizational goals” (Ployhart, 2006, p. 868, p.868). It had been greatly
impacted by the COVID-19, which has reshaped its dynamic in organizations (Campello,
Kankanhalli, & Muthukrishnan, 2020).
The COVID-19 had mostly asymmetric impacts on industries (Aitken-Fox et al., 2020b;
Giupponi & Landais, 2020). Some industries were experiencing a sharp decline in their business
(Giupponi & Landais, 2020) leading some of them to temporarily close their shops (Bartik et al.,
2020), while other industries have seen their business flourishing during this pandemic (Giupponi
& Landais, 2020). Therefore, the repercussions of COVID-19 on staffing differ from one
organization to another.
In this context, organizations that were facing financial difficulties due to this pandemic
have adopted downskilling by cutting back on recruitment of high-skill jobs more than low-skill
jobs, to reduce their costs and try to sustain their business (Campello et al., 2020); they have
frozen or cut back all their recruitment; or they have laid off their employees (Campello et al.,
2020; Giupponi & Landais, 2020). Indeed, millions of people found themselves unemployed due
to the COVID-19 outbreak (Blustein et al., 2020; Elsafty & Ragheb, 2020). Cheng et al. (2020)
pointed out that the employment activities have increased after the companies' reopening in some
US states mainly due to the return to work of employees, after lockdown, to their physical
workplace. Nevertheless, the reemployment probabilities diminish significatively for employees
who stayed longer away from their workplace.
Laying off employees is not an easy decision for organizations, but it might be inevitable
in times of crisis such as COVID-19. The main challenge of HRM practitioners, in this case, is to
support managers and employees during this process and to offer proper information. However,
it might not be easy in the context of uncertainty. Actually, all over the world, no one knows
when this pandemic will end and if its consequences on organizations will be temporary or
permanent (Bartik et al., 2020)
On the other hand, organizations that have expanded their business during the pandemic
have faced other types of staffing challenges. Many of them have opted out for more flexible
employment relationships and subcontracted work, such as temporary agency work, freelancers,
and the gig economy (Spurk & Straub, 2020), due to uncertainty generated by the COVID-19.
Indeed, these organizations have increased their recruitment (Akkermans et al., 2020;
Giupponi & Landais, 2020), nonetheless, they found themselves facing the pressure of workforce
shortage (Giupponi & Landais, 2020). In fact, how to recruit employees when people are afraid
of contagion? How to select employees when it is not allowed to meet them face to face, due to
the physical distancing measures? In these circumstances, these organizations had no other
choice than to orient their practices toward virtual recruitment and selection methods (Carnevale
& Hatak, 2020; Maurer, 2020), which might represent another significant challenge for HRM
practitioners as well as job applicants. Not all individuals are comfortable using information
communications technologies (ICT) tools. Also, HRM practitioners were not prepared for this
type of unexpected change. Moreover, virtual selection methods might affect the ability of
potential employees and employers to assess person-environment fit, which can have a negative
impact on employees' productivity and retention (Carnevale & Hatak, 2020). Besides, the
temporary character of flexible employment relationship posed the challenge of employees’
According to some authors, employee retention might represent another major challenge for
organizations in the current context of this pandemic (Elsafty & Ragheb, 2020; Ngoc Su et al.,
2021). Elsafty and Ragheb (2020) pointed out that during these hard times characterized by
drastic and sudden changes, employment relationships might be damaged, leading to the possible
dramatic decrease of employees’ morale and an increase in turnover. Furthermore, according to
Ngoc Su et al. (2021) retaining and attracting qualified individuals represents a challenge for
companies in the COVID-19 era, mainly because these individuals are often looking for job
opportunities in sectors that were not negatively affected by this pandemic. In the same vein,
Przytuła, Strzelec, and Krysińska-Kościańska (2020) highlighted the importance to increase the
engagement and the sense of belonging among employees, mainly the remote workforce during
this period and beyond, to ensure organizational success, and prevent recruitment costs (Lund et
Performance management is “a continuous process of identifying, measuring, and
developing the performance of individuals and workgroups and aligning performance with the
strategic goals of the organization” (Aguinis, 2019, p. 8). It is crucial to ensure that employees’
performance is aligned with the company’s strategic goals (Ismail & Gali, 2017).
