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4 Big Challenges for Your HR Team

You could be forgiven for thinking that sometimes working in HR must feel like a constant battle. Everyone has an opinion – from those who want to scrap the department to those who want to segment it – whilst recruitment, learning and development and reward specialists all strike out for recognition of their own areas.

The last few years have certainly seen challenging times for those working in the profession with the economy, accelerating technological developments, changing work habits and the rise of social networking all combining to create a perfect storm of uncertainty, confusion and opportunity. Recent research from PWC showed that only 24% of HR professionals are currently planning long term, with most saying they weren’t ready to accommodate a workforce demanding more freedom, autonomy and flexibility.

Amidst this there are almost daily calls from organisations, consultants, bloggers and practitioners to either embrace a business mindset, get back to basics, put the employee first or to become data analysts. Definitely some confusing times for the profession!

So what are the biggest challenges currently on the HR agenda? We look at 4 of the most pressing.

The Overwhelmed Employee

This expression was used by Deloittes in their report on the global human capital trends of 2014, in which they found 65% of executives rating it as an important or urgent issue, with most not sure of how to deal with it. It is characterised by information overload, 24/7 connectivity and a proliferation of messages, resulting in a welter of meetings, emails, detail and information. This inevitably leads to ‘being busy’ becoming a badge of honour, whilst frustrations also build at regular interruptions. Alarmingly 41% of knowledge workers were reported as spending time on tasks that offered little personal satisfaction.

For productivity and profitability not to suffer, and the wellbeing of staff improved, this is an issue clearly in need of urgent attention. Time management should be something that managers assist with, not seen as the sole responsibility of the employee. Simplified technology and more flexible approaches to working and reporting could also help. Certainly less (or shorter) meetings, and even something as radical as a ban on using ‘cc’ or ‘reply all’ on emails, could be trialled.

The Skills Conundrum

The pace of change within our businesses has led to a fast growing need for new skills within the workforce, and employees are aware of this. Kelly’s recent Global Workforce Index showed that 57% would forego a pay rise for the opportunity to learn new skills. The half life of a skill used to be 30 years but many institutions now put it at 5 years, reducing to 2.5 years for technology skills. This creates an interesting conundrum for businesses who need to decide whether it is up to them to invest in skill development or to push the onus on to the employee. HR need to ask themselves if they are developers or curators of skills.

Career development is an area in which there appears to be some inertia. The same Kelly index found that only 35% globally think that they have opportunities to progress their careers with their current employers, whilst just 29% could see a clear development path. This might be partially explained by the surprisingly low figure of only 38% who have had career development discussions with their employer in the last year. It could be that the large number of HR professionals who do not feel able to plan longer term are creating an environment in which their people see little chance for progression.

The 4 Generation Workforce

There seems to be a never-ending stream of research and opinion pieces on how to deal with Millennials in the workplace, but most miss the point that people are working longer, and today’s HR department must start planning for a workforce that by 2022 could well comprise four generations (Boomer, Generation X, Millennials, Generation Z) as opposed to predominantly two. Many Boomers are choosing not to retire which will impact in two ways – it helps to retain much needed knowledge and insight in the business, but at the same time limits opportunity for younger employees to progress.

Earlier this year the CIPD found that only 31% of businesses had an HR strategy for managing an ageing workforce, with a similar figure opting to react as the situation develops. One positive was that they found little evidence of ‘intergenerational tension’, although 1 in 5 employees felt their line managers were ineffective at handling age diverse teams. Clearly training is needed in two areas – first for managers within the business to help them manage effectively and inclusively, and secondly to provide training within the business for all ages.

The Socialisation of Work

Whilst many organisations have adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach to embedding social networking principles within their businesses – leaving the channels primarily for external, customer-facing activities – this will need to change rapidly as their employees are leading the way! Global research from Weber Shandwick on ’employee activism’ discovered some interesting data:

• 88% of employees use at least one social networking site for personal use
• 50% post messages, videos or links about their employer on them
• 39% share praise, or positive online comments, about their employer
• 16% share criticism, or negative comments, about their employer
• 14% admit posting something about their employer that they wish they hadn’t

They found that around a third of companies actively encourage employees to share news about their work or employer, and that when they do more than 50% of them will positively advocate and recommend products. Whilst HR departments may be taking a cautious approach to guidelines on usage and content, and the possibility of using internal social networks, there’s little doubt that their workforce are actively leveraging the reach and connectivity of social networking platforms, giving customers, clients and suppliers an insight to the business. This advocacy needs to be recognised and rewarded.

There are several other challenges for HR, from engagement to recruitment, integration of different working models to big data, and we’ll look at some of them in future blogs.

Meanwhile let us know how you’re dealing with some of the challenges we’ve outlined, and which other ones are high up your department’s agenda…

2 responses to “4 Big Challenges for Your HR Team”

  1. […] all of which creates a negative impact on focus and wellbeing. We spoke about the concept of the overwhelmed employee in a previous post and it was noticeable in a recent workforce report that employees identified […]

  2. […] day reading and answering emails. It was their 2014 report that first highlighted the concept of overwhelmed employees that we have previously referenced, and this year the issue seems to be exacerbated. Three quarters […]

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