HR Challenges All Managers Know Too Well
Human resource managers are the office super heroes: Not only do they have the expertise of HR generalists, but their professional portfolios also include general business and management skills. They are the designated hitters and pinch runners of businesses, always ready to pitch in wherever and however possible.
Recruiting new employees, retaining current employees, keeping the peace: It all falls under the HR umbrella. We highlight the five most pressing HR problems below.
The Top Five Biggest HR Challenges
1. Getting people to stay
More than half (59%) of HR managers said that retaining good employees will be the biggest human resource challenge over the next 10 years, according to a 2012 poll by the Society for Human Resource Management. People are restless. There’s a lot of fear of missing out going on into today’s society — and that goes for career choices, too.
One in four employers is seen as ineffective in retaining high-potential workers, according to a 2011 study by AMA Enterprise. And only a little more than half of respondents said they think their organizations are somewhat effective at retaining high-potential employees.
Unfortunately, changeover isn’t typically covered in HR professional training and development, so change management can be a tricky for managers. It’s also, according to the World Federation of People Management Associations, the reason why change management is cited as the foremost issue in HR management on a global scale.
So, next time you’re feeling frustrated about trying to retain your best employees, just remember: HR managers as far away as Singapore are feeling the same pain.
There's no one solution to improving employee retention, but here are a few good places to start:
- Outline clear growth paths: Employees will be more likely to stick with a company if they feel they have a clear future there. HR managers should work with employees and their supervisors to create a clear path for growth and promotions. Make sure employees know what goals they need to hit in order to be promoted or receive a raise. Also be sure to ask for employee feedback along the way—you want to make sure workers are excited about their future.
- Provide competitive pay and benefits: With tools like Glassdoor and PayScale, employees can easily figure out what their peers at other companies are paid, and how much the market rate is for their job role. If employees know they can get better pay or benefits elsewhere, they'll be unlikely to stick with their current company. HR managers should make sure employees are paid competitively and benefits are comprehensive.
- Ask for employee feedback: HR managers should check in with employees periodically to ensure they're happy and productive. Ask employees for feedback on what needs improvement at the company. This helps employees feel like their opinions are valued. It also helps HR managers address any concerns that might cause employees to leave the company before employees put in their two weeks notice.
2. Building strong leaders
In PricewaterhouseCoopers’ “Survey of Global HR Challenges,” 35% of HR managers said leadership development was the biggest challenge. Even worse: one reason many people give for leaving a company is a lack of strong leaders. So that means problems number one and two in this list are intrinsically linked. But training costs money, and money doesn’t grow on trees — as HR managers know too well — which can make these problems seem like never-ending cycles of frustration.
There are a few ways to start developing leadership skills that don't take a ton of time or cost a lot of money:
- Create a mentorship program: Matching less experienced employees with strong leaders in a mentor relationship can be an effective way to grow new leadership skills. Mentorship programs need to be well designed, with thought and consideration put into pairs, goals, and support. For more information on how to create a successful mentorship program, check out this resource.
- Encourage ownership: HR managers and supervisors should encourage employees to own certain projects and processes from end-to-end. Not only does this let employees take on more responsibility, but it also allows them to grow their project management, time management, and problem solving skills—all things a good leader needs. Giving employees the choice of which projects/processes they would like to own, also allows them to choose projects they're most interested in and passionate about.
3. Cultural challenges
Perhaps not surprisingly, the issue of improving an organization’s overall culture contributes to the first two problems. It makes sense: if employees like the work environment, they will be happier and more likely to stay. The longer they stay, the more they’ll get to know the company, increasing the odds of them becoming a leader.
Not only does culture influence employee retention and leadership development, but it also impacts organizational performance. That can include customer satisfaction, attendance, safety, stock price, and productivity. But even though workplace culture is considered key to a business’ success, it still gets shoved under the rug. And it falls to — you guessed it — the HR manager to find a way to build and maintain an attractive culture to fix problems one and two on this list.
