SHRM CEO: Making the 21st Century Workplace Work

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Jun 19, 2016
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SHRM CEO Hank Jackson
2016 Annual Conference & Exposition
2016 Annual Conference & Exposition
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The nature of work is being radically transformed, placing HR professionals front and center in guiding their organizations through a world of employee relations that previous generations would scarcely recognize, Henry G. “Hank” Jackson, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), told attendees at the SHRM 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C.

"More voices are weighing in on issues like health care, wages and immigration—our issues,” Jackson said at the opening general session on June 19. “It takes HR expertise to meet today’s workplace challenges,” which is why “HR professionals—including SHRM-certified HR professionals—are driving business now."

New Challenges

Employers are up against new technology and changing employee needs, he noted, explaining that “They face intense global competition, and their entire business model can be overturned overnight, or their industry can be disrupted in just a few years by a new technology.”

That has forced organizations to make tough choices. “Many had to forgo long-term obligations like pensions. Some scaled back critical investments in workforce training and development. And yet in this environment, they’re fighting to find the right talent with the right skills for their organizations,” Jackson noted.

Workers also face challenges. “Thanks to technology, people can work from anywhere and work at any time of the day—for better or for worse. They face pressure to do more, do it faster and at higher skill levels. But so far, those higher expectations and productivity have not necessarily meant higher pay.”

Organizations and workers are also confronting:

  • The decline of the long-tenured career.
  • The rise of the freelance worker.
  • Calls for equal and higher wages.
  • Anxiety about jobs being replaced by technology.
  • Political battles involving immigration and migration.

“It’s time for a candid conversation about our evolving workplace, and no one is better qualified to lead that discussion than HR,” he said.

A 21st Century Vision

Jackson outlined a vision for the 21st century workplace based on three core principles identified by SHRM and its affiliates:

  • Innovation. An innovative workplace that gives people the flexibility to determine how, when and where work gets done. This enables employees to find a better balance between their work and personal lives, which are more hectic and intertwined than ever before.
  • Competition. A competitive workplace that allows companies to attract, recruit, hire and train the talent they need. “The skills in highest demand are in the shortest supply,” Jackson said. Because of the skills gap, “about 2 out of every 3 HR professionals say they’re having a hard time hiring for full-time jobs—when many people are still searching for good jobs.” To match jobs with qualified recruits, “people and companies are moving around the world, so no organization will be able to avoid the global competition for talent.”
  • Fairness. An equitable workplace that gives everyone a fair shot and equal pay for equal work. “Few people, if any, are productive if they don’t believe they are treated fairly,” Jackson observed.

“Employee benefits packages and talent strategies are about far more than simply putting policies on paper,” he said. “They’re about building a new employee-employer relationship that will work in your company and that will make people, businesses, society and even nations stronger. They’re about making the 21st century workplace work.”

But while cutting-edge organizations are leading the way in building innovative, competitive and equitable workplaces, “not everyone is on the same page,” Jackson cautioned.

“Take the recent overhaul of the U.S. overtime regulations,” he noted. “The spirit of the new rule is to boost incomes of hardworking employees who work overtime to help their businesses succeed. But the new standards the Department of Labor set are simply too much too fast and out of step with today’s work environment. Millions of workers may lose the professional exempt status they worked hard for. But more importantly, they may lose the flexibility that goes with it.”

Leaders in Washington and around the world “are developing policies like the overtime rule to try and strike a balance between the needs of companies and the people who work for them. They need our help and ideas because a cornerstone of the 21st century workplace will be getting this balance right,” Jackson said.

SHRM, he added, “will continue that work to ensure your voice is heard” on overtime and other compliance issues and will continue to provide HR professionals with the information they need to comply.

“Let’s lead the way on policies that make sense for today,” Jackson said. “Let’s take the relationship between employers and workers to the next level. Let’s make the 21st century workplace work.”

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMsmiller.

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