HR Trends to Watch for in 2018

HR Trends to Watch for in 2018

In 2017, human resources had a heavy focus on compliance. This is typical in an inauguration year; a new administration in the White House usually brings with it changes to the tax code and other rules related to employment. While we’ll continue to see some of these changes rolled out in 2018, most will be done at the state level—like Oregon’s Equal Pay Act and changes to overtime and sick leave regulations.

But in addition to continued changes at the legislative level, we need to look ahead to adapting HR practices to reflect the workforce in 2018. In this episode, Angela Perkins, Xenium HR’s Vice President of Sales & Marketing, joins us to talk about the five trends businesses need to anticipate in 2018: the skill gap, employee experience, flex and remote work, technology, and data. We’ll cover the particular challenges each of these areas pose and how to tackle them in the context of our current job market.

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Run Time: 44:40

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Brandon Laws: I’ve got one of my favorite guests, internally at Xenium, back with me. Angela, good to have you.

Angela Perkins: Hi, Brandon. You know I just come for the coffee, right?

Brandon: You come for the coffee…

Angela: That’s right.

Brandon: And you only come to co-host – or I guess guest-host sometimes, so we’ve had you on a couple of times recently and I think people really appreciate those episodes.

Angela: Yeah. That’s fun.

Brandon: It’s good to have you back on the other side of the mic.

Angela: I love being here. Thanks for having me.

Brandon: Of course. So today we’re going to talk about 2018. A lot of planning, there’s a lot of stuff in the news, compliance, there’s strategy, all that stuff that employers need to think about. So I want structure this discussion and I want to talk about compliance first.

Angela: Okay.

Brandon: The necessary evils of HR, as I like to call it; and then I want to hit some strategy points. What do employers need to think about for 2018?

Angela: Sure, absolutely.

Brandon: So let’s start with compliance.

Angela: Sure. Let me set the context this way too, Brandon, because I want to make sure that as folks kind of go into this like, “Oh, what’s happening in 2018?” Context wise, I’m talking to small business owners, right?

Brandon: Yes.

Angela: So I’m not necessarily all in tune to what Google is doing from a strategy perspective or what Airbnb is worried about from a compliance perspective. This is, you know, salt of the earth small business owner, maybe have a couple of employees up to a couple hundred, that’s really my context, right? So that’s the conversation that I’m having and the folks that I hear the concern from. So I just– I wanted to put that out there so that we could really –

Brandon: Yeah. That’s a good distinction because you’re having a lot of those conversations with that audience.

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: And for the large part, I think that is our audience for this podcast, so that’s perfect. Thanks for that background.

Angela: Yeah, you bet. So 2017, you know, to close that year out, really interesting year from a compliance perspective, right? We had a change in the White House that brought a lot of just uncertainty around what that’s going to mean from a compliance perspective and policy change and that sort of thing. We obviously had the big halt in the overtime rules. That was a huge undertaking for HR departments in 2017 that came to a screeching halt in Q4. Some folks had already made changes, but now, they’re stuck with them.

Brandon: Yeah. Like, they’re stuck with them basically from a philosophical standpoint –

Angela: Pretty much. Yeah.

Brandon: – and policy standpoint, and now we’re – you can’t blame them, right?

Angela: Yeah. Here we are. Yeah. Yeah.

So, that was an interesting thing. And then, really more of the back half of the year and building up for a while, we had the Me Too campaign come through.

Brandon: Yes. And that’s fresh. That’s still going on.

Angela: It really is.

Brandon: Although there’s now Time’s Up. That’s the other one. The kind of Me Too, Time’s Up, like, I think it’s just sort of a change in how people are treating each other.

Angela: Absolutely, kind of that respect in the workplace and what do we need to be keeping our eye on. And HR departments and HR leaders and business owners are – have piqued interests in this and wanting to say, “What am I supposed to be doing?” And on that end, from a compliance perspective, the take that I took was folks are hearing about it and the media is providing lots of opportunity for them to learn about it, so take a stand as an employer, right, and have your voice in there as well.

So, lots of activity around that in 2017. Not any of that is going away, right?

Brandon: No. I would see –

Angela: So, there’s a lot of those same kinds of concepts that are on the minds of employers today. But, 2018, interestingly enough, there’s not a lot at the federal level that employers are keeping their eyes on. It’s more at the state level that is providing us some opportunity to wrap around.

So, sick leave has still been something that’s pushed out to a lot of states. It’s continuing to gain complexity and change. I know locally here in the northwest, Washington has gone through a significant adjustment there.

Brandon: It’s kind of like some states were adopting the marijuana laws recreationally, such as, Oregon, Washington, California and then it caught on in many other states that are doing it.

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: It’s kind of the same with the sick pay, right?

