From adaptation to transformation and empathy. What’s new in personnel management?

You may have heard this question – what do those people in Human Resources do? Some erroneously believe they only hire and fire staff, adjusting compensation from time to time. HR management is an organisation’s essential driver and change agent, tasked with corporate culture, employee well-being and growth. Here to talk about key trends in personnel management (also known as human resources or HR) is the head of HR at LPB Bank, Agija Freiberga.

We live in an era of rapid change when it is necessary to react quickly. We must not “relax” even for a moment, as this will directly threaten the bank’s competitiveness. It is not easy for everyone to accept change, but development is impossible without it. It is important to have the courage to continue what has been started, quickly adapt to new conditions and accept new challenges. So, from an HR point of view, we need to get ahead of the high-speed train and put all our efforts and financial resources into improving the skills of our employees.

There’s no speaking of new developments in personnel management without mentioning the Covid-19 pandemic. Since 2020, the hottest keywords in the field have been telecommuting, burnout, well-being and mental health. The lockdown was difficult for everyone. In 2021, many employers thought about where their staff would work, while in 2022, the main question is how. This has taken a new approach to personnel management. Direct supervisors and HR are helping their teams set common working hours for everyone while identifying the most productive slots for each employee individually. We still can’t say that the situation in Latvia or globally has stabilised, but people have more or less adjusted to the crisis. Some speak of transformation as a follow-up from extended adaptation,

“To establish new business processes, which inevitably involved remote work and hybrid work, management skill and experience must be supplanted with a fair bit of trust and empathy for one’s employees. I believe that a personnel manager is also a psychologist and psychotherapist to some extent – people often go to HR with issues beyond their working environment. I tell colleagues that my doors are always open. Sometimes, hearing them out by giving them just 20 minutes of undivided attention can accomplish much more than delivering another mental health presentation. If the head of personnel does their job with genuine concern, from the heart and not just as a chore, it helps them establish a link between employees and the company. This contributes to loyalty,” LPB Bank head of HR is convinced.

A recent Gartner poll of 500 HR managers identified that 95% of respondents expect some of their staff to continue telecommuting going forward. Agija Freiberga is certain that the review and reinvention of employment models will continue. Of course, not all companies and not all roles allow them to work remotely, but the trend is picking up speed, and ever more job applicants will ask about telecommuting and hybrid workplaces. Companies in Latvia have taken these developments in stride by making their offices smaller and repurposing those for creative problem-solving and socialising instead of everyday work. People are coming together in groups to organise strategic planning sessions, brainstorm, and engage in team-building,” Freiberga notes.

The HR executive knows that many experts indicate empathy as a major aspect of the profession in 2023. “Now is the time for real empathy. We all have heard companies saying, yes, people are important; we listen to them. But these words often remain just words – the company and its goals remain top priorities, and people come second. The time has come to consider whether our business can satisfy our staff’s needs, expectations and abilities. Do we give them every instrument for development and self-improvement? Sir Richard Branson once said if you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients. The bank’s management supports a people-oriented management style. We’re not shy about asking for help because we believe it’s the first step to growth. The employee should not be afraid of his own shadow. We conducted a workplace satisfaction survey this year, noticing that 94% of our employees can freely express their opinion and engage in discussion with management and colleagues on any matter; 92% would recommend our Bank as a great place to work; 92% feel that they are working in a team to achieve a common goal; 92% that their line manager is helpful and supportive. These indicators are important because they show that we have created a collective atmosphere of trust and openness.”

In addition to empathy, HR opinion leaders talk about life coaching. “Businesses used to feel unwelcome and unwilling to engage with aspects of their employee’s lives outside of work. What they do in their private life with their friends and families should not be the employer’s concern. The tide is now changing. We now see that companies worldwide are starting to view their human resources more broadly, helping people improve at work and in their private lives. Employers teach financial management and interpersonal communication and encourage personal growth outside work. In Latvia, this is not at all widespread, but we will introduce best practices over time – HR specialists act as agents of change and take responsibility for the well-being of staff,” Freiberga believes, adding that responsibility, including social responsibility, is a major component of human resource management.

“An important global trend – which I have already noticed in Latvia, not just in many studies – is corporate social responsibility. A study conducted by Brand Capital showed that companies must contribute to solving problems that matter to society. I believe that HR specialists should be a force for progress; they should take action beyond communicating the employer’s stance on various matters. The same applies to ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) initiatives. Making a company’s operations sustainable starts with small things – turning the lights off, sparing printer ink and paper, sorting waste and looking for waste-free solutions, setting up volunteer clean-up efforts and so on,” Agija Freiberga comments.

Why do professionals choose LPB Bank as an employer?

“Banks lost some of their prestige as employers – but in the past five years, the trend has reversed through industry convergence. Every field has been diffusing into related sectors. Telecom companies have been developing 5G technology by pivoting to media, publishing and entertainment. Retailers are going into mobile sales, distribution and logistics. Banks have been focusing on fintech, which makes employment with a bank an attractive opportunity – providing a wide variety of interesting roles, projects and challenges,” Freiberga argues.

LPB Bank has been among the first few banks in Latvia to bet on fintech and create innovative solutions for non-bank companies. According to analytics company CB Insights, the amount of global investment in fintech reached a historical record of USD 132 billion in 2021. As digital services develop, fintech is becoming a lucrative area for people that seek professional development in a fast-paced and growing sector. It takes a certain degree of curiosity and willingness to always learn on the job.

“Organisations have always provided training to their staff, but this aspect is also transforming. It is no longer a matter of becoming better in a certain career path but rather a matter of developing multiple career paths by teaching people a variety of professions and roles that they do not know but would like to discover. An important term here is upskilling or reskilling. This may involve financial auditors learning about cyber security, HR specialists trying out public relations or data science – rotating outside their core function to gain business experience laterally and coming back with a more nuanced understanding and higher professional performance. It will matter a lot in future, so LPB Bank is devoting substantial effort to lifelong staff learning. We hold on-site training sessions and provide access to online courses, high-end expos and business travel to meet and share experiences with colleagues in the industry. This is how we provide our employees with an opportunity to develop their career path and improve labour mobility within the organisation, enabling growth and fulfilment in the workplace,” Freiberga explains. To her, the main driver behind the team working at LPB Bank is having a clear goal – providing state-of-the-art, high-quality solutions for further e-commerce, embedding the company’s motto of being more than an ordinary bank. “People today look for more than a comfortable work environment, educational opportunities, care and empathy on the part of their employer. The number one thing they value is work that makes them feel important and fulfilled. LPB Bank provides these opportunities,” the HR specialist concludes.