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The changing workforce

How the top 10 human resources trends of 2010 will continue to reshape the way successful businesses operate in 2011

This tumultuous year in business has transformed human resources (HR) strategies in organizations of all sizes.

Jeff Fenster, founder of CanopyHR Solutions (www.canopyhr.com), says, “Challenging times inspire creative solutions, and the volatile economy has forged many changes in the human resources sector. Businesses are trimming excesses in order to succeed, and that means human resources has become a more integral part of business planning than ever before.”

So what are the top 10 human resource trends? They include:

1. Stretching the compensation dollar

Although 2010 showed some signs of recovery, HR managed workforces that were considerably smaller than just a few years ago. HR’s role in managing productivity through ancillary projects while maintaining employee morale and well-being was challenged by the parallel expectation that workers be twice as productive.

Innovative HR professionals instituted creative programs such as gift card giveaways and lottery prizes to boost employee enthusiasm in lieu of raises and bonuses.

2. Embracing social media

Social networking’s undeniable impact hit the big screen in 2010, and it hit workplaces in a number of ways as well. Managers learned to be on the lookout for lost productivity as employees grew increasingly concerned with checking in with their favorite social networking sites.

On the upside, savvy HR pros saw a shift in the landscape as hiring and firing trends played out online. Posts cost some careless employees their jobs as HR monitored Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts. Smart employees landed new gigs by harnessing the power of social networking to market themselves and share information about job openings.

Policies were developed to communicate clear boundaries and expectations and to attract top talent with the latest tools-with some even canceling subscriptions to online job sites and shifting to social media recruiting.

3. Keeping the communication lines open—especially amid healthcare reform anxiety

Maintaining employees’ trust in the company and its business decisions through the ups and downs of healthcare reform was a must. Smart senior management kept communication lines open to demonstrate accessibility and willingness to answer questions and address concerns as they arose.

That applied not only to top-down communication, but to lateral lines as well. Human resources professionals were charged with bringing functional departments together; communications, legal, payroll, and IT departments—everyone had to communicate a unified message to maintain employee trust.

4. Retaining top talent

When soaring unemployment numbers left many top performers handling increasing workloads for the same old salary, human resources departments had to focus on retaining company stars.

Some of these high performers got antsy as compensation froze and expectations rose. Many continued to struggle with the lingering losses they’ve felt after company layoffs. This delicate situation required that HR pros soothe sore nerves and keep these folks from looking for greener pastures with creative incentives and sincere appreciation.

5. Managing three generations of work styles

As young Millennials entered the workforce, companies had their hands full integrating three distinct generations: Millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers. The aging boomers believe strongly in security and loyalty. They don’t always see eye to eye with hard-working Gen Xers who have more of an independent streak. The Millennials shook things up with the attitude that if they don’t like what’s happening at work, they’ll go home to mom and dDad.

This generational juggling was best handled with management training that stressed the characteristics of these disparate groups and how to motivate and inspire the most productivity from them. Succession planning also came into play as firms prepared for the replacement of retiring boomers with less motivation to stick around now that they’re feeling overworked and underpaid. 

6. Sharing an ounce of prevention

Healthcare reform drew the spotlight to employee wellness issues in 2010, shifting more emphasis to preventive programs such as smoking cessation and obesity reduction.

Ben Franklin’s proverbial “ounce of prevention” may finally see its day in the sun in 2011 workplaces, as employers continue the 2010 trend of encouraging employee participation in wellness programs in order to increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and boost the health of their staffs.

For some, it’s also a long-term strategy to avoid higher health coverage costs for increasingly overweight and unhealthy American employees.

7. Clearing up confusion

Another obvious consequence of healthcare reform’s starring role in 2010 was employee confusion and uncertainty about health benefits. It became an imperative for human resources staffers to communicate benefit changes in advance, whenever possible, and explain changes in terms of how they would affect individual employees and their families.

A crucial piece of that puzzle was often dispelling the misperceptions that dominated the public conversation—from dire cuts to death panels. Few changes have occurred yet, so this trend will persist in 2011 and beyond, compelling HR teams to closely monitor things like free flu shots, effective dates, and the details of grandfathered health plans—and of course, clearly communicating these details to employees in a timely manner.

The smartest pros will keep arming themselves with concise answers to difficult questions that will continue to arise as changes are implemented and look for new ways to reach employees with relevant information.

8. Managing the virtual workplace

Tech advances continued to lure employees into new territory, especially when it came to virtual work and telecommuting. The trend came with pluses and minuses. Some companies slid into this trend with ease, as exempt Gen Xers with no defined hours blended work and personal responsibilities into an organic off-site workday.

Other companies struggled with nonexempt workers. Meticulous time tracking was required to ensure proper payment of overtime and the like. Most of the latter companies discovered the concept was detrimental to business.

It’s a lifestyle management issue that will continue to show up on HR radar screens in 2011 and could be further impacted by additional tech developments.

 9. Working together

Leaner, more streamlined companies must share information laterally to get the most from scarce resources. HR teams took a leadership role in reaching out to other departments and “sharing the sandbox.”

More than ever, employees in every department have a sense of facing adversity together. Strategic-minded businesses used the momentum to support strong teamwork and innovative solutions that crossed department lines for everyone’s benefit.

10. Riding out the recession

As much as circumstances have improved, the recession that was battled against throughout 2010 continues to impact companies and individuals—a trend that will likely continue beyond 2011.

HR departments and executives need to tune into their resources and prioritize more than ever before. True innovation is the best way to establish solid initiatives without a solid budget. Successful firms will continue to prioritize wisely, focusing on the most-effective tools to enhance business strategy and achievements and develop new business.

 “Uncertainty breeds fear in everyone from employees to executives,” says Fenster. “Perhaps the most important take-away from the major shifts we saw in 2010 is that the best HR professionals are those who are best at managing uncertainty and allaying fears.

“That means always reaching out for new information and reliable answers and communicating that information clearly. It also means creating new ways of helping managers and employees move forward, even when the future remains uncertain. Great change requires great innovation, so I think we’re going to see some exciting programs and strategies come out of this adversity.”


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