Angela: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: Yeah, nothing like being on the bleeding edge of this sort of thing. And I’ll tell you where employers are struggling with this. It’s, “What does this mean for my policy, right? So, I already provide great benefits for my team members through a PTO or a vacation policy, so what do I need to do to change it?” And then, the other complexity is tracking, which is super annoying –

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: – but it’s a reality and frankly, payroll platforms aren’t up to speed all the way. And so, having the ability to track it efficiently has been just kind of a conundrum for employers.

Brandon: I think the other component that’s probably often missed with a lot of these compliance oriented things is that employees are smart. They’re listening and hearing a lot of these things come up in the news; you know, sick pay, all those sorts of things. So, then, they start to question it. Meanwhile, employers are trying to get their arms around, “Okay, how do we need to address this?”

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: But there needs to be some communication back and forth, doesn’t there?

Angela: Indeed. Critical, right? Yeah, because to your point, the employees are getting their definitions from somewhere whether it’s –

Brandon: Somewhere, yeah.

Angela: – a buddy, or on the media, wherever. So, the employer needs to have clarity. And sometimes, that employer doesn’t have clarity. So, you have to sort of ebb and flow with the legislation coming out and then being able to massage that policy into reality for you.

The other thing that’s coming through in 2018 – again, going back to the Me Too and just a lot of diversity and inclusion focus – but the Equal Pay Act of 2017 here in Oregon. Again, expected to kind of push across the United States at some point and has already kind of sprinkled around. But the reality of that is employers’ obligations to make sure that they’re paying fairly, which is not a new law. So, there have always been laws around that.

Brandon: Yeah. It’s been around forever.

Angela: But it’s tightening up and it’s burdening employers with the reporting of that and the ability to prove.

Brandon: And what has to go into that? What kind of documentation can you do to report that?

Angela: Boy, I wish I could tell you that right now. I think what we’re really saying to employers now is if you haven’t been paying attention to compensation

Brandon: Now is the time.

Angela: – now is the time.

Brandon: And I guess if you had documented philosophy around it and then you’re regularly doing probably market –

Angela: Analysis, absolutely.

Brandon: – analysis on an annual basis or maybe even more frequently than that –

Angela: Yeah. Yeah.

Brandon: – at least you have that as documentation to say –

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: – “Hey, look. No. I did look at all the positions.”

Angela: Yeah. And the other thing that helps obviously is structure around that, right? So, you have pay grades and you know where folks can – what their opportunities are in different areas in your business. And frankly, for the small business employer, not many of them have gone through the structure side of it. They might have a philosophy.

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: “Hey, I want to pay my people well,” but have they taken the effort to actually go to market and get those competitive surveys, know what the market is doing and then really structure your compensation design to say, “THIS is what these kind of pay bands are going to represent for this,” and then pay fairly inside that.

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: And that’s the big piece is not having so much subjectivity, I guess, to the pay structure.

Brandon: I can see employers doing one or two things with this – do the bare minimum, cover their base so they poll wage surveys by position and then they sort of keep that to themselves and just sort of internally look at, “Okay, we’re going to pay these positions this way.” And then in a reactive mode situation, they would say, “Hey, no, look. We’re paying fairly because we’re doing it this way.”

And then some employers are probably more forward thinking and progressive. They’re probably going to be a little bit more transparent about it. They’re going to show some level of wage banding.

Angela: Right.

Brandon: They’ll show the date. Like managers may walk the employee through, “Here’s how we came to this number,” and maybe take more of a partner approach, would you say?

Angela: Right. I would hope so. I mean I think it bleeds into transparency and that’s again a fundamental, I guess, conviction that an employer might have or not. And so, it gets complex. But I’ll say this and I envision a future podcast on this topic, not with me but with Tana who is our compensation expert.

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: But, part of it is the change is you’re able to go, in Oregon as an example, to the Bureau of Labor and file a complaint because you feel that you’re not being paid fairly. So, again, if an employer wants to be proactive about this, it’s about getting those programs set to your point, do the baseline, understand where you’re at. Because that’s the first step –

Brandon: First is an awareness. Yeah.

Angela: – you might feel that you’re fair but let’s take a look at it because fairness is not – or lack of fairness, I guess, doesn’t have to be intentional. It could be that you have someone that was hired 10 years ago, and now, we’ve got pay compression issues and we are hiring, right?

Brandon: Yes. Yeah.

Angela: So, it’s not intentional. Nobody is judging the fact, but you have to be aware.

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: You have to know where you’re sitting.

Brandon: Because I think a lot of – this law was probably created because of possible discrimination, right?

Angela: Correct. Yeah.

Brandon: Men, women, other ethnicities.

Angela: Right.

Brandon: But it’s not always about that, I think is what you’re saying.

Angela: Right.

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: Not intentional. I am hard pressed to come across an employer that’s intentionally doing that. It’s circumstantial, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t be pulled into a court room over it.

Brandon: So, probably more to come on this.

Angela: Yes. Yes.

