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Challenges for today’s HR leaders

6 months ago | Ian Brookes

There are a myriad of challenges facing HR leaders as the working environment evolves at a pace and in unanticipated directions. From equipping future leaders, building critical skills and paving the way for remote working, HR is also leading the thinking around improving workplace culture and fostering employees with better work/life balance. The onus also falls on HR leaders to implement new practices too, so there is a very full agenda of day-to-day priorities.

But looking beyond the near term, what are the longer-term priorities HR also need to consider?

Ahead of our webinar on 14 June, here are some of the thoughts collated from our conversations with leading HR practitioners in the myonlinecoach network, providing food for thought.

1. Elevating HR’s impact and value through digital transformation 

As our working environment becomes digital, to remain relevant and attract top talent, HR leaders should fully embrace digital transformation. There are tools available to help employees work more efficiently and effectively, and HR needs to lead the thinking in the adoption of new work practices and technology.

Solutions need to be in place to support employees at every step in their working life. From adopting an instant messaging platform to help stay in touch, to creating a place where they can safely report incidents of unacceptable behaviour in the workplace anonymously. The digital world is making these innovations more accessible than ever. 

Taking HR ‘online’ doesn’t remove the essential people-facing element from the role of HR, rather it enables an improved capability, capacity and reach into and across the organisation to add value and make a difference. This ultimately means you have a deeper understanding of what’s happening throughout your organisation, making it easier to implement positive improvements.

2. Improving cultural diversity, gender equality, equity & inclusion (‘DEI’)

A recent Gartner survey highlighted 35% of HR leaders are prioritising diversity, equity, and inclusion, as organisations strive to become more aware of DEI-related issues to create an inclusive working environment. All businesses are facing internal and external pressures to become more diverse, as they strive to be increasingly global, digital, and transparent.

Employees are placing more importance on the way their employer tackles these issues, and thus HR need to lead the thinking and execution to foster diversity and inclusion among employees, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s business critical too.

There’s intuitive software that facilitates anonymous recruiting, helping to remove implicit bias and assess candidates equally. Investing in these platforms, alongside new policies that protect your diverse workforce once they’re in place, can help ensure a more inclusive and diverse future workforce.

3. Wellbeing as a business strategy
Crafting an employer brand that is synonymous and holistically empathetic towards employee wellbeing and mental health is a key challenge, as wellbeing becomes an integral pillar of business strategy. Simply offering free healthy snacks in the breakout areas and labelling them ‘wellbeing’ won’t cut the mustard. 

Your strategy needs to encompass the emotional and physical side of the working experience – which is now hybrid or maybe fully remote in some instances. It’s also essential to give your employees somewhere they can confidently raise mental health concerns. Many workers experienced burnout.  As we settle into the ‘new normal’, we should determine how effectively we all are at addressing our employees’ biggest challenges, and organisations will look to HR to lead company-wide health and wellness initiatives.

While benefits will certainly play a role, HR should focus on developing a culture of health and safety. From educational workshops, cooking classes and health screenings, there are plenty of opportunities to provide employees with activities and build the organisation into a community in which to better themselves.

4. Leading a multigenerational distributed workforce

Today’s employment landscape sees a multi-faceted workforce of gender diversity, ethnicity, full/part time, locations, and generations – where employees range in age from 18 to 80. Each generation holds different views and expectations of their workplace. 

Baby Boomers are competitive, hard-working, and like to speak face-to-face, while Millennials demand flexibility, expect learning opportunities and are comfortable making decisions via text or instant messaging. Generation X is independent, suspicious and insists upon work-life balance.

Part of HR’s strategic leadership role is to identify and understand the expectations of each generation and to develop a culture that embraces the diversity and strengths of all team members.

Creating the foundations and a clear strategy for talent pooling to support sustainable business growth across the potential talent population must embrace all dimensions.

5. Reimagining people development & training practices

In the ‘work from anywhere’ competitive global market for acquiring, developing, and retaining talent, HR leaders need to prioritise building critical skills and core competencies for the long-term capability and capacity of the organisation. Many organisations say that they cannot create effective skill development solutions quickly enough to meet their evolving market and customer demands. 

In response, HR leaders will be tasked with revamping their existing development and training practices to enable employees to learn new skills more efficiently.

Development is the often-overlooked strategy to retaining talent. Opportunities to learn and grow are one of the top three factors millennials consider when applying for a job. Offering access to personalised coaching, training courses and other personal development opportunities will be essential to keeping your talented staff engaged and motivated.

HR leaders who can demonstrate clear strategies for each of these five issues and remove obstacles are likely to be in a better position to attract new hires and maintain the company culture than those without a plan embedded in the business. But beware, this is today’s agenda, look back just twelve months and we would never have anticipated that challenges due to remote working would feature so highly. 

It just goes to show the folly of dwelling on narrow, near-term goals. HR should be on every organisation’s strategic agenda as the issues facing HR leaders are constantly evolving, and HR leaders need budget, resource, and authority to create and deliver strategies to maintain the success, happiness, and wellbeing of employees for the long-term.

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