HR Brew

Three things I learned while reporting on HR this year

I’ve covered the HR industry day in, day out since October. Here are the strategies I saw HR leaders rely on to get through 2021.
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· 4 min read

HR Brew debuted almost three months ago, and boy—it’s been a whirlwind.

As I’ve reported on the industry, I’ve learned you’re not a bunch that twiddles your thumbs and waits to react. Because you’re often the face of the company, you can’t afford to. Now, after a year of being battered by the unprecedented (are we sick of that word yet?), you’re still here, rolling up your sleeves, proactive as ever, ready for whatever the world throws at you next.

From this reporter’s POV, it seems HR leaders are turning to three strategies to effectively manage the increasing demands of their jobs.

First, there’s more required reading than an AP literature class. No, I’m not talking about this newsletter (though we’re glad you’re here). In so-called normal years, HR teams keep up with the new-new to ensure they’re in compliance with government policies. Employment watchdog agencies, like OSHA, the EEOC, and OFCCP tend to change hands and agendas with each presidential administration and get significant makeovers to their agendas with each successor.

But of course Covid-19 made it all crazier. Now, HR news changes daily, sometimes hourly. We’ve watched local, state, and federal policies get signed into law, immediately litigated, and continuously revised. The policies often contradict one another (my deepest sympathies to anyone running a business with employees in Florida and New York). Managing workplace safety during Covid alone is demanding enough to be a full-time job—but for most it’s not.

As one regional bank HR leader told me in October, his team “never hired anyone to handle Covid or vaccinations or testing. It’s just all been absorbed by the same team who would otherwise be doing other work.”

The industry is increasingly going app-based. As hybrid or remote workplaces become more common, there’s less in-person contact between HR and employees. Third-party vendors are swooping in to fill the void and manage one or more aspects of the employee experience. The result? Employees could have an app for their payroll, an app to track PTO, an app to track benefits, an app to track email, and an app to manage all the apps. According to a 2021 study from Okta, the largest employers average 175 employee apps, and companies with fewer than 2,000 employees use an average of 73 apps.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.

The question for 2022 becomes this: In a saturated market, how does HR decide which products to go with? And when do you lose efficiency scrolling… and scrolling… and scrolling to find the right employee-experience app you need in a library of potentially hundreds? (No, I wanted the other AI-power-meditation-candid-conversation-coaching-up app.)

But for HR’s toughest challenges, conversation is still king. For all the pitches I receive touting tech as the solution to the industry’s woes, at the end of the day, I hear the same advice in each call. Whether you’re dealing with a fraught corporate culture, questions about unequal pay, or concerns about retention, industry veterans, consultants, and DE&I experts agree: The best place to start and end is by talking to your people. There are no fancy bells and whistles that can replace asking people how they’re doing and building connections at work.

That’s good news for a career that’s billed as the “people profession.’ AI might be the buzzword of the year, but at the end of the day, as Keesa Schreane, author of Corporations Compassion Culture told me, “It all starts with listening. When companies ask me what they need to do, I ask them, ‘How many people have you talked to? How did you talk to them? What did you hear?’ They want to jump into these big plans, but before you can act, you need to listen.”

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Contact Susanna Vogel via the encrypted messaging app Telegram (@SusannaVogel) or simply email [email protected].

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.