Brandon: Before we jump from compliance to some of the other things we want to hit, go back to the harassment stuff real quick. There’s so much noise right now. Employees are probably like – I mean, it’s always in the news because this hit Hollywood, right, really hard.

Angela: Right, right.

Brandon: There’s a thing, the “Me Too” campaign. They’re seeing these speeches from people like Oprah Winfrey about this; and these are legitimate issues. It’s bleeding into the workplace. People feel like they have a voice now which is fantastic. How do employers address this?

Angela: You got it.

Brandon: You can’t control all their employees, obviously, and their decision making.

Angela: No.

Brandon: But what do they do?

Angela: Educate.

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: Educate, educate. You got to get folks understanding what harassment is. Not just managers, but everyone in the workplace needs to understand what it is and what it isn’t. Because to your point, it’s getting romanticized or hyped up in the media and these are crazy stories and they’re real. This is really happening to folks, but in our normal day-to-day life, how is that employee seeing that story of that Hollywood person, and how are they translating it into – you’ve got to give them the context or they’re creating their own context.

So, educate all day long. And this can be in the form of – it doesn’t have to be huge and really formal. It doesn’t have to be a daylong seminar. I’m talking educate on what harassment is and is not, educate on what is legal and what is not, get your managers understanding what a complaint is. Because that’s one of the things we see so commonly is maybe an underdeveloped manager has an employee come to them and say, “I feel uncomfortable working with John.” And they say, “Oh, John is fine. That’s just John.”

Brandon: “It’s just John,” yeah.

Angela: They don’t understand their responsibility to –

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: – really thoroughly take a look at that concern of that employee. So, get those managers what they need so that they can help you. As, you know, the business owner, you need those folks doing some blocking and tackling for you. So, that’s an easy answer to this very complex problem that we have in the workplace.

Brandon: It’s a good point. And I think it has – a lot of this stuff has to do with culture, right. Because I think if you’re inside of your company culture for so long, things could start to go a certain way and it’s like, “It’s the norm for us.” And I think it’s probably what happened to Hollywood, right?

Angela: Sure.

Brandon: Just, “Yeah. It’s the norm, right? It’s the business.”

Angela: Right.

Brandon: You have to come out and say, as an employer, what’s okay and what’s not. Obviously, there’s just the law side of it, but you have to know where your boundaries are, I think.

Angela: Absolutely.

Brandon: And employers could do a lot to be vocal about what their philosophy is and what they’re going to tolerate and not.

Angela: Absolutely. Yeah. We hear so many times from employers saying “I had no idea this was going on in my workplace.” So, that is another thing is just you’re bringing it to the surface, it’s not that it’s not happening. I think that’s a common misconception, too, is that we’ll talk to small businesses that say, “That’s not a problem here.”

Brandon: Sure. Yeah. Yeah.

Angela: And, you know, at the end of the day, you’ve got people and so, we need to get those folks understanding, again, just the baseline understanding of it so that you can be sure that it’s not happening here. And it’s because everyone has, to your point, they know what the company expects of them. They know consequences if they don’t follow those expectations. So, I think that is – don’t just assume it’s not happening because you don’t know about it.

Brandon: Anything else from a compliance standpoint?

Angela: No. Let’s move on, boy, right?

Brandon: Yeah. I know, we can sit all day on compliance stuff and it’s not fun stuff.

Angela: You’ve mentioned it as a “necessary evil”, it’s not going away. And I think that is one of the sensitivities I have to HR professionals and departments and small business owners is that this is not something you can always be proactive around because we are delivered some of these things, right?

Brandon: So, let’s hit the points right now and then we’ll dive in to each one of them briefly. Give me your top five strategy-based trends in HR.

Angela: Oh, boy.

Brandon: I mean, HR is such a major component of business nowadays that I imagine not all of your points are going to be touchy-feely based stuff, right?

Angela: Sure. No. No.

Brandon: It’s not all communication. I mean it’s a little bit of that.

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: But, why don’t you give us your quick hits, your top five things.

Angela: Okay, top five. So, I would start with skill gap. This is not a new 2018 thing, but it is very much at the forefront of business owners’ minds. And when I say that, it’s talent shortage, skill gap in their teams to get their business objectives met.

Employee experience. And we’ll go deeper into this, but this is kind of a play-off of employee engagement, which has long been sort of in the vernacular in the HR world, but employee experience is definitely taking a new meaning. Flex schedules, it kind of ties into employee experience, but still that focus on remote workforce, productivity being more important than hours in the office. I know you’ve done a podcast on that in the past, still very much something that even if employers aren’t wanting to think about it, their employees are driving them to think about it.

Leveraging technology, huge, right – so, we can get all crazy on what the big, big companies are doing with artificial intelligence, robots, all of that kind of stuff, but leveraging technology is huge, even for the small business owner. And then, somewhat tied to that, data – so, for HR departments – and this has again been a growing trend – but we used to talk a lot about HR business partners. Well, data has helped HR do that. So, that has continued to be a trend.