To sustain the company amid a crisis like COVID-19, employees are still required to
maintain their good performance (Sembiring, Fatihudin, Mochklas, & Holisin, 2020). However,
it seems that the COVID-19 outbreak has also altered performance management in organizations.
According to some authors, most organizations were overwhelmed by the challenges resulting
from the COVID-19, like measuring employees’ performance and the disruption in performance-
based pay, that they have reduced or even abandoned performance management, due to the
complexity and the novelty of this pandemic (Aguinis & Burgi-Tian, 2020). In fact, measuring
employees’ performance during this crisis can be challenging, considering the modification of
the working conditions. Furthermore, there are many factors related to the COVID-19 outbreak
that may influence employees’ performance. In this context, the study of Prasad and Vaidya
(2020) reported that workplace isolation, lack of communication, family distractions, role
overload, and occupational stress factors (role ambiguity, role conflict, career, job-control),
which have emerged due to the COVID-19, mainly among employees working from home are
significant predictors of employees’ performance. Furthermore, employees’ performance during
remote working is also dependent on managers' understanding of how and what is required to
manage a remote team (Aitken-Fox et al., 2020b). Some authors argued that managers might not
accept remote working because they might consider that it affects employees’ performance
negatively, which can lead to the adoption of micromanagement that can be perceived by
employees as a lack of trust toward them (Aitken-Fox et al., 2020b), which can create tension
between them and their supervisor.
According to Aguinis and Burgi-Tian (2020), it is crucial for organizations during this
health crisis to maintain and strengthen their performance management process. They should
communicate relevant information related to the company’s strategic direction to their
employees, to collect useful business data, and to provide feedback to them, which will help
these organizations to retain their talents and to avoid legal suits. Ngoc Su et al. (2021) added
that the frequent appraising of employees’ performance fosters their learning and sharing that
can help organizations to win back their business. Considering the interrelation between HRM
functions, the study of Sembiring et al. (2020) showed that compensation might have a
significant impact on employees’ performance in the COVID-19 era. Hence, the authors
suggested that organizations should be more concerned about employees' total compensation (
financial and non-financial), and its fairness to sustain and improve their performance during
crises (Sembiring et al., 2020). The main challenge, in this context, might be related to the
financial capacity of the organization during this ongoing pandemic.
Training and career development
Training plays an important role in a period of crisis, such as pandemics (Devyania,
Jewanc, Bansal, & Denge, 2020; Hamouche, 2020). It helps to develop the needed skills for
employees (Akkermans et al., 2020); to increase the COVID-19 awareness, to reduce the risk of
the virus spread, and to prevent mental health issues (Quaedackers et al., 2020). It also helps to
support employees in the process of transition toward remote working. In fact, not all employees
have the proper digital skills to cope with these changes generated by the use of information and
communication technology ( ICT), whence the necessity to train them on the utilization of ICT,
which will help to facilitate their work and communication with their manager and peers while
they are away from their workplace (Greer & Payne, 2014). According to Przytuła et al. (2020),
organizations face the challenge of reskilling and upskilling their workforce to be able to deal
with the requirement new context of “ distance economy”. In this case, the main challenge for
HRM practitioners might be related to the development of a training program adapted to the new
reality of the organization and the employees and to choose the proper training methods,
considering physical distancing measures coupled with the necessity to have employees quickly
operational to sustain the company business. This suggests that managers and HRM practitioners
need to go beyond the traditional training methods. Devyania et al. (2020) recommended, in this
case, to change employees' training programs in a way that ensures a long-term transition toward
the new working practices.
