Baby boomers have become baby zoomers

My expectation is that we will move to a hybrid form of work

HRM is more than ever in the spotlight. The corona pandemic ensures an increasing importance of a sound strategic personnel policy. “We are now rethinking what the future of work should look like and how to organise it.”


Text: Jerry Huinder


Is the pandemic a nice challenge for HR managers? “Absolutely, without a doubt.” That may sound a bit harsh from the mouth of Lucas van Wees, president (2018-2020)of the European Association for People Management (EAPM), but as Holland’s most famous footballer once said: ‘Every disadvantage has its advantage’. And as terrible as the pandemic on a personal and business level is for many people, for the HRM department it is a very exciting time. “Topics and themes that many HR professionals are working on are now facing an acceleration in attention and importance. As a result, HR’s strategic development agenda is becoming increasingly sustainable. Trends that were already visible to corona are accelerating and becoming more mainstream”. (1)


As a result, working from home, where possible, has now become the standard. A blessing or a curse?

“I am convinced that if this pandemic had happened to us some 15 years ago, when we were not technically doing so well, the consequences would have been much more dramatic. Now many babyboomers have become baby-zoomers and hybrid works are becoming the new standard, made possible by technological developments. So it’s a blessing on balance, but one with a raw edge. Think, for example, of (international) students who are educated and deprived of social contacts. Or older people who are not always able to develop digital skills and become isolated.”


What factors are important if you have to answer the question whether working from home is a stayer?

“This will determine social and political support and socio-economic consideration. Let us not forget that Covid-19 will not be the last epidemic. The massive switch to working from home was a sensible way to quickly prevent the spread of the epidemic. My expectation is that we will move to a hybrid form of work with one to three days of working from home and the remaining days as office days, where we look forward to seeing and inspiring each other physically again. McKinsey expects three to four times as many people to work from home than before the epidemic”. (1)


Are the managers convinced yet?

“For corona, not many managers were positive about working from home, although this now seems to have been adjusted a bit. Leiding givers were concerned about declining productivity and focus and reduced engagement. In this corona age, organizations are setting up (online) training courses in managing home workers in which they are given concrete tools to assess performance and manage expectations. Many prejudices about working from home can be disproved. Research by the consulting firm Gallup shows that there is more engagement with employees who work 20 to 50 percent from home. However, domestic workers are more likely to be socially isolated and loneliness. It makes sense for managers and teams to devote more time and attention to optimising (digital) contact.”


What are notable differences between countries in Europe when you look at the will to work from home?

“What we can already see is that the big differences have to do with the extent to which digitisation is involved and the degree to which there is trust between employer and employees. When it comes to Europe, the Scandinavian countries, but also the Netherlands, stand out. These countries are seen as ‘high trust societies’, where digitisation and bandwidth are at the forefront and there are constructive relationships between social partners.”


Are differences in dealing with corona explaining from the culture of countries? For example, if you look at hierarchy, avoiding uncertainty or individualism?

“Earlier this year, an official survey by Luc Hagenaars and Patrick Jeurissen of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport was published on the severity of the lockdown policy and the extent to which it is in line with national cultures. The international comparison of national measures is based on the Oxford University COVID-19 stringency index. With the culture comparative model of Hofstede (Hofstede explains differences in cultures in six dimensions, being power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty-meaving, long- or short-termism and indulgence versus restraint, ed.) some possible reasons have been described why the Dutch approach differed from those in Spain (stricter), Sweden (less stringent) and South Korea (often seen as good practice). This shows that the Dutch focus on personal responsibility to protect the vulnerable is well in line with the culture, while the collectivist and very pragmatic oriented culture in South Korea can explain why it is seen as good practice. Hierarchy, for example, is again strongly discussed in Spain, which plays a role in the stricter policies pursued there. Sweden, after all, tends to be low-risk and quite exuberant, which is in line with the less severe lockdown there.”


Finally, what will the world of the HR professional look like by the end of 2021?

“The world comes out of a long ‘hibernation’. It is expected that by the end of 2021 we will be able to look back on a year in which a perspective has become possible for many. By then, much of the developed world will be vaccinated. From the summer onwards, there has been ‘normalisation’ in large parts of the world. Aid measures are being phased out and a dynamic is underway with a lot of restructuring. As usual, HR professionals have an important role to play in this. More attention is being drawn to the relative losers in the labour market (temporary staff and stagiaires) and for an inclusive, diverse and safe working environment. Perpetuating hybrid works will require time and attention and there will be a big catch-up demand for physical contact. Think of team sessions and delayed receptions, anniversaries and drinks. Innovation and creativity are given a strong boost. HR strategies are being recalibrated and many employees will make new choices in work-life balance. After all, the long sitting at home has the side effect that there is a lot of reflection before and this will lead to a high demand for career and career advice, coaching and more dynamics in the labour market. By way of illustration, the 22,000 free career advice offered by the Cabinet in the hope of rectifying the skewed relationships in the labour market through the corona crisis, had already ceased after a month. Fortunately, money has also been set aside for career advice in 2021.”



‘The long sitting at home has the side effect that there has been a lot of reflection’

‘When it comes to Europe, the Scandinavian countries, but also the Netherlands, look good’



Lucas van Wees was president (2018-2020) of the EAPM and is a board member of the global HR Board (WFPMA). The EAPM, through 34 national HR associations, has 250000 HR professionals in Europe. He worked at Philips, Shell, KPN, KLM and (since 2016) as hrm director at the Universiteit of Amsterdam. He is also a director at VNO/NCW West for the Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam and founder of the Human Capital Network.