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Tough HR Challenges Come in Threes

Human Resources

When you ask human resources professionals to name the biggest challenges in their jobs, you'll hear a variety of answers. We jumped on the chance to gather intelligence in sessions at SHRM15 in Las Vegas, which brought together HR gurus and managers at every level. Three "pain points," in particular, came to the fore.

Challenge: Creating an Engaged Workforce

Company leaders often talk about employee engagement, but for most firms, the concept isn't reality. To build commitment and enthusiasm, businesses need more than employee surveys, said Jamie Naughton, speaker of the house for Zappos, the online shoe and clothing giant, at a senior-level presentation.

Naughton noted that salary, benefits and other factors attract talent to a company, but perks alone don't always create employee engagement and decrease turnover. Emotional involvement comes to employees through the intrinsic value of their work and the feeling that they "own" their contributions. When staff members believe management understands them, values them and acknowledges their stake in the organization's success, they respond with commitment and initiative.

One of the biggest factors contributing to employee turnover is the relationship with the manager, Naughton said. Micromanagement, failure to recognize staff contributions, lack of training and lack of support are supervisory negatives that push workers out the door. Companies can forget, Naughton said, that engagement is not the end product of a process, but the process itself. Engage employees in improving engagement.

To foster loyalty to the company and its mission, start with careful hiring practices. Then offer the most generous and comprehensive benefits package the firm can afford. Promoting employee engagement promotes employee retention: Happy employees want to stay put, keeping recruiting and training costs down.

Challenge: Transforming the HR Leader into a Company Leader

In most companies, HR should have the opportunity to take on a more strategic role beyond personnel administration. After all, HR is usually the entry point for human talent. Ryan Kohler, SPHR, chief innovation officer for ApplicantPro, described the selling and marketing skills that HR managers need to take seats at the executive table. To evolve into a company leadership position, HR staff should:

  • Understand the metrics vital to a business' success;
  • Talk with executives in terms of profit and loss to the company;
  • Frame hiring around differentiation from industry competitors, rather than as a cost center;
  • Work to match criteria for job candidates to the firm's value system and mission;
  • Explain strategy in terms of revenue drivers, making clear the connections among HR, sales leads, and client acquisition and retention; and
  • Demonstrate how hiring and employee development make money for the company, vs. costing money.

When HR professionals realize how their work affects corporate culture and direction, as well as the bottom line, company leaders will recognize them as peers.

Challenge: Developing Strategies for Current Workforce Issues

Professionals in every industry must keep up with an ever-changing world. Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder, told a SHRM Conference audience that the biggest issues now facing HR specialists are labor shortages, employee development, compensation and strategic hiring.

Labor shortages tie in with a skills gap: Businesses have more positions for skilled workers than the market can provide. Ferguson noted that some of the most sought-after positions today include machinists, commercial-vehicle drivers, registered nurses, automobile technicians and web developers. Some companies have resorted to training the workers they need, developing skilled staff from low-level hires. Ferguson cited 12-month programs for educated workers in retail jobs, and the fast-food industry's programs to cultivate technical staff.

Even as the cost of labor rises, large employers, such as Target, Walmart and IKEA, have conceded to gradually raise minimum pay, Ferguson said. Compensation is one aspect of strategic hiring. He urged HR professionals to educate CEO and CFO decision-makers about employment trends to drive home the difficulty in attracting talent. In this same vein, HR needs to adopt technology to avoid obsolescence and inefficiency. Job applicants increasingly rely on mobile communication: Ferguson estimated that in a few years fully half of all job seekers will use mobile devices. To persuade CFOs to make technology investments, HR pros need to advocate using data and hard costs.


This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.
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