Brandon: Okay. Let’s hit up skills gap first.

Angela: Okay.

Brandon: Because that was the first point you made.

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: So, I imagine skills gap is important to look at from probably a workforce planning standpoint. So, let’s say you’re hiring a bunch of new positions or the business is sort of transforming or you’re moving into a new market or expanding the market, whatever your business may be going through. You sort of have to take a landscape at what you have first, right?

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: That’s kind of probably the first stage of the skills gap. What are some other things that may be a pain point or something that’s just – it’s going to be in the employers’ minds for 2018?

Angela: You know, at the end of the day, it is just simply that the talent is not out there to hire.

Brandon: So, outside, if I’m looking at –

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: – “Oh, I need to fill this skill.”

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: So, you’re talking about really it’s developing then.

Angela: It’s both. So, skill gap, meaning, when they’re looking at what they have, to your point, right –

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: – they’re looking at what they have. Particularly as a small business. So, we talk about succession plans and developing, you know, who’s your successor and all that and frankly, Brandon, we can take it and make it be about you for a second.

Brandon: Okay.

Angela: How a small business affords to have a succession plan in place for all critical roles within the organization is very difficult. So, that skill gap is tough because you’re managing the balance of expenses and how quickly can we develop folks to take on that role and then, “Shoot, what if we’ve developed them and there’s not an opening?”

Brandon: That’s a really good point. Yeah.

Angela: This is a small business concern where, you know, the Googles of the world, the Netflixes of the world, all of the Microsofts –

Brandon: Yeah. There’s layers and layers. Yeah.

Angela: – they don’t have that concern. Small businesses have that concern to say, “There’s a gap between my senior leaders and my next level down. How do I help close that gap?”

The other secondary piece on this when we talk about skill gap is talent shortage in general. So, there are just not enough folks out there looking for the work and so employers are having to get creative.

Brandon: In terms of like plugging people from other companies and –

Angela: Well, certainly, and that’s been out there, right? Headhunters are in business for that reason, but absolutely. Even if you look at the university level and who’s graduating with what, the knowledge worker skill gap is there, but even more importantly at the manufacturing level, distribution, those kinds of things, it’s harder and harder to get skills.

So there’s lots of partnering with universities and trade schools and those kinds of things to develop that talent but just a continued pressure for employers to find people. And then you get into the conundrum of hiring “just people.” And then you’ve got this whole other thing going on where now, development becomes even more important. And so if there’s a gap in the internal development and training and mentoring and coaching and all of that, then there’s additional problems kind of down the road.

Brandon: So I imagine you’d probably say, to address this, probably just do an analysis first, right?

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: Figure out what you have, where the gaps lie, where do you go from here? I mean, that’s probably how you plan out your year, right?

Angela: Yep. So workforce planning activities can definitely help that. This is going to spill in to some of my other topics and frankly they’re all kind of interdependent, or they’re co-dependent, I should say. Retention is big, right? If there’s a skill gap and a talent shortage, you want to keep your folks happy and engaged in the work that they’re doing and you want them to be in your team, so there’s that piece of it. So stay interviews is a tactical way to approach some of that, understanding what’s keeping your people in their roles so that you don’t have additional gaps in skill because they’re leaving and walking out the door.

Brandon: Let’s talk about employee experience, your second point.

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: I mean, this lends to the culture, right?

Angela: Absolutely. 100%.

Brandon: And just the piece – what they feel about the company, the culture, how they feel about the people. Talk about that.

Angela: You’ll love this. So where I see and hear and talk to employers about employee experience is not much different than what we talk about on the marketing side for customer experience.

Brandon: Exactly.

Angela: So just replace the word, customer and employee, and it’s literally the same fundamental concept.

Brandon: That’s a really good distinction.

Angela: So if you think about that, it’s a combination of culture, engagement and performance management. So those three things paired together create this employee experience. And, you know, listeners, if nobody’s really dove into what Airbnb is doing, pretty fun, cool stuff that they’re doing from an employee experience perspective. But again, to get back down to the roots of it, those of us that are small business owners, we don’t get the chance to go higher as CHRO, who’s going to pair up with, you know, the chief marketing officer and to all of these launches.

Brandon: They have one HR person who’s doing all that stuff.

Angela: Exactly. That’s exactly right. But there is this overarching, how can HR help with the overall employee experience that kind of dabbles into facilities, so what is your work environment, look and feel like.

Brandon: Yeah, that’s so true.

Angela: And that doesn’t have to mean a multibillion building renovation. It can be little things that really improve the experience of the employee’s time with you, which is, by the way, more than with anyone else. Generally speaking, employees are with their co-workers and at their place of work more than they are anywhere else. So that’s important to sort of get that engagement

I think the – well, I don’t – I’m not the only who thinks this. But the main reason employee experience is becoming so important, what we talked about before, right?

