July 19, 2012

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HR Role Expanding, Becoming More Technical

Di Lewis

July 19, 2012

Human resources professionals are filling increasingly complicated roles at companies, needing training in healthcare, recruitment, legal and other aspects of business, according to a panel at Wednesday’s Utah Business human resources roundtable.

Between healthcare, compliance, mentoring, recruitment, retention and everything else an HR person does, the job has become more and more challenging, said Melissa Foster, HR director at OrangeSoda. However, the increasing responsibility of HR positions has also given professionals the ability to serve as a strategic partner and be seen as important to the company, she said.

The economic crisis brings with it a new set of challenges for human resources, said Jill Carter, principal at Carter HR Consulting.

“I think it’s a fear of investing in their employees. It isn’t trying to be mean. It’s a literal fear of spending any more money not knowing what the economy’s going to be the following year. The result of that is long-term employees are getting a 1 percent increase or a 2 percent increase. Then they bring people in 1 percent below the five-year employee and there’s compression in the salary ranges that then has an effect on morale in the organization,” said Carter.

Issues like salary compression and the depressed economy are having an impact on both recruitment and retention. Foster said so many of their employees are struggling with student loans that they come to OrangeSoda to get some experience and then leave for higher-paying positions.

KLAS HR Director Dusty Fenwick said he also sees a lot of applicants with unrealistic salary expectations. He calls them “first and third applicants”—people who apply and are disappointed they don’t get an $80,000 offer right out of school and turn down a job. But when they keep job hunting, they realize they aren’t in that salary range yet, so come back and apply again. “We’re not training them enough to be prepared for what post-college is like,” he said.

Because so many companies are waiting to hire until the current person in the position is retiring, companies are losing valuable training, said Ann Thomas, Mercer principal. “You all of a sudden lost all the intellectual capital, all of the knowledge.”

Healthcare is another concern for human resources, not only in getting employees to understand why costs are rising, but simply paying for it and beginning to understand the new regulations going into effect under the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Amber Damron, senior HR business partner for Adobe, said she has found full transparency is helpful for employees. By telling them what costs are, how much they and the company pay for insurance and other programs, they are more understanding when costs go up.

Healthcare is the biggest rising cost for Intrepid, said owner Chris Thomas, but he noted that it’s necessary to offer good benefits for recruitment.

Ann Thomas said it might make sense on paper for companies to not offer healthcare and pay the government tax. “But in the HR world, recruitment, retention, employee morale, what are my benefits, my retirement. These are competing factors. So for the foreseeable future, healthcare, I think, is going to be a drag on people’s bottom lines.”

During the past 20 years, the role of HR has gone from compliance to mentoring and coaching, and is now turning back to compliance, Carter said. With increasing government enforcement, HR professionals are relied on to learn even more in the legal realm.

“I feel like with the increase in compliance issues, with what I believe is fear of employers to invest in employees, I feel like the HR role is enhanced,” she said. “I feel like it’s a greater challenge for all of us. I feel like we have to be a lot more diverse in our approaches in how we attract and retain people.”

The human resources roundtable will appear in the September issue of Utah Business magazine.

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