The success of remote working is also dependent on managers' understanding of the
virtual supervision of employees (Aitken-Fox et al., 2020b). In this context, the HRM
practitioners should play a strategic role by supporting and training these managers on how to
manage a virtual team, to help them to overcome these difficulties and to cope with remote
working challenges in order to be able to support their team members (Hamouche, 2020).
Besides training, COVID-19 has posed significant challenges related to career
development in organizations. According to some authors, the COVID-19 has led to a grand
career shock (Akkermans et al., 2020; Baert et al., 2020). The study of Baert et al. (2020) based
on the analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on career outcomes and aspiration among a panel of
3,821 employees, showed that due to the COVID-19 crisis, employees were afraid of losing their
job in the near future. In addition, some of them expected to miss out on a promotion that they
should have received if this crisis has not happened.
Compensation management refers to the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards that employees
receive for performing their job. It encompasses monetary ( base pay/bonuses) and non-monetary
rewards (employee benefits) (Martocchio, 2017). Compensation can influence employees'
motivation, performance (Safuan & Kurnia, 2021; Sembiring et al., 2020), and retention (Elsafty
& Ragheb, 2020). The study of Elsafty and Ragheb (2020) showed that financial benefits like
bonuses during COVID-19 are associated significantly with employees' retention.
As a reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak, some countries have implemented
governmental policies to provide financial support for employees and organizations during this
health crisis and to encourage them to comply with the stay-at-home orders. For instance, in the
US, the federal government has enacted the temporary paid sick leave, allowing private and
public sectors employees two weeks of paid sick leave for isolation, treatment related to the
COVID-19, taking care of a member of their family infected by COVID-19, childcare caused by
the school or daycare closure (Andersen, Maclean, Pesko, & Simon, 2020). Short-time
compensation, also known as part-time jobs, has also been adopted to sustain the economy while
protecting business and employees’ jobs. It consists of offering employees a temporary reduction
in the number of their working hours which will help organizations that are experiencing a
decrease in the level of demand, to retain their employees and to avoid layoffs (Giupponi &
Landais, 2020). These measures alter compensation strategies and policies within organizations.
Furthermore, they might create a complex and challenging environment for managers and HRM
practitioners. According to some authors paid sick leave might lead to an increase in employees'
absence in the workplace (Maclean, Pichler, & Ziebarth, 2020). But at the same time, it helps to
prevent employees' presenteeism when they are sick (Schneider, 2020). Additionally, this type of
government's policies, such as paid sick leave, help to increase their implementation in industries
where employees have never got such benefits (Maclean et al., 2020), which suggest that
managers and HRM practitioners need to think about the way to sustain them to avoid losing
employees’ motivation after the pandemic. In this context, Przytuła et al. (2020) referred to the
importance of intrinsic motivation to retain employees, e.g. increasing employee autonomy.
Furthermore, compensation management can be particularly challenging in workplaces
where the risk of contamination is very high, for example in hospitals. In this context, the level
of compensation offered to employees may be questioned, to know if it is high enough
considering the level of risk that these employees encounter daily (Hecker, 2020). According to
Hecker (2020), individuals use to select jobs based on their risk tolerance in return for more
compensation for higher risks. Generally, the employer’s intervention is oriented toward the
necessary control of hazards to be able to recruit individuals for job positions with higher risks.
Hence, in case of a high level of risk associated with the job position without sufficient
compensation, many employees might decide to leave the organization (Hecker, 2020).
Safety and health management
Employers are responsible for the protection of their employees while they are working.
They must ensure that the workplace is free from any hazard that may psychologically or
physically harm them or cause their death. The COVID-19 has generated a new workplace
hazard (Hecker, 2020) that represents a significant source of stress for employees (Shaw et al.,
2020) and a significant challenge for managers and HRM practitioners (Hamouche, 2020). The
impact on employees’ health varies based on the working environment and the employee’s
occupational role (S. K. Brooks, Dunn, Amlôt, Rubin, & Greenberg, 2018). Two main
challenges can be identified in this context: how to control the spread of the virus and to protect
employees from contagion and how to develop the employees’ awareness about the importance
to respect the prevention measures implemented in the workplace. The WHO has provided
guidelines for organizations to ensure the protection of their employees (WHO, 2020a),
nonetheless, controlling employees' behavior might be challenging, considering that some people
may ignore self-isolation instructions (Gourinchas, 2020).
