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What bothers HR professionals in the US?

Are HR concerns in Australia really that different to those of our American friends up north? They are also grappling with work/life balance, lack of opportunities for older workers, and finding value and meaning in work.

It’s interesting to speculate sometimes on whether HR professionals in other parts of the globe are struggling with the same issues that preoccupy HR in Australia.

As much as we would all like to travel to other continents to find out for ourselves, sometimes it’s easier to read the reports of debates and discussions coming out of HR conferences overseas.

Take one such conference organised by DisruptHR (kicker: the rebellious future of HR). DisruptHR styles itself as an information exchange organisation designed to inform, energise and empower people in HR, and hosts events all around the world from Cork to Winnipeg.

A newish (for DisruptHR) conference took place in Philadelphia and these were some of the key topics addressed by speakers:

Work/life balance

Firstly the whole idea of work-life balance is a myth and instead, HR should concentrate on maintaining what one speaker called “work-life harmony”. Employees and employers need ebb and flow, and that should be expected rather than working at full tilt 24/7. The message was that managers should set good examples by encouraging vacation-taking, work breaks and good habits about sending and responding to emails.

Older workers

The neglected mature-age employees were a focus in Philly. One speaker asked: Are you treating your employees the same way you treat the milk in your refrigerator? And questioned whether HR professionals are failing to look inside at existing talent and automatically hiring millennials. Tracy Grajewski, vice president, business development, Careerminds said that HR is too focused on the front-end of the employee lifecycle – “Are we letting good talent drip out the other side of the funnel? Look at other places for your older workers. Help them reinvent themselves. Your later career employees bring a lot of value to your organisation. They’ve weathered a lot of storms.”

The meaning of work

The power of meaning at work is a current theme both in the US and in Australia. Rather than a broad brushstroke approach to purpose that only a few people can experience, one speaker felt that purpose has to be more “granular”. Employees are asking: Am I respected here? Do I have a chance to contribute? Do I feel that I belong? Can I rely on my boss? “HR must ensure that the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’. And once you implement efforts to that end, how will you know if they’re working? You’ll see it on people’s faces,” said Steve Van Valin, founder and CEO, Culturology.

Bringing back the human element

There was a sense that the workplace has become “dehumanised” which the ever-present threat of AI and automation is only adding to. Speakers talked about the need to rehumanise our workplaces by, for example, actively encouraging (and paying for) people to spend time doing charity work or something that enriches their skills, but which might not have direct or immediate application to their role. Also when it comes to mentoring and coaching, don’t be constrained by a formal mentor program. If an employee has found someone who inspires them outside of the work setting, then allow that to happen. According to one speaker, “This human being, when inspired, is going to perform more at work”.


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