Human resources is often in charge of many roles from planning and overseeing the administrative functions of a company to strategizing any talent management or hiring tasks. But the world of HR 10 years ago is very different from the realities of managing a modern workforce. The issues and challenges facing workers today are evolving at a rapid rate in response to the continuously shifting future of work. No one knows for sure what's heading for us and in the absence of that knowledge, many HR departments are finding themselves pulled in all sorts of different directions. From spearheading change initiatives to driving performance management to improving culture and employee engagement, what exactly is HR's role in a modern workplace and how can it keep up?
Factors driving change in the workplace and HR
There are a number of key factors having an impact on human resource professionals. One is the explosion of the gig economy, which is becoming the preferred way that many people work around the world. The 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report published by Deloitte indicated that, by 2020, the number of self-employed workers in the United States is projected to triple to 42 million people. The report also revealed that around 67 percent of companies with 250 or more employees are finding it nearly impossible to fill open jobs.
What does that mean for HR? Well, for one it will require a shift in thinking as workforces grow to include more remote workers or teams. It might also require new policies to include more diverse candidates from other regions and processes that ensure remote workers have the positive long term career experience they are seeking.
The other big factor driving workplace change is the accelerated rate at which technology is evolving. Job types and tasks are changing as new tech is introduced on almost a daily basis into our lives. One example is that of artificial intelligence (AI) which has taken the place of some human interactions and made processes more efficient. A McKinsey study “The Future of Work” predicts,” one-third of U.S. workers will be required to find new jobs by the year 2030 as a result of rapid changes in technology.” For HR, that means they'll have to start hiring for new skills or competencies, many of which might still be unknown at the moment. With so much change happening, it can be hard for HR to know what to tackle first.
New issues faced by today’s HR professionals
Human Resource professionals have an entirely new set of issues to face now then they did just 10 or 20 years ago. Having once been viewed as an extension of finance (payroll administrators) and rule enforcers, HR is now expected to have a seat at the decision-making table to ensure the business is profitable and that talent management is sustainable. According to Susan M. Heathfield, Expert for The Balance, Human Resources, “The role of the HR manager, director, or executive must parallel the needs of his or her changing organization.” Some of the more common issues coming up for HR include:
- Legislation and policies: As the world evolves, so too do the laws and regulations governing employees and work. HR needs to be aware of all the newest legal requirements in order to stay fair and equitable.
- Shifting loyalties: Is HR a resource for the executive team or an advocate for employees? Balancing where the department's loyalties lie will impact how often workers turn to it for help.
- Recruiting and job-hopping: Career paths are changing and employees are willing to jump quickly for the right role. Keeping employees in their seats is becoming an increasingly important mandate for any HR team.
- Compensation and benefits: It's a candidate-driven market out there and most job seekers know what they're worth. Companies with great salary or benefits packages will be better positioned to take advantage of the talent currently available.
- Wellness: This buzzword is gaining traction as more and more companies strive to help their employees lead a healthier, more balanced life. HR is often the driving force behind these programs.
- Diversity and inclusion: Creating an inclusive culture and building a diverse talent pipeline are new initiatives becoming increasingly crucial to the ongoing success of a workforce.
- Technology: Choosing what tech to bring in, how to train workers on it, and how to measure successful adoption are no easy tasks. Not to mention, the more we rely on tech, the more we'll need guidelines and policies around data usage and security measures.
These are just a handful of some of the more pressing concerns facing a modern HR team.
What should modern HR look like?
An HR professional wears many hats in the modern business world. There are certain expectations that HR pros need to meet. For example, HR is looked at as an employee advocate, supporting the employee experience and making sure that employees work in a safe and productive environment. At the same time, HR must be continually be thinking of the business interests and how this ties into corporate objectives.
Many HR pros are asked to be part of the bigger picture of the growth of their organizations, therefore they must be able to demonstrate their business knowledge. This can even extend into areas like marketing (recruiting) and project management (launching new services). Susan Milligan who writes for Human Resource Magazine, shares some guidelines that all HR pros can use to prepare for the future of this work.
- Embrace technology and data: Get to know the technology that you can use to measure success in your organization and as an HR professional. Understand that data will continue to be a big factor in how HR is evaluated. But remain focused on what really matters - people.
- Know how the organization succeeds: Learn what it takes to create a winning company from culture to policies. Be part of this success by supporting it with great people practices. Realize that your job may become one that includes several areas that promote a positive employee experience, and thus retention
- Keep learning and staying knowledgeable: HR is expected to stay abreast of new compliance matters and law updates as they pertain to human capital management. Continue to be a lifelong learner and get certified by a recognized HR association to prove your knowledge is current.
The more prepared and forward-thinking a department is, the better situated they'll be when change comes their way.
HR is changing
Organizational change is unavoidable. We no longer live in a world where businesses can succeed just because they're doing what's worked for thirty years. With technology reshaping the world, the role of HR needs to become more adaptable to this new working reality. That means being more connected to the workforce of a company and it's sentiments about job satisfaction and employee engagement. It also means helping create change management guidelines and working with company leaders to ensure smooth transitions or adoptions of new ideas and strategies coming into the business. The typical mantra of doing things a certain way because it's always worked before needs to be replaced given the new realities of the modern workforce. When we move away from old ideas, new possibilities emerge that will continue to change and shape HR's evolving role.
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