The recent development of vaccines against COVID-19 has brought the light of hope all
over the world, but it has also generated two additional new challenges for organizations,
specifically the management of the vaccination campaign in the workplace as well as their
capacity to sponsor it and cover its costs (Rothstein, Parmet, & Reiss, 2021), considering the
financial difficulties that they have witnessed due to this pandemic.
COVID-19 is not only a physical health risk, but it also represents a significant risk for
individuals’ mental health (Samantha K Brooks et al., 2020; Chen et al., 2020; Hamouche, 2020;
Qiu et al., 2020). It might be psychologically demanding for employees who work from home,
who can feel isolated and torn between their work and their private life (Prasad & Vaidya, 2020).
Moreover, employees who are required to be physically present in the workplace might return to
work with the fear of contracting the virus or transmitting it to their family (Tan et al., 2020),
which might increase their level of stress as well as the risk of mental health issues (Hamouche,
2020), especially for employees who were facing high psychological demands at work, prior to
the pandemic (Quaedackers et al., 2020), or those who have a high-risk job position, e.g.
healthcare workers (Hamouche, 2020). The main challenge for managers and HRM practitioners,
in this context, is to identify the risk factors and to implement the proper prevention measures in
the workplace, including for employees working from home (Hamouche, 2020).
Employment relationship refers to “the connection between employees and employers
through which individuals sell their labor” (Budd & Bhave, 2010). From a labor law perspective,
the COVID-19 has created important challenges for employees and employers (Biasi, 2020;
Sagan & Schüller, 2020). Due to the lockdown and mandatory closure of business both were not
able to accomplish their contractual obligations (Biasi, 2020). In fact, the challenges resulting
from the COVD-19 have transformed the traditional relationship between the employee and his
employer (Leighton & McKeown, 2020; Spurk & Straub, 2020). Work from home has been
implemented in different countries and companies (Spurk & Straub, 2020). Hence, the traditional
boundaries of the world of work have disappeared (Leighton & McKeown, 2020). In this
context, the COVID-19 has positioned the government as a planner more than a regulator (Sachs,
2020), which is challenging for organizations that need to adapt government plans and
regulations to their organizational context, while taking into consideration the needs of their
employees (Sachs, 2020).
Considering the novelty of this pandemic, most countries do not only rely on existing
regulations. They have amended, over a short and a prompt period, several labor laws (Sagan &
Schüller, 2020), to support employers and to protect employees (Alhambra, 2020; Mangan,
2020; Sachs, 2020; Sagan & Schüller, 2020). The main challenge was how to protect employees
while ensuring the continuity of the economy (Sachs, 2020). Some countries have adopted laws
to structure and temporarily prohibit collective lay off in organizations (Biasi, 2020). For
example, in Italy, a decree law has been issued to prohibit organizations from initiating a
collective layoff procedure for a period of 60 days (Biasi, 2020). Furthermore, various legal
measures and laws have been adopted to support employees during the lockdown and closure of
schools, e.g. employees were given paid leave to take care of their children. The main challenge
is the fact that it is still unclear when countries can declare the “end” of this pandemic (Spurk &
Straub, 2020). This represents a critical challenge for determining the proper period of protection
needed by employees, which might undermine the relationship between organizations,
employees, and their representatives (union) (Biasi, 2020). COVID-19 is an exceptional crisis
that has generated extraordinary measures. In some countries, e.g. in France, remote working is
voluntary and cannot be imposed by employers (Sachs, 2020), however, as in many other
countries the current situation has led employers to impose this mode of working on employees
whose job position can be performed from home (Sachs, 2020). The main challenge, in this
case, is the fact that disputes might arise between employers and the employees who had not
been offered the possibility to work from home or have contracted the COVID-19 at the
workplace (Sachs, 2020). In fact, in case of a lack of contractual agreement, it is possible,
according to Sagan and Schüller (2020) to question the consistency of the employers with the
Currently, with the recent development of COVID-19 vaccines, the main challenge for
organizations from an employment relationship perspective is the management of the vaccination
campaign in terms of costs and application, while ensuring compliance with the country
regulations (Rothstein et al., 2021). This development also raises the question about the ability
of the employer to impose it on their employees. According to Rothstein et al. (2021), the
adoption of a rigid, coercive approach could intensifier the reluctance of the individuals who are
not sure yet about the vaccine. These authors suggested that organizations should educate their
employees about the benefits of vaccination and should facilitate it, for example by offering time
off for employees for vaccination purposes, rather than imposing it (Rothstein et al., 2021).