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: But also the convergence of this generational workplace that we’ve been talking about for years. The Millenials have finally surpassed the Gen-Xers, so there are more Millenials in the workplace than there are Gen-Xers.

Brandon: And that’s here now?

Angela: That’s today. That’s right now.

Brandon: Okay.

Angela: And there’s predictions of, you know, when they’re going to be 70% of the workforce and all that.

Brandon: It’s crazy.

Angela: It is a significant thing that we need to be thinking about. Because just to put generalization around Millenials – and again, I know you’ve had topics on this particular area too.

Brandon: Yeah. But usually, it was always about the future is going to be driven by Millenials and you’re saying that it’s here.

Angela: It’s here.

Brandon: And that actually makes sense because there’s been a drastic shift for the last couple of years which is stuff that we want in our culture.

Angela: Yeah. I mean, I think what folks are really concerned about – not concerned about but recognizing – is that, yes, they’re here now in contributor roles, but not too far from now, they’ll be in leadership, right? And so that’s where a lot of the focus is. But I would say, from an average day employer, when you talk about employee experience, when you talk about recruiting strategy, when you talk about retention strategy, you have to be thinking about these things. Because, again, we’re going to talk about it in a second, but this whole flex workforce has been on fire mostly because you have some of these Millenials coming into the workforce and wanting mor

Brandon: Yeah, that’s good. That’s a perfect segue. Let’s talk about that. Because I’ve wanted it, you’ve wanted flexibility. How is this being driven right now? And what are employers going to need to start to think about?

Angela: You know, it’s funny because I’m sure some folks who are listening are probably thinking, gosh, I mean, they’re probably being approached by employees at least on a weekly basis. I can tell you it’s a large part of what our HR Business Partners are doing. The way they coach our employers, when they get those requests, is how am I – again, fairness comes in – how am I managing this in a fair way? And by the way, is the work getting done? I need to make sure that the work is getting done.

And then, again, you have the bigger employers. Yahoo back in the day, they had all remote workforce and they brought them all back in. And so you have all of this noise around what works, what doesn’t. At the end of the day, particularly for the small business owner, you know where you can have some flexibility. I would encourage employers to be thinking about productivity and results versus hours on a job, right? So that’s a huge movement that has been coming, again, not new for 2018 but –

Brandon: Yeah. It’s easy in sales or production … “Hey, did we hit our numbers or did we not?” And obviously if you didn’t, then something has to change and you can address it on a case-by-case basis.

Angela: Yeah. The trap that some employers fall into sometimes, on this topic is, well, I can’t have my teams work from home. That’s not what flex means

Brandon: No.

Angela: So, I mean, it can. And maybe that’s how it’s being positioned by the employee campaigning for it. But you can be flexible and you can have creative scheduling that would allow folks to take care of their families and work more effectively. Ultimately, that’s going to improve that employee experience and their employee loyalty to you. Because I can tell you that if you’re not considering it and pulling out all the stops to figure out if there is a way to get to a win-win here, the employer down the street is. And that’s the challenge again with that sort of war on talent.

Brandon: Going back – because we’ve talked about conversations and benefits, and all of this stuff is tying together, right? The flexible schedules, I’ve heard some people say, and you’re actually one of them, you don’t necessarily like to work at home. So flex schedule for you means something completely different.

Angela: Absolutely.

Brandon: It could mean, hey, I just want to be able to come in when I want and I’ll do the work when I can, you know, that sort of thing. And I’ve heard that from a lot of people. Other people do want to work at home. So what’s the right approach? Ask your employees maybe what do they want?

Angela: You know what’s really funny, and again, this goes back into that employee experience, what a lot of – what you’ll read, if you just Google employee experience, a lot of what you will read is, this is not a one-size-fits-all. You have to get to the individual level, which is – honestly, it’s nearly impossible for an employer to literally go to Brandon and Angela and – right?

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: But if you sprinkle that a little bit, it just means that you can make a business case for this performer to have this type of arrangement and it doesn’t have to be all the way across

Brandon: For everybody, yeah. Because that may not be important for the next person, that’s the next – that’s right.

Angela: Absolutely, that’s right.

Brandon: Make it individual like it’s part of their sort of comp and benefits plan. And the manager can deal with the tracking or whatever.

Angela: That’s exactly right.

Brandon: But again, your people are adults, right?

Angela: To your point, I mean, the definition of flexibility to me is the ability to leave at 5:00 and have a laptop so I can catch up at the end of the day. I mean, that’s – and most people wouldn’t define it as flexibility. So that’s what the other cautionary thought is – don’t jump to the conclusion that this is going to be a really difficult accommodation. Most of the time, they are not really hard to make happen and not really expensive. So it’s just a way of saying that my employer and I both have a common goal, which is for me to be successful at work and get my job done, right?

Brandon: Be productive, yeah.

