Three Challenges Facing Human Resources Right Now

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John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina. 

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The demands of diversity, equity and inclusion, a more hybrid workplace and an era of incivility look to rock the workforce challenges for human resources. The workplace often does not represent a reprieve from society but merely reflects the nature of that society. But let’s not stop there. HR depends on what we call human capital, and that human capital needs to be more knowledgeable, skilled and prepared for these changes than ever before. For an individual, the demands for change, education and adaption creates pressure and anxiety. Those pressures and anxiety often fall in the lap of the HR department.

As a leadership coach, a career coach and business leader, I see the challenges from the point of view of those I serve. Here are the challenges and some ideas for how HR can adapt to them:

Challenge: Diversity, Equity And Inclusion

No doubt about it, this topic matters and is here to stay. Companies that seem to be ahead of the curve now try to measure progress in the area they call DEI. But if you are not a bigger company with a rather unlimited budget, the DEI measurements come down sometimes to how one person feels or how a small group seems to understand what this concept means. Just workshopping these ideas within the human capital area won’t be enough. Creating new policies and resources that work to create more inclusive, equitable and productive work environments will be the key to building a true culture of acceptance, integration and inclusion. For some, DEI has become just about racial equality. This raised awareness is good. But HR must also wrap its arms around LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, veterans, etc.

Idea To Help: Don’t hyper-focus on a quick workshop or one aspect of the DEI definition. Find out what other companies do to measure DEI and ensure that you are building a widely accepted view of DEI’s total outlook for all who may face bias in the workplace. Also, it is important to survey and share the results of the creative ways you can build a culture of education and acceptance versus one of negativity and punishment. Create a positive, uplifting mindset around DEI for everyone. Don’t alienate anyone, including those who have not always faced traditional bias.

Challenge: The New Hybrid Office

Will people work from home? What if someone has the sniffles and comes into the office even though they have the vaccine? How will HR create the best, most productive work environment for the new remote business culture? How will HR deal with the frustration of bosses and leaders who feel that in-person work is the best way and balance that with people who want to work from home? This tension will grow and create both conflict and opportunity. HR will be in the middle of it. The new hybrid office will create a fresh set of challenges where HR will have to balance paid leave, flexible work and productivity with the emotional concerns, demands, fears and opportunities the new normal represents.

Idea To Help: HR should make little changes and create as many options as possible to welcome people back into the office and ease the minds of those who may believe they are entering a petri dish for illness. Even if you have a small budget, work with your senior management to create a hybrid option for people who want to work remotely and for those who thrive within a more collaborative in-person environment. Measurements should be based on productivity, output and anything else that can be quantified.

Challenge: How You Handle Incoming And Exiting Talent

To compete in this marketplace, HR has the opportunity to recruit, retain and gracefully handle talent decisions along with the entire leadership of the organization. Perceptions of biases in hiring, building and firing people will carry more weight than ever in this new work world. Treating talent like a common commodity or neglecting the care of talent could hurt even the most positive, ambitiously optimistic and progressive HR culture. Your values need to be reflected in how you attract, interview, integrate and create the new employee experience. Now, more than ever, HR must also delicately handle and care for those it must let go by helping people find new employment and not scrimping on generous severance packages and outplacement programs.

Idea To Help: Don’t neglect the care you show to the people you serve. Invest in onboarding and coaching for at least the midlevel employees. Don’t let someone who has served you well go without offering them a hand up, not just a hand out. Severance packages help, but letting someone know they will get help in finding new employment if, by no fault of their own, there must be a downsizing creates the reputation you have fought for as you improve and adapt to HR’s new challenges.

Creating a compassionate, inclusive and accepting culture should be championed by HR and grafted into the organization’s DNA. Leading your organization this way will create a more positive and prosperous workplace.

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John M. O'Connor

John M. O’Connor

John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina. Read John M. O’Connor’s full executive profile here.