One of the biggest challenges at present is dealing with the changing workplace and the millennial generation.
This has been taking place for some time, but it's an issue that's becoming more pronounced because of technology and social attitudes.
Ironically, this mirrors many of the discussions about women in the workplace back in the 1940s and 1950s. How do we deal with these people who think, act and respond differently? How do we incorporate them into the workplace effectively?
The millennial generation is driving some fundamental changes. Organizations are adopting new policies—particularly revolving around social responsibility, green issues and technology—as a result. This group is also not as concerned about traditional rules as previous generations. It's all about what matters to them; they're heavily driven by their own needs and desires. This includes connectedness through mobile technology and social media. Organizations shouldn't attempt to block the technology. They must learn how to incorporate it into the organization. This requires mobility and social media strategies as well as guidelines and polices.
We're also seeing a fundamental change in the role of the company in people's lives. From the 1950s to the turn of the century, the workplace was the provider of things, including health care, workspace and technology. But as we see the use of contract workers expand, some interesting changes are taking place.
For example, people are providing their own health care coverage. They may work from home and use their own equipment. But it's also changing the basic dynamics of labor. Businesses have less power to determine pay rates as well as rules and terms. They're more at the mercy of those who have technical skills and a high level of talent.
In addition, the skill sets that are valuable to organizations are changing. Those with college degrees in science, technology, engineering and math will be in greater demand over the long run. Those who lack skills are more expendable and less employable than they were in the past. So, even with an 8 to 10 percent unemployment rate, we're seeing a huge skill shortage. Organizations can't find the talent they require for the 21st century.
Succession planning is another area that's changing. Companies are a lot more concerned about protecting and developing their high-value talent than they were in the past. They're not only looking for new and innovative ways to keep top-tier talent engaged, but also succession planning is a key element of their business continuation strategy.
Finally, we've heard for years about the need for HR to become more strategic. The reality is that many executives have not been successful here. But as the organizational silos break down, this will no longer be permissible. HR must step into the boardroom and be fluent in the languages of finance, operations and technology.
Some of the biggest changes have occurred in recruiting, compensation and training. Although the basic role of HR hasn't changed significantly—it's still as important as ever to recruit the right person for the right job and provide adequate training—the way that these processes take place has changed dramatically.
It used to be that HR manually sorted through résumés; now we have computers handling much of this. Technology drives some improvements, but it's important to remember that it is only part of the picture. Organizations still require people to interview effectively and make good hiring decisions. You can't sidestep fundamental activities and processes by using technology.
During the 1990s, we saw the introduction of the Internet. It fundamentally changed communication structures in organizations and has created a more collaborative organization. But I think there's an underlying issue: We think that we communicate more, but I'm not convinced it's always better. There's also the issue of people doing all sorts of personal activities at work, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and others. Social media can either boost or detract from productivity. If someone is having a bad day, 500 'friends' know about it instantly.
Years ago we didn't have all the talk about 'offshoring' and 'onshoring.' Technology has contributed to basic changes in the way businesses operate. This is affecting labor and, ultimately, HR. There are growing questions whether the U.S. has the technical skills that are needed in today's digital economy. We are becoming a service economy, and there are long-term questions about how organizations are approaching this issue. Many companies are hiring part time in order to avoid paying benefits. There's a social cost to this. There's also a question about whether we will see service employee unionization.
At the same time we've witnessed the growth of independent contractors and the emergence of a 24-7 wired-in-work culture. At a certain point, it's unhealthy and detrimental to people's well-being to be connected to work all the time.
The baby boom has also affected the workplace. Many workers are getting older, and we are seeing more ageism. Younger workers cost companies less, but the downside is you have expertise and experience walking out the door. We also hear more and more about unfunded liability for defined benefit plans in the public sector. We're likely to see more of this in the private sector as well as more negotiating with unions to change defined benefit plans. These weren't significant issues 20 years ago.
Samuel Greengard is a writer based in West Linn, Oregon. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.