Uncharted Waters: HR in Challenging Times


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The economic and business repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic are hard to assess at this point. Pundits are at odds as to how long will it take sectors to recuperate, and how deep the financial pit will actually be. In such uncertain times, employees isolated at home in front of their screens or in fear of losing their jobs are under serious pressure that HR departments must try to alleviate.

Photo by tomertu/Shutterstock

Working from home may sound like a blessing, but if handled carelessly, it can easily become a curse not only for management but also for employees. Yet, the landscape of work-life balance in Hungary is changing, just as it is globally.

Blue collar workers are facing redundancies and furloughs, and white collar workers need to juggle the comfort of remote working and time gained due to the lack of a commute with efficiency difficulties due to distractions of home schooling and the mental challenges that arise from being isolated from team members.

“Most companies were not ready for WFH, neither technically nor mentally,” Patrik Molontay, managing director of HumanField Executive Search, tells the Budapest Business Journal.

Patrik Molontay

After a few weeks of working from home, Hungarian companies have found that remote working is just not as efficient as working in an office with colleagues, as maintaining motivation and bonding between team members is a challenge for leaders.

Sándor Baja, Randstad’s managing director for Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic, told the BBJ that some companies tackled shifting to WFH seamlessly. He believes, however, that the real challenge will come after 12-15 weeks.

“How will people tolerate isolation? We see that our colleagues in Singapore are suffering a lot as they have been at home since February,” Baja points out.

György G. Palásti

Less Productive?

A survey by Grafton Recruitment found that not everybody appreciates WFH. “It is not obvious that everyone has a suitable environment for remote work,” György G. Palásti, managing director of Grafton Recruitment Kft., says. A lot of employees also find phone or video conferencing far less productive, especially in fields where creative cooperation is essential.

Remote working challenges are different for managers and employees. “Having trust in your team members and using the right communication channels and tools are essential for managers and team leaders to maintain productivity and high morale,” Rita Cséke, director at Reed Specialist Recruitment Hungary, notes.

Managers need to educate staff on how to structure their WFH routines and employees need to focus on planning each day, prioritizing their tasks. Cséke, however, adds that there are companies moving away from the more traditionally number of worked hours to the “job shall be done” model.

Quick online communication channels are pivotal in countering the sentiment of isolation, especially as it leads to mental difficulties.

“Uncertainty causes anxiety, fear, anger, and significantly increases stress levels, so it is a good idea to make available an employee assistance program or a professional, such as a psychologist or coach, who employees can turn to if needed, free of charge,” Lili Melinda Simon-Göröcs, head of HR at job portal, says.

Rita Cséke

Managerial Support

Managers need to support their staff in these times, strengthening their sense of belonging, as it boosts performance and commitment, and elevates employee experience levels. Indeed, clear and honest communication is imperative.

“What is common and key for all companies is how they communicate,” Réka Tamás, people and organization manager at PwC Hungary, explains. Communication should be transparent and consistent so employees can feel they can trust their employers.

“The key messages should be clearly communicated from all levels of the management, so the employees can undoubtedly see what efforts are taken,” she adds.

The closure of schools and universities further complicates the WFH scenario. “Parents are in a tough position too, as they have to study with their children in addition to working from home. They have to perform on several fronts and often in unfamiliar situations,” Csongor Juhász, managing director of the Prohuman Group, says.

Maintaining focus and remaining a strong figure for the younger generation under such a pressure is a truly demanding task.

Sándor Baja

Recruiting Online

This alien climate does not only upend retention but also recruitment. “Most of our clients have not cancelled recruitment yet, but the process is getting longer. Some companies still do personal interviews, but most carry it out online via phone interviews,” Molontay of HumanField says.

Baja of Randstad believes human resources departments have come to a fork, and they need to make a change in how they operate. “HR is redefining itself. In most companies there is a hiring freeze or people are being laid off. What was a candidate market in most cases is becoming an employer market. The new role of HR is difficult: to find the balance between the company interest – survival – and protecting the employees is not easily found,” Baja points out.

“A significant number of companies have introduced a hiring freeze and put some investments on hold, resulting in a huge drop of open positions,” Palásti of Grafton agrees.

“Those companies that continue hiring try their best to implement social distancing during recruitment, by using digital solutions, like phone and video interviews.” However, he adds that such practices are often impossible for blue collar jobs.

Social distancing itself has sparked a sudden shift. “Companies needed to quickly and effectively switch to online facilitation of interviewing and onboarding processes,” Cséke of Reed points out.

“On many occasions we can now shorten the recruitment process, as candidates and clients can be available at shorter notice than for face-to-face processes,” she added.

Csongor Juhász

Virtual Existence

It is not only job interviews that have found a new home in the cloud, however. “All employer branding events, job fairs or job advertisements are also running online,” PwC’s Tamás says, adding that some companies are ready to hire people without meeting them face-to-face, under the current circumstances.

While some white collar jobs in certain sectors, such as telco, IT, FMCG and pharma, are hardly at risk, for obvious reasons, cash flow issues in other sectors will result (if they have not already done so) in redundancies and furloughs.

The most visibly shaken field globally is hospitality and tourism, as hotels sealed their doors, restaurants and bars closed and airplanes were grounded. Temporarily, of course, but for how long? Nobody really knows.

Lili Melinda Simon-Göröcs

“The immediate impact of COVID-19 had a detrimental effect on certain sectors. [...] We are yet to see and fully understand how this crisis will affect the economy and business in the long-term; once the pandemic comes to an end, we will know what positive and negative lessons we can learn from it,” Cséke of Reed says.

Baja insists that life will find a “new normal” after the worst of the pandemic passes, foreseeing that businesses will need to learn how to work with social distancing in the long-term and establish which business models are applicable in such a scenario.

“To die in fever or from hunger; that is the question. We must find a safe way to return to work. The world will change a lot after the crisis. The ‘pause’ button is now pushed, but when we release it, another film will start playing,” Baja concludes.

Réka Tamás
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