From the CEO: Making the New Workplace Work

By Henry G. Jackson Jun 1, 2016

How is your organization keeping up with changes in the workplace? Is the leadership team in a war room, crafting new strategies? Or has your business assessed its current model and competitive landscape and decided to stay the course? In either case, the rapidly changing nature of work and the worker demands serious attention. No matter our company size, industry or location, we cannot escape the forces that are dramatically rHenry G. Jacksoneshaping work.

Consider workplace flexibility. According to research from the Society for Human Resource Management-sponsored Families and Work Institute, the number of companies offering telework arrangements has nearly doubled in the last 10 years. As the winners of the 2016 When Work Works Award illustrate, the workday is no longer exclusively 9 to 5, and many employees blend their personal and professional schedules. Work on the go has become the new normal, and technology has enabled communication and the completion of tasks 24/7. As a result, employees and employers alike are more focused on results than the particulars of when, where and how work gets done.

While our expectations around workplace flexibility have evolved, many of our policies have not. For example, as I write this column, the release of the U.S. Department of Labor’s new Fair Labor Standards Act overtime rule is imminent. SHRM and thousands of HR professionals have expressed concerns that the proposed rule, which would double the salary threshold at which employees are declared exempt from overtime, is too aggressive and requires employers to comply within an unrealistic time frame. It is simply too much, too fast.

When the rule takes effect, millions of workers may be reclassified as hourly employees. They will lose the professional “exempt” status that they have worked hard for and the flexibility they care deeply about. While the intention of the overtime regulation is to boost the income of hardworking employees, the reality is that it will return us to an outdated way of working where people felt bound to their desks. And if employees are busy watching the clock, they won’t be keeping an eye out for what’s ahead.

Flexibility is but one item on a long list of issues (paid leave, retirement, health care) that are exposing weaknesses of an aging employee-employer infrastructure built for doing business in the 1930s. We need to have candid conversations in our companies about the evolving workplace—and no one is better qualified to lead them than HR.

So I urge you to position yourself to influence change within your organization and to use your unique perspective as a leader focused on people management to weigh in on the strategies that will keep your company competitive today and in the future. As your professional society, SHRM is doing its part to ensure that HR’s voice is heard on the issues that matter most to you and your organization.

Now more than ever, the HR profession must guide the relationship between employer and worker and must lead the way toward policies that make sense and drive business success. It is HR’s time to make the new workplace work.


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