Opportunities, future organizational directions, and insights into HRM interventions
The COVID-19 has posed grand challenges for managers and HRM practitioners, but it
has also opened the door to opportunities worth knowing and understanding, that can help
organizations to direct their future actions. Indeed, according to Demirkaya and Aydın (2006), a
crisis might create unexpected opportunities for organizations. In this section, we will discuss
these opportunities while linking them to the potential future directions in HRM.
The COVID-19 has challenged organizations’ creativity and innovation and has urged
discussions about the future of work (Hite & McDonald, 2020). It has accelerated the disruption
of HRM as well as the implementation of scenarios expected for the future (Hite & McDonald,
2020). Moreover, it has pushed organizations to rethink their HRM strategies and to go beyond
the traditional models of managing human resources, by positioning new information technology
as an essential partner to survive and to ensure the sustainability of their business. In this context,
new legislation has been adopted in different countries to support organizations in this sudden
and unexpected transformation. For example, Germany has adopted new legislation to introduce
the possibility of video conferencing in two areas (Sagan & Schüller, 2020), to support the
implementation of remote working in organizations.
Therefore, the normality that seems to be emerging for the moment in workplaces is the
implementation of remote working. However, it is earlier, according to some authors to confirm
that all organizations which have adopted remote working will continue to adopt it in the future,
beyond the COVID-19 (Aitken-Fox et al., 2020b). They are probably reviewing the effectiveness
of this work organization before taking their decision, considering that they have implemented it
for the first time. So, they do not know yet how it can affect employees’ performance and
productivity (Aitken-Fox et al., 2020b). However, it seems according to a recent report published
by McKinsey Global Institute which assessed the lasting impact of COVID-19 on labor
demands, occupations, and workforce skills in eight countries ( China, France, Germany, India,
Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that remote work, as well as virtual
meetings, will continue but less intensely than at the peak of COVID-19 (Lund et al., 2021).
Despite its challenges, remote working offers employees the opportunity to have flexible
working hours, save commuting time, foster job control, and experience the use of new
information and communication technology (Prasad & Vaidya, 2020). In addition, it offers
companies the opportunity to optimize the use and save the costs of their resources, e.g. office
space. Actually, business sectors in some countries, for example in Korea, see growth
opportunities in non-contact industries which encompasses telecommunication, remote support
solutions, and online education (Liu et al., 2020).
Moreover, COVID-19 offers opportunities for organizations to develop the autonomy of
their employees, upgrade their digital competencies, and broaden the perspective of their
competencies’ development. Besides, this pandemic has positioned new technology as a strategic
partner for organizations. It has helped to sustain businesses and to shorten the distance between
employees and their employers while ensuring their safety. It has fostered the creativity of
managers and HRM practitioners and it has facilitated the transition from traditional face-to-face
socialization methods to virtual ones, e.g. virtual meetings, lunches, and coffee breaks
(Carnevale & Hatak, 2020). It has also helped to sustain staffing in organizations while
respecting physical distancing measures.