Angela: And so – and to do it well. And if I can put things in place that help me do that, that’s a win-win. So –

Brandon: It seems like managers and leaders of companies should just be asking the question, if you’re going to be the most successful this year versus last year or in comparison, what tools do you need? And tools could be anything. It can be equipment like you just said, a laptop.

Angela: Yup.

Brandon: It could be a flexible schedule. You know, I like to work at 8 o’clock when my kids are in bed or something, and be able to leave early so I can see them at their soccer game.

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: You know, that kind of stuff to me is, why aren’t we asking those questions? Some employers probably are though.

Angela: I think so. And I think, again, the smaller you are, the, quote-unquote, “easier” it is, but then at the same time you have the pressure that you don’t have as much bandwidth, so then there’s different challenges, depending upon the size of your workforce.

One thing I don’t want to leave out of this particular area of conversation is performance management. Because, again, if you have the employer saying, “Gosh, but I still need to get product out the door or I need to get sales in the door,” you know, all of these objectives at the company level, managing performance is critical and key to everything that we’re talking about.

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: We can talk – can have a great employee experience but if we’re not performing, then there’s a critical issue, business 101 stuff going on.

Brandon: And I think, especially with managers, they probably need to continually define what performance looks like, in terms of KPIs or some sort of results metric. Take me, for example, let’s say you and I had arranged where I’m going to work at home three days a week. It sounds cool, right? I think for a lot of employers, it would be like, “No way in hell,” right?

Angela: Right.

Brandon: But if you said, “Well, your job is to generate as many leads as possible. We need to hit X amount of leads incoming by the end of the year or on a monthly basis, whatever it may be.” If I’m not hitting those targets and I’m working at home three days a week, you could probably assume what I’m doing is not effective. And so then we need to have another conversation to say, “Hey, what do we need to tweak about this? Because you’re not hitting your benchmarks.”

Angela: Right, absolutely.

Brandon: Easy conversation, right?

Angela: Very –

Brandon: It’s just it’s a very – it’s a two-way dialogue.

Angela: Yeah. What’s happening across the board in performance management in general is that this isn’t, and has not been for a while now, a once a year event. This is an ongoing dialogue.

Brandon: Yeah, annual review. Yeah.

Angela: And then tying in, we’re doing some really good segues for ourselves, but the data side allows exactly what you’re talking about. Just making sure that we are really looking at measurable results and not just subjective performance. There’s a ton of technologies coming out on performance management that’s able to give in-the-moment feedback and just a lot more traction around day to day performance. This is not about, “Let’s sit down and memorialize your entire last 365 days.”

Brandon: So, your point number four is leveraging technology, you just mentioned that.

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: Let’s hit that one up.

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: This one is touching everything. And I think not only from an HR perspective, like you’re going to have a lot of software and tools at your disposal. Like we just talked about performance management and those tools around that. But you’re talking also business processes, elimination of jobs, potentially. So not only are you – I mean, this stuff is obviously tying in greatly across all of our conversations. Skill gaps, so let’s say there’s a gap in skill, maybe there’s a technology for that, right?

Angela: Absolutely

Brandon: So how is HR – what is HR doing and what are employers doing to look at the technology available, the people that they have and the processes that are needed going forward? That’s a huge question.

Angela: It’s a huge question. And how you pose that question is what are they doing? I’m not sure a lot of folks are doing it yet, so that would be step one which is to look at that.

Brandon: Probably not intentionally but just –

Angela: Right?

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: And I do think some employers have been forced into reviewing technology because there’s such a skill gap that they’re having to look at what technologies have emerged that would help them and how can they systematize their function and their production or whatever in order to reach those goals.

You know, I think that the other thing that technology does, again, ties right back up to that flex workforce. I mean, you can’t make the argument anymore that you can’t work from home effectively from a technology perspective. So there’s all kinds of tools that you’re able to leverage to make remote workforces. You don’t have to hire talent only in your market anymore

Brandon: That’s a great point.

Angela: So a lot of just remote workforce development. So if you need a really top sales guy or gal for, you know, the East Coast, it doesn’t have to be on the East Coast. You find the talent in the United States that makes the most sense, right? So those kinds of things from a technology standpoint are, I think, top of mind. And thanks to those technology companies, they are doing a good job marketing, so they have a lot of feelers out there and they’re reminding folks.

Brandon: All the kids love them, they’re in growth mode and they have to –

Angela: Absolutely.

Brandon: – have a huge sales and marketing force.

Angela: But, you know, technology can connect employees better, so it can tie into that employee experience and engagement because there are all kinds of tools that allow teams to work more effectively, projects to go better, improving internal communication. And, again, going into the AI and robot and all that, that’s really fun, cool stuff to look at –

Brandon: It’s cool and scary for a lot of employees.

Angela: It’s super scary. Yeah.

Brandon: And how do you talk to your employees about that?

