Written by Tory Waldron
June 25, 2018
“I love this conference because it’s 22,000 people looking for the same thing: knowledge,” Jillian Marques, Director of HR at Salary.com
Human Resources: a profession that is rooted in its very nomenclature. As much as our society puts impetus on selling technology, services, or products, it is really the people, the workers, managers, and customers, who determine whether a company sinks, or floats. That’s why HR is like a beating heart for any organization – pumping life through every department (and every cubicle). A company may have the best product that money can buy, but without clear communication, customer service, and an attitude of respect, it is nearly impossible to truly be successful.
To use a very kitschy phrase, ‘a happy company has happy workers.’ But HR professionals know that keeping everybody happy is a daunting task, especially in our modern world with ongoing social movements, a great political divide, and a new generation of workers with a burning desire to do meaningful, important work. That’s why we were so impressed by the forward-thinking theme of this year’s SHRM18 conference in Chicago, “Expand Your World,” with speaking sessions that really delved into discussions about overcoming biases, the HR-related impact of the #metoo and #timesup movements, promoting cultures of civility, and engaging with entire worker populations (not just the top) to better understand the needs of the modern workforce. Truly, HR professionals have a duty to learn about ways to expand the worlds of their employees, whether it’s via training, development opportunities, and/or networking.
One of our favorite conversations at SHRM18 took place in the cab on the way to Tuesday’s sessions. Our Nigerian cab driver divulged that “this conference must be really important because there are people here from my country.” Amazingly, SHRM18 reaches worldwide countries like Nigeria. Clearly, HR serves an important function not just in the U.S., but all over the world.
With over 8,000 exhibitors and 22,000 attendees, the conference was packed with HR professionals from many different backgrounds – united by a thirst to share, learn, and grow in their professions. This year, every session we attended was overflowing with people – some sitting on the floor and others leaning against the walls – all in an attempt to glean knowledge of upcoming industry trends.
We certainly learned a lot. If you missed the conference, here are a handful of trends that we observed this year at SHRM18:
This year, SHRM18 was the ideal place for the lone wolf HR professional – working as a ‘department of one’ in small- to medium-sized companies. Over 10% of SHRM’s 285,000 members work in companies with fewer than 100 people, and many are the only HR presence in the company. And, with more than 100 million business startups launched every year (3 startups per second) this number is slated to increase exponentially. It’s challenging to juggle it all: hiring, firing, recruiting, onboarding, training, performance management, payroll, benefits, conflict resolution, and more – which is why SHRM18 was an ideal place for solo HR professionals to expand their networks, make connections, and problem solve with their peers. This year, a common pain point for these ‘HR Departments of One’ was the modern War for Talent, considering that hard-to-find talent and hard-to-fill jobs are the new world of work.
One of our favorite sessions at SHRM18 was “Beyond the Title: How to Lead and Influence When You Think You Have No Power,” with speaker Natasha Bowman of Performance ReNEW. In this session, Natasha emphasized that creating an environment of civility should start from the top down. She recounted a very touching story about an accountant named Maria Diaz who was sexually harassed by an “untouchable” executive, of very high ranking in the company. When she went to the HR department to file a formal complaint she was urged to drop her claim. Maria refused and, even though her story was corroborated by a fellow employee who witnessed the incident, the company decided to fire her – citing poor work and underperformance. Maria went home that night, took a few pills for a headache and washed them down with a few glasses of wine, fell asleep, and never woke up. Can you imagine being the HR professional in that position? The guilt is truly unfathomable. In this session, Natasha Bowman’s point was very clear: if we, as HR professionals, aren’t making people uncomfortable at every level of the company – including our employers, the executives – we aren’t doing our job to its fullest extent.
Sheryl Sandberg, the author of the best-selling book Lean In, shared a shocking statistic in her SHRM18 speaking session: out of 500 SMP companies, only 23 have women in leadership positions. We are on the precipice of a new world, with men now contributing to home life more – and yet, most women are still trapped beneath a thick glass ceiling. While women continue to outpace men in educational achievement, corporate success still remains a boy’s club. It is true that women make, on average, 77 cents to every dollar a man makes. However, with movements like #metoo and the 2017 Women’s March, women are starting to step up to the table, demanding more.
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By 2024, Millenials will be the predominant population in the workforce. This is a scary thought for many HR professionals, who have long catered to the needs of Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers (now making their exodus to retirement). Millenials, and the even younger Gen-Y-ers, are a different beast with new values and needs. In truth, Millenials are fairly misunderstood by the older generations – seen as weak, whiny, soft, and entitled. In reality, Millenials generally view themselves as hardworking, dedicated, and loyal, simply looking for some direction or feedback from their managers. Think about it: members of this generation entered one of the worst job markets in history; they’re desperate to find employment and are willing to work hard once they have it. When it comes to compensation, Millenials expect certain work perks, which may not be because they’re spoiled, but rather looking at the big picture. Raised with technology, they may not understand why work from home isn’t an option – and may easily grow frustrated with things like slow-moving computers.
Workplace culture is not a one-size-fits-all, nor is it easy to define. At SHRM18, we were lucky enough to talk to other HR professionals about their workplace culture. For some, it was the way they train or provide feedback to employees. For others, it’s a conglomeration of non-traditional, out-of-the-box ideas to differentiate themselves from other companies. Workplace culture is a great intangible factor when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent. Work may not always be "fun," but if a workplace is toxic, employees are likely to become unhappy, and at-risk of flight.
Special shout out to the Chicago Oyster House, who hosted our Salary.com SHRM18 dinner on Monday night. There was wonderful food and fantastic conversations; many thanks to all that attended.
See you all next year in Las Vegas at SHRM19!
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