The new technology has also supported the management of safety and health in
workplaces. It has helped to implement the decision to keep the employees at home and to
protect them from the risk of infection, while they keep on working for the organization. It has
also supported healthcare professionals, e.g. psychologists who have continued to help the
population through telehealth systems while respecting physical distancing measures. In China,
for instance, mental health services have been provided, during the pandemic, using various
channels like hotlines, online consultations, online courses (Gao et al., 2020), and telemental
health services (Zhou et al., 2020). According to Lund et al. (2021), COVID-19 may accelerate
the adoption of automation and artificial intelligence in sectors with high levels of human
interaction, such as medical care, personal care (e.g. gyms, hair salons). Hence, it is crucial for
organizations to get to grips with information and communication technology and to make it
accessible to all its members, in order to be able to sustain their business during extraordinary
crises. Some authors insisted on the importance of using artificial intelligence (AI) for HRM
during a period of a health crisis and recommended using it as an effective tool to prevent
disruptions in operations and management practices while ensuring physical distancing and the
protection of employees (Devyania et al., 2020). In the same vein, Liu et al. (2020)
recommended the development of predictive models, which takes into account the risk factors
and the uncertainties in the proactive scheduling and planning of supply, which might help
decision makers to create various dynamic scenarios that can be automatized with the use of
artificial intelligence (AI). The use of new technology also supports data analytics that can help
HRM practitioners to optimize and improve HRM functions and practices in organizations, such
as workforce planning, recruitment, and talent management (AM, Affandi, Udobong, & Sarwani,
2020), during this pandemic and beyond.
Identifying the opportunities generated by COVID-19 can help HRM practitioners to
develop the proper HRM interventions and future actions. Nevertheless, it is important to take
into account the fact that organizations all over the world are still witnessing the pervasive effect
of this pandemic that does not seem to end quickly. Undoubtedly the enhancement of
organizational resilience is required. In this context, organizations need to be able to develop
innovative responses to effectively absorb and face disturbance that threatens their survival
(Ngoc Su et al., 2021). HRM practitioners should work in collaboration with managers and
employees to transform the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 into opportunities, to
rethink their HRM functions and practices, e.g. compensation and performance management, and
to adapt them to the employees' new working conditions generated by the COVID-19 crisis.
According to Przytuła et al. (2020), organizations need to lay new foundations, by redefining the
new trends in HRM practices. In fact, after almost more than one year of new functioning based
mostly on remote work, organizations need to re-evaluate their context, compare the new trends
in HRM generated by this unexpected crisis, and assess their applicability.
Considering the unpredictability of the current situation and the high level of doubt
surrounding its end, organizations should opt out to move towards a hybrid workplace model
(AM et al., 2020; Kaufman et al., 2020; Przytuła et al., 2020), flexible enough to allow a quick
and efficient adaptation of the organization to the requirements of this new situation and beyond.
HRM practitioners need to adapt job positions and focus on job redesign within the organization.
Lund et al. (2021) suggested, in this case, emphasizing necessary tasks and activities related to a
job rather than the whole job to increase the organizations’ operational flexibility as well as
agility. Employees should receive the necessary organizational support to acquire the skills
needed during this pandemic and beyond, coupled with the development of career pathways
offering possibilities of upward mobility (Ngoc Su et al., 2021) and enhancing their
employability. Such interventions should have a positive impact on employees' motivation and
retention as well as the reduction of the costs related to recruitment (Lund et al., 2021). Some
authors go so far as to suggest that organizations should reinvent themselves by the integration of
entrepreneurship competencies among their employees, to help them to learn how to adjust
themselves to the uncertainty that can be generated by an unexpected crisis and to thrive in a
dynamic environment (Carnevale & Hatak, 2020; Liu et al., 2020). The field of entrepreneurship
might help employees to explore, to evaluate, and to exploit opportunities that occur in a
dynamic and unstable environment, considering that this field is based on exploration,
evaluation, discovery, and the capacity to transform challenges brought on by an ambiguous
context into opportunities (Carnevale & Hatak, 2020).
