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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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New Roles Seen for HR

As personnel issues have become foremost among the concerns of employers, a brand new set of challenges confront human resource professionals during this recession, but some experts say the future will make today’s changing trends in HR seem like child’s play. “Most HR professionals have not had to deal with unionized employees in their careers,” said Mike Deblieux, a trainer and consultant to corporate clients on H.R. issues. Deblieux is also a past president of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA). “When I started working a long time ago, virtually all H.R. professionals had labor relations experience or training; now they’re going to have to learn how to train supervisors to follow a labor contract.” The revival of unions will likely materialize, according to Deblieux, as a result of the Employee Free Choice Act, which President Obama is expected to sign if it passes. “There’s little doubt in my mind that more unionization is coming,” Deblieux said. “And H.R. professionals will have to adapt to that.” Indeed, private-sector union membership declined from 19 percent to 8 percent in the 25 years leading up to 2006, according to The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. That trend has left a human resources profession ill-prepared for a resurgence in the influence of unions, according to Deblieux. Practitioners of H.R. will likely turn to their professional organizations, such as the Society of Human Resource Professionals (SHRP), the national group of which Southern California-based PIHRA is an affiliate. “PIHRA has a lot of training on the subject of employee relations,” Deblieux said. Another advent from the public sector, which is expected to greatly impact the day-to-day duties of those in H.R., is the passage of the so-called Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which effectively reverses a recent Supreme Court decision that limited claims of discriminatory compensation and promotion practices by employers to be acted upon within six months of the occurrence. “Now basically it’s six months after the last paycheck,” Deblieux said. “So as we move forward, the H.R. professional is going to have to put into place systems in anticipation of looking back at why someone didn’t get a promotion ten years ago.” In addition to building such systems, said Deblieux, Ledbetter will mean more training responsibilities for H.R. directors. Bill Thomas, director of Human Resources at the Four Seasons Westlake Village, said he is always adapting to change in his profession. “Employee wellness is gaining more steam,” Thomas said. “And the responsibility falls on H.R. senior management.” He believes his company’s experience could serve as a model for other firms that want to do something to ensure good health and safety is part of every worker’s experience on the job. “It’s not much of a burden,” he said. “First you’ll develop a wellness committee which will help. We have (employee) ambassadors too; they help get the message out bilingually, in Spanish in our case.” Thomas believes it is also important to put resources, such as his firm’s wellness program online. “You can do all of these things, if you spread out the project among individuals with the right skills to make an impact on your employees.” In fact, the wellness program at Four Seasons has become such a priority that the company offers free “health-conscious” meals to employees, with health-related videos from the Dole Nutrition Institute. “We’ve had health and wellness fairs,” Thomas said. “But in May, our next wellness fair will feature a health-risk assessment.” With 550 employees on site, Thomas hopes turnout for the hotel’s next wellness fair will be high. “From (health-risk assessment), employees will be directed to appropriate resources based on the outcomes of the assessment,” he said. “We’re also looking at holding some classes on health and longevity.” Contrastingly, or perhaps correspondingly, SHRM predicts a future where government benefits have replaced many of those traditionally offered by employers, most significantly, health insurance. In a study titled 2015: Scenarios for the Future of Human Resource Management, authors describe four scenarios, into one of which they expect the profession to morph. One scenario, which casts the human resources professional in the role of “systems integrator,” also describes a much bolstered government safety net. If that model is close to what actually evolves, benefits may look more like wellness programs, rather than expensive health coverage plans. Other scenarios cast the H.R. professional as “global dealmaker,” “caregiver,” and “casting director.” Aspects of the H.R. director as “global dealmaker” include a weak American economy, and outsourcing to developing countries at its zenith. In that model, layoffs have caused surpluses in good talent, and the H.R. professional finds they are working in flatter organizations tightly focused on core business. The “global dealmaker” H.R. manager fills employers’ needs for specialized knowledge of regional and local labor pools, the SHRM report said. The H.R. pro will collect and deliver not only wage and education information about the country in question, but also awareness of public health, environmental issues and the political and social conditions in overseas job markets. Extensive language and cultural-competency training programs will also fall under the purview of the H.R. director in the global-dealmaker scenario SHRM’s report said. Conversely, the “caregiver” scenario is the darkest prediction about how the profession of human resource management might evolve. “Rising terrorism and geopolitical turmoil create an uncertain world,” are the words that lay out the basis for the caregiver model. Its factors are retiring baby boomers and immigration restrictions causing shortages in talent. Also, centralized corporations “offer refuge from the storm,” making the organization the “center of life for most workers.” In such a world, H.R. tasks will be dominated by security needs and Dept. of Homeland Security reporting requirements. In this 9/11-esque scenario, H.R. is entrenched in benefits issues, because the employer has become the individual’s caregiver. The casting director scenario is characterized by the H.R. director serving in a capacity much like that of, well, a Hollywood casting director. “With scarce U.S. talent and self-organizing firms, organizations are based on ad hoc networks of workers around a small core,” the 2015 report declared. “Some parts of H.R. in this scenario have diffused into the distributed network while other parts (draw) together the talent needed for a specific project and protects the culture of the small core organization.” Back to the more immediate future, Ken Bauer, vice president of Human Resources at Internet advertising giant, Valueclick, located in Woodland Hills perspective is somewhat more down to Earth. “Currently, we need to look at two types of trends,” Bauer said. “In the recession, H.R. people are now into professional development as opposed to promotion and job enhancement (i.e., salary increases).” That trend comes out of necessity, said Bauer, the necessity to survive. “We are looking at how do you keep them engaged,” he told the Business Journal. “With no merit adjustments, no bonuses, we have to find ways to motivate people creative ways to motivate them.” To that end, Bauer believes personal engagement is the best path. “We’re talking about things like more training, more supervisory interface and more recognition.” The other side of the coin for Bauer, in terms of keeping tabs on trends in H.R., is the next trend, which will come with the recovery. “Once recovery hits, those employees who have felt taken care of are really going to feel loyal to the companies that have taken care of them during the bad economy.” That will be an important advantage, according to Bauer, as changing demographics turn the recessionary job market into one that is most defined by shortages of talent in some key professions and trades. Furthermore, Bauer has little worry about the coming of regulatory changes such as the Employee Free Choice Act or the Ledbetter Act. “I’m not concerned about the regulatory issues,” he said. “If you’re doing the right thing already, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Treat your employees well and they have no reason to act against their employer.” One other trend, about which Bauer is uncertain of the potential impact on H.R. professionals specifically, is the increase in mobile technology, especially seamless, free wireless Internet access and the myriad devices being rolled out to exploit that growing segment of the tech market. “I’m not yet sure what it will mean for us,” he said. “But I think it will have a very significant influence on how we do our jobs.”

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