The COVID-19 pandemic has had an important impact on the business environment, not least in terms of companies’ human resources, workforce planning and the workplace experience. In the past year, AmCham Belgium’s Human Capital and Talent (HCT) Committee strove to integrate and address these new challenges faced by our member companies and their employees.
While the impact has varied between companies and sectors, three themes have been central to members’ concerns in navigating the pandemic: labor force mobility, wellbeing in the workplace and adapting to new ways of working.
Working from anywhere?
In addition to the need to adapt to large-scale remote working, travel restrictions represented a challenge for member companies which rely on an internationally mobile workforce. Companies were already grappling with Brexit and the introduction of the Single Permit when COVID-19 put a halt to most international travel, particularly from outside of Europe.
Moving beyond the pandemic, employers will need to adapt to new demands for temporary or longer-term remote working options across borders. While this creates opportunities to recruit outside of Belgium and creates more flexibility for workers, companies will also have to navigate the complex and often overwhelming world of social security, labor law and tax compliance across countries that do not have the same legal requirements and where, to date, little EU-wide guidance exists.
Furthermore, high labor costs in Belgium mean that international companies may consider new alternatives to having a large workforce based in Belgium.
AmCham Belgium’s HCT Committee, as well as the Employee Tax Subcommittee and the Immigration Taskforce, will continue to monitor trends and developments in this area, as well as advocate for improved flexibility of work organization.
Giving more importance to wellbeing in the workplace
While staying at home to avoid infection was a necessary response to a worldwide pandemic, the protracted lockdown also placed a burden on our mental health. Some workers have benefited from an improved work-life balance, the ability to organize their work in a way that better fits their natural rhythm and avoiding the daily commute.
On the other side of the spectrum, employees have suffered from social isolation, increased levels of anxiety, have struggled to disconnect from work and/or balance work and home life. The compounding factors of spending long periods of time at home, a decrease in social or leisure activities, and the lingering uncertainty about government measures and the spread of the virus, have caused a number of mental health issues for individuals of all ages and walks of life.
As a result of these developments, health and wellbeing in the workplace have risen even further on the agenda of Human Resources (HR) departments. Workplace initiatives to combat a sedentary lifestyle, encourage workers to move more, and stimulate healthier food choices were already commonplace, especially among larger companies. Recent months have shown the equal importance of mental and physical wellbeing and the social aspect of work. As a result, multi-faceted workplace programs that equally address physical and mental health are becoming more common, but there is still a long way to go in making psychosocial wellbeing at work a priority of equal standing to physical fitness.
(Mental) health and wellbeing in the workforce will remain a key topic for the HCT Committee in the coming year. New trends such as increased remote work are also challenging international businesses to find ways to manage and support remote colleagues, maintain supportive team dynamics, and cultivate engagement and a sense of belonging across the workforce.
Creating the workplace of tomorrow
The pre-existing war on talent means that employers must meet the expectations not only of their current workforce, but also appeal to young graduates and tomorrow’s workforce.
Flexible work arrangements – both in schedule and location – are emerging as a key expectation of younger generations, but the pursuit of interesting and challenging work remains the number one reason workers move, nationally and internationally. Employers may therefore need to rethink the jobs they offer, particularly where digitalization and automatization may be used to not only minimize redundant tasks, but also gain in efficiency. As has been the case in the past, the HCT Committee is planning to collaborate with member companies to gain additional insight into the expectations of young graduates when it comes to their future work life.
Younger generations, however, are not the only ones employers must attract and retain. On the one hand, international companies in Belgium are competing with entities in neighboring countries to attract talent, while on the other, a general aging of the population coupled with technological advances means that continual training and reskilling of the workforce is becoming increasingly important.
Be it to exchange best practices on employee engagement and retention, discuss digitalization of the work environment, or continue to advocate for government policies that facilitate talent acquisition, the Human Capital and Talent Committee continues to support AmCham Belgium’s member companies in their efforts to create an engaging and productive place to work.
AmCham’s Human Capital and Talent Committee is composed of human resource professionals, employment lawyers and professionals with a human resources-related role.
About the author
As well as ensuring that colleagues have a pleasant and motivating work environment, Sibille keeps an eye on AmCham's finances. Enjoys crafting and collecting indoor plants.