Besides, the pivotal role of the new information technology during the pandemic should
urge managers and HRM practitioners to explore effective ways to integrate it into HRM and
adapt it to the context of their organization. Moreover, they need to identify the specific training
needs, as not all employees, including managers, have the proper technological competencies.
The involvement of employees is required to ensure the success of this organizational change.
Additionally, sustaining communication with them should help to reduce their stress and increase
their trust in the organization (Hamouche, 2020).
Furthermore, employees should be given the possibility to work remotely with the
flexibility to choose when and where to work (Kaufman et al., 2020; Przytuła et al., 2020),
without limiting the workspace to their home. However, organizations should provide the
possibility to schedule a flexible presence in the office to keep the employees connected to their
workplace, by ensuring the presence of efficient health and safety measures and facilitating
access to vaccination. Considering the blur surrounding private and professional life boundaries,
managers should communicate and discuss with their employees the expectations of the
organizations in terms of performance. In this regard, managers, supported by HRM
practitioners, should review and realign the performance management system in order to adapt
the performance objectives to the new reality of organizations and employees (AM et al., 2020).
They should provide continuous feedback that will enhance learning and sharing among
employees and foster organizational flexibility, agility as well as employees’ motivation and
retention (Ngoc Su et al., 2021). They should also develop wellbeing programs that aim at
protecting employees' mental health, and providing solutions adapted to the needs of every
employee, in terms of resources and social support (Hamouche, 2020). Managers should discuss
with their employees the different scenarios of work schedules adapted to the requirements of the
current situation. Also, with the support of HRM practitioners, managers should increase
employees' awareness about the necessity to disconnect from work when it is required to prevent
mental health issues.
In this context, rebuilding the organizational culture is needed to facilitate the adoption of
flexible work arrangements and the transition towards a hybrid working model (AM et al., 2020;
Ngoc Su et al., 2021). Moreover, developing and maintaining a cohesive culture that supports
employees’ connections and interactions is required (Lund et al., 2021), to encourage social
support and collaboration among employees, particularly those working remotely. In fact, virtual
interactions might affect the socialization process, the acquisition of tacit knowledge related to
the organizational culture (Asatiani et al., 2021). This led some authors to recommend the
development and implementation of a digital organizational culture handbook, which should be
made available to employees working remotely through the organization’s intranet, to provide
toolkits that support and vehicles symbolic aspects of the organizational culture, such as values
(Asatiani et al., 2021).
Contribution and practical implications for organizations
In the business world, crises are inevitable. However, no one can predict a crisis with the
magnitude of the COVID-19, which has accelerated the disruption of traditional methods of
HRM and has created significant challenges for managers and HRM practitioners, who were not
fully equipped in terms of information, resources, and competencies to cope with the complexity
and the novelty of this pandemic.
Besides these challenges, COVID-19 has opened the door to opportunities that
organizations should know to be able to properly direct their future actions in HRM. This paper
is a general literature review that provides relevant and useful information which can help
managers and HRM practitioners to understand the main challenges and opportunities related to
the COVID-19. The insights provided in this paper into the future directions in HRM should help
them to develop an intervention plan adapted to the needs of their organizations and employees.
Conclusion and future research
The contribution of this paper should, however, be considered in light of some
limitations. First, our research is a general literature review with an informative purpose, which
might suggest that there is a possibility of a subjective selection of literature. Notwithstanding,
the databases that we have used (Google scholar, Ebsco, and Semantic scholar) provide the most
cited articles. Besides, the purpose and the informative character of this paper do not require a
systematic review of the literature. Second, while writing this paper, the COVID-19 is still
present. So, it is not possible to identify accurately the long-term challenges and opportunities.
Future research should be directed toward longitudinal analysis to identify these challenges and
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