On a hazy, chilly June morning in Chicago, I waited in front of the Hyatt Regency Chicago for the SHRM shuttle bus to come.
Through the fog, I noticed a familiar face headed my way. He was a colleague from a publication I used to work for, and he was dressed to the nines. I thought he was headed to the Society for Human Resource Management conference, which surprised me. He doesn't cover HR.
Instead, he told me he was going to the American Medical Association annual meeting, which was taking place at the Hyatt, and he was wondering why I would be covering that meeting.
After we cleared up the misunderstandings, he told me that he'd been covering the convention since Saturday (June 8). That's a tough assignment. Covering conferences can be truly exhausting, as tiring as working at the booths for full-day stretches, but he still had a smile on his face and looked like he was raring to go.
When I got to SHRM and began travailing the huge showroom at Chicago's McCormick Place, I could definitely see that fatigue had set in for many of the people working at the booths. After two-plus days of regurgitating the same information over and over, scanning badges, passing out whosamawhatsits and making small talk with strangers and acquaintances, it can be truly draining. The energy that comes through during the first day of a conference often dissipates as the show goes on. You can just see it in people's eyes.
It's not so different from what has been happening in the workplace overall. After years of small wage increases and increased workloads, many workers have that look in their eye. They're tired and ready to move on. But as employers, it's important to not let top workers hit the road. Maybe adding a perk to their benefits package, planning a gathering or contest, offering flex-time or even switching things up a little to get them out of their rut by giving them different projects to keep them interested.
For some fields, the problem isn't necessarily getting people to stay as it is getting them in the door. I spoke with a relocation services provider. He told me the average age of fleet drivers is "north of 40" and recruiting is a challenge as the industry's having a hard time getting young people to move into the trucking field. Some companies have turned their recruiting efforts to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but he told me that even though they are qualified, overall they aren't all that interested.
But not everything is doom and gloom. I stopped by the Social Security Administration booth at SHRM, and asked the person if there will still be Social Security come 2040. He told me without hesitation, "You can take it to the bank" that there will be. And you were worried …
As I returned to the office on my shuttle bus, I noticed the fog had dissipated and the sun was shining. I started thinking about my former colleague and the smile on his face. It was clear he enjoys what he's doing. It was refreshing.
HR people have to deal with a lot of negativity, from complaints from co-workers to the difficulties of getting C-suite buy-in. But it's times like the SHRM conference, when people with common goals—and problems for that matter—get together that can help rejuvenate you and to remind you why you went into HR in the first place. So harness that energy and the ideas and best practices you learned at SHRM to put a smile back on your face and make your company a better place to work at.
And if you can do that, the people you work with will be smiling with their eyes, too.