Creating Certainty in Uncertain Times

Town Hall Insights
Toronto CHRO Community

Elizabeth McSavaney

VP, Head of Human Resources

Zurich Insurance


Brooke Ferguson


Hudson's Bay Co


Craig Alexander

Head, Talent Acquisition

Bank of Montreal


Janet Joubran

Chief People Officer



Ritu Chatterjee

General Director, Human Resources & Labour Relations

General Motors of Canada

JUNE 2023

As economic instability continues, executives are still grappling with the “triple squeeze” of rising inflation, scarce expensive talent and continuous supply chain disruptions. With no end in sight, Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) must strategically make trade-offs between reducing spending and developing initiatives that ease impacts to employees and drive retention. 

CHROs outlined these areas as mission critical priorities in our annual Leadership Perspective Survey, and recently, the Toronto CHRO community gathered for a Town Hall to discuss how to balance intense budgetary restrictions while improving the employee experience. 

CHROs’ Talent Outlook in 2023

To kick off the program, attendees participated in an interactive survey to level-set the topic. HR leaders were asked to share the first word that comes to mind when they think about their organizations’ talent outlook, and unpredictable, demanding, cautious, concerning and uncertain all received equal attention.

When asked about their greatest challenges in the competitive labor market today, there was a tie between upskilling to fill gaps internally and retention, both receiving 44% of the vote. Only 11% of CHROs selected recruitment as a top obstacle.

In response to where their organization is placing the most focus to keep employees engaged during times of uncertainty, CHROs overwhelmingly shared that they are focusing on both wellbeing and culture.

Key Takeaways from the Discussion

During the program, HR leaders broke into intimate, small groups to share their challenges and lessons learned. They explored how to minimize the impact of inflation and support employees during economic uncertainty, how to engage employees amid widespread layoffs and market volatility and how to create a culture of empathy.

Governing Body Members from the Toronto CHRO Community Elizabeth McSavaney, VP, Head of Human Resources, Zurich Insurance; Brooke Ferguson, CHRO, Hudson's Bay Co; Craig Alexander, Head, Talent Acquisition, Bank of Montreal; Janet Joubran, Chief People Officer, KFC; Ritu Chatterjee, General Director, Human Resources & Labour Relations, General Motors of Canada helped facilitate the discussions.

These are their key takeaways:

  • CHROs are focusing on authentic communication, transparent dialogue and consistent communication. They were in agreement that they must create new ways of communication to reach all employees. One CHRO shared, “Video has been really helpful, especially for diversity initiatives where there may be language barriers.” Another CHRO is focusing on empowering leaders through communication efforts, and they enacted “manager circles” to open transparent conversations around common issues.

One people leader advised their peers to be “generous listeners,” and they have seen positive results from showing empathy and ensuring survey feedback is either acted upon or widely acknowledged.

  • Wellbeing should be a critical component of organizational culture. The workforce is overwhelmed, and one CHRO shared that it’s okay to have wellness days where employees are encouraged to “do less with less.” Another stated, “There is an advantage to being a first mover on this.”

HR leaders discussed a number of ways they are incorporating this into their organizational cultures, namely: “mental health moments” at company town halls to recognize employee struggles and provide help, “work from anywhere” days, half days off, allowing employees to take off on one Friday per month, walking meetings for physical wellbeing, and even wine once per week in the office.

  • Tangible total rewards are necessary in today’s economic climate, and CHROs specified ways they are supporting their employees, both monetarily and through assistance programs. One CHRO is providing merit increases in advance to account for inflation. Others are stepping away from direct monetary rewards and presenting opportunities for 1-on-1 financial literacy training, education funding and gas stipends.
  • Don’t forget to support HR, too. CHROs are making sure their teams are being taken care of, as they are on the front lines dealing with these challenges. One HR leader said, “Like everyone, make sure they take vacation, make sure they fully sign off when on vacation.” Another stated, “How is HR doing with all of these changes? We have to refuel them.”

Overall, CHROs recognize there is much room for improvement in how they respond to economic headwinds, but they are also positive about the opportunities this presents for their organizations. One CHRO shared advice for seeing success on the journey, “Each company is at a different starting point in their change journey and/or CEO tenure. Make sure there is alignment in your systems and structures.”

To connect with like-minded CHROs and discuss the mission critical priorities impacting human resources leaders today, apply to join your local Evanta CHRO Community.

by CHROs, for CHROs

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