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We Need a Human-Centered Recovery

Our economy is based on human capital, so the recovery of our businesses and workplaces must be centered on people.

A man in a suit and tie.

"I don’t lose sleep over financial capital; it’s human capital that keeps me up at night.”

As the president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), I’m hearing these words more and more—not just from chief human resource officers or chief people officers, but straight from my fellow CEOs.

Our economy is based on human capital. The recovery of our businesses and workplaces must therefore be a human-centered one. What will be important in a human-centered recovery? Let me give you five key elements.

Employee health and well-being. We must be more active in caring for our employees. Physical and mental wellness are equally fundamental to a human-centered recovery. Your employee assistance program is just the start. 

The SHRM Foundation partnered with PsychHub last September to launch the Workplace Mental Health and Wellness initiative. Our workforces need us to support their health—their whole health—now more than ever. 

Pay equity. There cannot be a human-centered recovery until everyone is compensated properly, adequately and equitably. SHRM encourages employers to proactively conduct self-evaluations of pay and correct improper disparities in compensation. Employers should have open discussions with employees about pay expectations and share with them information on how pay decisions are made. And pay equity isn’t strictly a gender issue; it also involves race and socioeconomic status.

Gender equity. We know that millions of women have left the workforce during the pandemic, and the number keeps growing. 

SHRM is taking its advocacy for gender equity to the highest forums in the U.S. and across the globe. We work on gender issues with the International Organisation of Employers; collaborate with the United Nations organization UN Women on issues related to pay equity and women in leadership roles; and engage with other global, women-focused activities. 

Paid leave. If the pandemic has taught us anything in HR, it’s that paid leave is not just an issue whose time has come—it’s long overdue.

During the pandemic, we all celebrated essential or front-line workers—with our words. For every doctor, nurse and other first responder, there is a grocery store clerk, delivery driver or pharmacy worker. We must honor our essential workers, particularly single moms and dads, and not just with words. We can’t let our policymakers overlook them if we truly want a human-centered recovery.

Radical inclusion. Our safe spaces need to be safe for everyone—not just for people we think need a safe space. For example, if we ignore the plight of those widely considered more privileged, if we can’t find the same empathy for them as those considered less privileged, can we call ourselves truly inclusive? Real inclusion demands this human-centered recovery be one that works for everyone, without excluding anyone.

To sum it up, we are all looking forward to a recovery, but a true recovery is impossible without first figuring out these people issues. True recovery starts and ends in the workplace.  

HR, we’ve waited years for our turn at the decision table. Now that we’re there, we must seize this opportunity to stir up change, not just react to it. Let’s Cause the Effect we want to have by using people power to spur a much-needed, human-centered recovery. 

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Photograph by Cade Martin for HR Magazine.


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