Improving workplace culture is a long-term goal, but there are a couple of ways you can get started immediately:
- Start rewarding employees: Everyone wants to be recognized for their hard work and successes. Rewarding employees is a great way to create a positive environment that acknowledges and validates outstanding effort. Rewards can be as simple as public praise: emailing the department or company and outlining the employee's successes for everyone. Or it can come in the form of other benefits: free team lunches if someone reaches a certain goal, raises, promotions, etc.
- Spend time together: One of the best ways to improve culture is to spend time together connecting outside of work-related activities. Host a team picnic or bowling tournament on a Friday afternoon, or schedule a potluck and lunch together. Getting people away from their desks and encouraging them to talk to each other about things other than work will foster a more personal and friendly environment.
4. Finding time to do it all
Big problem number four: Time management. HR personnel from some 200 companies in more than 35 countries were asked the following question: “Of the total hours worked by your HR Department, what percent of the total time would be allocated to each of these roles: Strategic business partner, employee champion, being a change agent, being a 'player,' and more traditional HR tasks?"
Here are the results, which can also be found on page 10 of this study
- 24% of total work hours were devoted to being a strategic business partner (being in on conversations about the future of the business, and having a real voice in those conversations)
- 23% were spent in more traditional HR tasks (administrative tasks like the way work is organized and executed)
- 16% were spent as an employee champion (vigorously representing employee concerns to senior management while simultaneously working to increase employees’ commitment to the organization and their ability to deliver results)
- 19% were devoted to being a change agent (shaping the processes and culture that improve an organization’s capacity for change)
- 18% of hours were a “player” (doing things that make a difference by acting as a coach, architect, designer, facilitator, and leader)
So: Business partner, administrator, employee champion, process and culture shaper, coach, facilitator, leader, and conflict manager. Simple, right?
Managing all the different tasks HR managers are responsible for isn't simple. There are, however, a few ways to start managing the insanity:
- Schedule time for non-urgent tasks: Answering email as soon as it lands in your inbox or checking Twitter every 15 minutes can seriously derail productivity. Each day, schedule time to attend to these non-urgent tasks so you can get work done in uninterrupted blocks.
- Do one thing from start to finish: Multitasking can often mean projects get done slower and less effectively. Schedule a time to complete a task from start to finish, and shut down all distractions while you're working on your task. This will allow you to accomplish one thing at a time, without interruptions.
5. Application overload
Google gets two million applicants a year. Two million. Can you imagine what that would look like printed out and stacked up on your desk? Actually, don’t imagine it. It’s just too much.
More seriously, though, the number of applications that come in for some jobs can be overwhelming, so much so that some companies are hiring outside firms to sort through résumés and then present only a dozen or so qualified candidates for consideration for interviews.
And once you select people for interviews, there’s no guarantee that they will be as qualified as their applications suggest. From arriving inappropriately dressed to being late to knowing nothing about the company, some applicants waste time rather than offer a hiring solution.
While you can't limit applications, you can make the hiring process more effective:
- Test applicants: Asking applicants to complete a timed test relevant to the role is a great way to test for role-specific skills, as well as more general problem solving and time management skills. Ask applications to complete a writing sample on a particular subject or solve an accounting problem—whatever makes sense based on the role. The added bonus? This strategy can quickly weed out those who were dishonest on their applications.
- Use software when necessary: Recruiting software, like Greenhouse, BambooHR, or iCIMS can save a huge amount of time for HR managers. And don't worry, these platforms certainly don't replace HR managers, but they can save time when it comes to tracking applicant information, structuring interviews, and onboarding.
Being an HR manager presents a unique set of challenges, to be sure. But we’re hoping that by offering some time management strategies, you'll be able to embrace the challenges that make you a stronger professional at the end of the day. And hey, if that doesn't get you through the day, take comfort in knowing that fellow HR managers around the world are fighting the same battles and frustrations.