Angela: So that is a big thing for HR. So, you know, we talk about succession planning and we talk about talent mapping and workforce planning and all those kinds of things. You have to bring technology into that equation now because I feel like HR teams and then, you know, for those that don’t have teams but it’s an individual – you have to be that ambassador for change, because this is happening, so there’s not a way for us to sort of not go here, so leverage it. Make it a good thing for employee experience, not a negative.

Brandon: Well, it’s funny because our business, we’re HR consulting and payroll processing. You wouldn’t even think – I guess the payroll side has a lot of technology but we’re so people-centric, we handhold our clients, we’re in person with them a lot of times. You would think that we don’t need a roadmap for technology at all, right? But year after year, it’s one of our strategic initiatives to look at technology and how it plays a role in not only the employee experience, but the client experience as well because inevitably, there’s a process that needs to be more efficient. There are sophisticated tools out there that – there’s no point in wasting resources to do something that a technology can do in a matter of seconds.

Angela: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, and I think, you know, just the focus on productivity and efficiency is huge in this topic area because you can’t just keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results. So I think the ability to be nimble and be ready to restructure and really respond to what technology is doing to the workforce and how that is kind of changing the talent need and the, I guess, security of employees, that’s huge because that’s culture preservation. So there’s a lot of work to be done there.

Brandon: So with technology, they spit out a lot of data and data is your point number five. How is data going to be used from an HR perspective? Like people, what kind of tools do employers need to be able to report on the things that matter from a people perspective?

Angela: The amount of data housed in HR is insane.

Brandon: It’s crazy.

Angela: And it has – that’s not new. I think –

Brandon: Can you give us some examples of what kind of data can come out of that?

Angela: Oh, gosh. Well, I mean, you know, obviously you have turnover and hiring data in there. You have demographic data. You have comp data. You have PTO and how it’s used and all kinds of data. It’s the analytics that is –

Brandon: What does that mean? Like if you look at it on a trend basis.

Angela: Yeah. Make it mean something. That’s the big thing. And that’s I think HR’s opportunity here is to put metrics in a proactive – so what is the data telling us about our talent? What’s our data telling us about what we’ll need into the future from a workforce planning perspective, predictive modeling? There’s, you know, a need to attach the sales team to HR for that reason, right? So what are our goals? And instead of this feeling – and I think that’s what a lot of folks have been accustomed to, it’s like whoa, it feels busy. It’s no different than the manager that comes to the HR department and says, “Hey, I need a new guy in the, you know, whatever, shipping department because I am so busy.”

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: There is data around all of that now.

Brandon: Yeah. So it almost makes –

Angela: And there shouldn’t be a feeling about this thing.

Brandon: Yeah, there’s a shift from the emotional, the feeling, the ‘it’s always been this way.’ And then the data can prove it to be correct or not.

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: I mentioned this earlier when we first kind of laid these five items that this is where I feel like HR has been able to step into that C-suite really effectively.

Brandon: To get the seat of the table, absolutely.

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: I’ve always felt that too.

Angela: Yeah. I think – because it’s not about, you know, really soft, unattainable goals. But what’s the business goal of the HR department or team or person – it’s to be able to be business-minded and bring metrics to the table that help the business make decisions, that’s huge.

Brandon: Yeah.

Angela: And the data is there. And so it’s really just a matter of making sure that, you know, integration of systems, it’s huge, so you’ve got payroll over here and a ton of data in there. You’ve got what HRIS and that’s a big acronym, but it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But that’s where you’re going to capture your performance management and some of the other pieces. You’ve got attendance records, you’ve got all of these data points. And so how do you bring that together and make that meaningful?

Brandon: Yeah. There is a solution for that. It’s called Xenium.

Angela: Oh, nice.

Brandon: I imagine people would be listening to this conversation about data like, oh, I’m not – I’m a people person, right? I got my psychology degree and I got my PHR and SPHR certification. I don’t know much about data. And I’ve heard this come up a lot – the notion of having an HR scorecard. What are the metrics that mean a lot to my business? Because then I think you can work backwards.

Angela: Totally.

Brandon: You say, okay, what’s important from a metrics standpoint? And you say, okay, do we have the tools that will sort of aggregate that data for us?

Angela: Yeah.

Brandon: Right?

Angela: Yeah, absolutely.

Brandon: Is that accurate?

Angela: Absolutely. I think if you’ve never done data as part of your role in HR inside the company, you’ve never really leveraged data, I would say there’s some easy ones that you can get some traction with pretty quickly, one which is turnover. So you can be taking a look at turnover and trending it, so not just turnover over the entire organization, but department that out. So you can kind of see your at risk positions. I think most people are doing things like this. Or they’re feeling it, but I would stop feeling it and start putting it into metrics. Time to hire is another key metric that most employers want to take a look at because they want to know how long it takes to bring on talent. You can go crazy on the turnover one, by the way, in terms of when are folks leaving and really start looking at that life cycle of the employee and if there are specific risk areas.

