SHRM in the Big Easy

The heat and humidity of New Orleans in mid-June didn’t keep folks away from the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2017 annual conference, which, according to the association, drew a crowd of more than 15,000 attendees.

In her Monday morning remarks, the SHRM Board Chair Coretha Rushing noted that it was the largest SHRM ever.

If you’re an HR leader, I suppose you can read this to mean that employers are continuing to invest in their HR teams.

Held under the theme “All In,” reflecting the need for HR professionals to be fully engaged in what they do, the conference represents the final one under the stewardship of SHRM President and CEO Hank Jackson. In January, Jackson, 65, announced he would be retiring at the end of the year as head of the 290,000-member association. Earlier this month, SHRM announced his replacement: one-time SHRM chair Johnny Taylor, who is currently chairman and president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

SHRM continued its tradition of releasing its annual Employee Benefits survey at the conference.

According to the latest study, one-third of the 3,227 HR professionals who responded said their organizations increased their overall benefits in the past 12 month, suggesting that benefits continued to be an important tool for recruiting and retaining talent. Health and wellness were the two areas most likely to experience increases, cited by 22 percent and 24 percent of those responding, respectively.

Roughly one-third of organizations (34 percent) indicated they offered healthcare coverage to part-time employees, compared to 27 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, about three of every five organizations (59 percent) said they have a general wellness program for employees.

Just 6 percent of the organizations decreased their overall benefits, with healthcare and wellness topping the list of areas being cut.

Workplace flexibility also experienced a modest uptick, with telecommuting and flextime both experiencing increases from a year earlier. Roughly three out of five organizations (62 percent) allowed some type of telecommuting, and 57 percent offered flextime, allowing employees to choose their work hours within limits established by the employer.

Ellen Galinsky, a senior research advisor to SHRM who also serves as president of the Families and Work Institute and is chief science officer for the Bezos Family Foundation, noted that the flexibility findings are consistent with other research she’s done.

“Why are companies helping employees with flexibility?” Galinsky asked during a press conference that gave a first look at SHRM’s Effective Workplace Index, which uses seven components to measure workplace effectiveness. “We found it’s retention, retention, retention.”

In a national study of employers, she said, 39 percent identified retention as the major reason for adding these initiatives. Recruiting was naturally a key factor as well.

Of course, as Laszlo Bock suggested in his Monday morning keynote at the conference, giving employees the freedom to choose what they’re working on also goes a long way to keep them engaged in what they’re doing—and inevitably will lead to greater retention.

Bock, the former senior vice president of human resources at Google who recently announced the launch of a jobs startup called Huma, told those in the audience that “you want to give people a little more freedom than they’re comfortable with.”

The end result, he said, will be increased “productivity and happiness.” (Bock will be keynoting our HR Tech Conference this October, focusing on the role HR can play in building organizations that innovate.)

Bock shared three principles during his remarks.

First, Bock said, companies need to give work meaning. “The most important thing you can do is create an environment that … instills meaning in the work people are doing,” he explained. “If you can connect your work to something more meaningful, [people] will be more productive.”

Second is trust, he said. “Trust comes down to a fundamental question: Do you think people are good or evil? If you believe people are fundamentally good, you’re going to treat them that way. But most organizations [structure themselves in such a way that they] actually don’t assume that they’re good.”

Instead, Bock said, companies need to be more open and transparent with their employees. “One of the things Eric Schmidt at Google always used to do [at every quarterly meeting] was share his entire presentation,” he said. “I don’t know if they’ve been doing it in the last six months, but it never leaked while I was there, and it let people know they were trusted.”

A third principle Bock shared is to “always, always, always, always hire people better than you.”

Know what you’re interviewing for, he said. “I don’t mean the job description. I mean, What are the attributes a job needs.”

He advised HR professionals to not let hiring managers make the hiring decision. Why? “If you’re a hiring manager, you are susceptible to not just the bias inside your own brain, but pressure from outside people.”

Instead, Bock said, establish a hiring committee, one that doesn’t including anyone who’s going to work with the person. The committee’s whole job is to ensure quality, he explained. Was the assessment fair and unbiased? Was it valid?

Over time, he said, companies that hire better than their competitors will emerge as winners.