And so there – I mean you could go – I know you’re kind of a data junkie. You could go crazy on that stuff.

Brandon: A little bit.

Angela: But if you’ve never done anything, those are two pretty easy ones that you would be able to get your hands on that data relatively easily and start doing some analysis around it.

Brandon: We covered a lot, compliance. I’m just going to do a quick recap. We talked about compliance from a trend standpoint, not going away. Harassment, fair pay or Equal Pay Act, and then obviously to pay attention to the overtime rule which will eventually take effect, we don’t know. But again, compliance is not going away. So those are sort of the things that I keep on the lookout for.

Then the top five things, you have skills gap, employee experience, continued focus on flexible schedule and productivity versus performance, leveraging technology and data. Any other honorable mentions that you probably have? I know we talked about the ACA stuff briefly, like benefit expenses and just things around that. Maybe that’s kind of one that would come to my mind? Anything that you’d want to say on that?

Angela: Yeah. I mean that is absolutely, generally speaking, expense line number two for most employers, particularly knowledge worker demographic employers. Very expensive, continues to increase in usually the double digits. That’s just – that’s a tough deal to sync and look into.

Brandon: Because as an employer, do you absorb a lot of those costs or what? Obviously, if you pay over 50% or 90% or 100%, and then do you want the employees to feel that because then they’re going to be frustrated as well.

Angela: Yeah, the employee mandate changing, so that is one change that’s happened on the ACA side. So that has employers kind of scratching their heads, saying, is the employer portion of that going to go away? That’s tied to all those 1095, 1094 filings and all of that. Trust me, here at Xenium, we get the phone call a couple of times a day. Hey, do we still have to do this? Yes, we do. But that could change. But then the employee mandate portion basically means that the employees aren’t required to have benefits. And so what is that going to do to the landscape of expense as it relates to just the insurance industry as a whole? So that’s definitely on the minds of employers.

I wish I had something to say on what we can do about that. Again, maybe a future podcast with someone that has some ideas. I think that’s difficult. That’s a gigantic expense and challenge for the United States.

Brandon: Yeah. It’s definitely something you’re probably going to look at year after year.

Angela: Absolutely.

Brandon: And that’s why it’s an honorable mention because it’s not anything new, but it’s something to look at.

Angela: Yeah, absolutely.

Brandon: For sure.

Angela: The only other thing – and we touched on this a couple of times, but just this – is an overarching theme on culture. So just recognizing that needing to shore up some of that sometimes. Every business has a culture – if you’re not sure what it is or if your employees don’t know what it is, it exists, it’s there. And so being mindful – it ties into the employee experience, it ties into retention, recruitment, skills gap, all of that stuff. So it’s kind of this overarching thing. Proactively manage that.

Here’s the thing that we find. So often, employers are doing some really cool stuff. They are not giving themselves credit for it. So just an example – if you’re giving a benefit for employees to be able to volunteer and not take time off, so it’s VTO, it’s become this thing, the volunteer time off, it’s a great benefit.

And many employers do it at whim. So you would come to me and say, “Hey, Ange, can I go do this?” And I would say, “Absolutely, no problem.” That’s a thing, you’re doing something there. And that can absolutely tie to your culture in terms of your connection to your community and you can get runway out of that.

So those kinds of total rewards tied to compensation, huge. Like something we need to be taking a look at. And I just – I feel like employers are cutting themselves short on the overall sort of advocating for themselves and recognizing what they’re doing already. So having some organization around that is huge.

Brandon: Awesome. Well, for the listeners who’ve been reaching out to me lately and said they want a podcast over 40 minutes, they got their wish today. I mean we could go on and talk for a couple of hours, so I appreciate this discussion. 2018 is going to be a great year. There’s a lot of momentum, even though there’s a lot of negativity in the news. But there’s a lot of positivity from a business standpoint.

Angela: Lots of work to do, right? Lots of opportunity.

Brandon: Lots of work to do. It’s challenging, it’s fun. We don’t want to be bored in our jobs, right? And I think HR, you’ve got your work cut out for you, right?

Angela: Absolutely.

Brandon: It’s going to a great – it’s going to be a fun year.

Angela: Indeed.

Brandon: Yeah, so Angela Perkins. She’s Xenium’s VP of Sales and Marketing. And I’m sorry for putting you on the HR side for a second. Thank you for being part of the podcast and you’re welcome to join us again anytime.

Angela: Thanks for having me.

Brandon Laws

As Director of Marketing, Brandon Laws leads all marketing efforts for Xenium, providing oversight on all marketing campaigns, digital marketing strategy, events, sponsorships and public relations. Brandon brings a positive energy to every aspect of his role at Xenium—from internal initiatives around culture and wellness to industry thought leadership through the Xenium podcast and other social efforts. Active within the HR community, he currently volunteers on the board of the Portland Human Resource Management Association as the Director of Marketing & PR.

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