Driving HR Innovation in a New Era of Work

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Making Waves with Catherine Preim, President Philadelphia Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

A company’s H.R. department is so much more than a point of entry or exit. It’s the lifeblood of the organization. It’s a means by which a company can understand and address the ever-changing needs of its people.

Amid this era of increased employee agency, it’s more important than ever to know what your people want and need. Your employees should want to come to work, not need to come to work.

So, to gain some more insight into the trends and topics that are shaping H.R. efforts across the country right now, I spoke with Catherine Preim, President of the Philadelphia chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the most widely recognized and respected H.R. group in the country. Join me as Catherine shares her insight into the integral role of the HR team and the trends we should all be aware of as we look toward the ever-evolving future of the workplace.


Hal: Thanks for being here, Catherine.

Catherine: Thank you for having me. Excited to be here.

Hal: I enjoy talking to people in human resources. I think it’s by far the most important part of any organization. I’ve always believed that the Chief Human Resource Officer and the CEO must be tied at the hip, in order for there to be effective organizational change.

But what do you think about that?

Catherine: Yeah, we’re talking about having a seat at the table, right? With leadership, I think that’s important. And obviously I’m biased because I’m in H.R., but I think it is crucial for them to be in lockstep. But I also think it’s important to kind of look at the history and context.

H.R. has been around for over a hundred years, but things were a bit different then. Those departments were mainly focused on the manufacturing industry, compliance, making sure there was safety in the workplace, worker’s comp, things like that. And those are still very important things today, and H.R. definitely does those things. But the world has changed, particularly within the last 20 to 30 years. More businesses have people at the center of their strategy now.

H.R. has moved into more of a strategic role over the years, and with that, there’s an understanding of the business. So if you think of the issues today that didn’t exist before, you have technology and social media, people are more connected than ever. You can go on Glassdoor or Fishbowl, right, and look at competitors and get intel around, you know, some of the great workplaces.

We also now have five generations in the workplace. And when you look at our silent generation and then Gen Z, their needs are vastly different. You have a rise in D&I in corporate strategy. There’s also a lot of discussion on where and how people work. Really our focus is on your key stakeholders, which are your people. They’re your greatest asset.

Hal: Do you think most CEOs recognize that?

Catherine: Yeah, I think they do. I think there’s a shift for a reason. You know, as I mentioned before, people are at the center of the business and the strategy, regardless of what industry you’re in. So you need to make sure you have happy employees.

Hal: Yeah, there’s no question. You know, we all recognize that trust in a company is critically important. And I think that H.R. and the communications that take place are critical. But I think they also need to come from the CEO in supporting human resources. And what they’re trying to accomplish for the company, because otherwise, employees won’t believe that their company really cares about them.

And that’s why human resources is not just the entry point or the exit point. It plays such a vital role in understanding the needs of the people that are within the company. And those needs are changing.

But you can’t tell people to care. H.R. Executives right now are faced with an understanding of what’s going on in the company. They have to identify the opportunities to create happiness, create greater productivity, to be able to retain their people, and to create a reputation that attracts people to their company.

Catherine: Yeah, absolutely. And that information is more available than ever too. So the challenges I think about regarding what’s going on in the environment right now differ depending on what your industry is and what company you’re working at. But I read an article recently from SHRM called The Great Compromise, which I thought was a very interesting way of marketing that term, really talking about the needs.

With COVID, a lot of people had to flip to remote and a lot of companies are requesting that team members return. When you talk about some of the statistics there, pre-COVID, right, 2019, there was only 6% of the population that actually worked remotely. Now it’s over a quarter. So that’s a drastic change there. I think what companies can do around that in terms of creating a great culture is just understanding what team members are looking for.

They can think through their roles and which ones require in-person attendance versus someone who could work successfully remote, whether that’s 100% or hybrid, are there certain levels within the organization where there is more flexibility versus others? You know, if you’re an intern, that might look a little bit different than if you’re a manager in a leadership role.

So, I think what was really interesting from this article is, how do you compromise and find an in-between. Is it coming in a couple of days a week? Are there opportunities where maybe it’s not even coming into the office, but opportunities for Happy Hours or coffee? I also think with that, because hybrid isn’t going away, there’s going to be a need for more training and coaching and development for your hybrid team members, because coaching and developing and supervising people in person is going to be vastly different than if you’re doing that over Microsoft Teams or on a phone call.

Another challenge that everyone is facing is the talent shortage. Hiring and retaining top talent. So organizations really need to think through their value proposition and really be defining what their culture is.

How are you able to create a cohesive and team-oriented atmosphere when you have some people working in different locations? Getting creative with your hiring is going to be huge as well, again, depending on what industry you’re in. There may be some locations where there’s more of a talent shortage than others. And are you able to hire remote and still be able to have your team members be productive?

We’re finding that Gen Z particularly is looking for more of those coaching conversations and being able to have real conversations around their career development, and then also being able to provide benefits that address the whole employee.

It’s not about clocking in and clocking out. They want something that’s going to provide them with meaning, but also making sure that employers are taking care of them as team members. So providing benefits around flexibility, career development, resources, health and well-being, making sure those are easily accessible. Mentorship, anything related to flex benefits. That’s what team members are looking for.

The last challenge I’ll say is the continued commitment and continuity of D&I initiatives. That’s still a priority, and a lot of organizations are grappling with that. You know, when we talk about stakeholders and looking for those external candidates, they’re looking for companies who have embedded D&I practices, not just checking the boxes. Are they creating a culture where team members feel included and have a sense of belonging? Taking it a step further than just the metrics.

Hal: And how do you know that’s happening? Those are fantastic qualities that you mentioned, and they’re all critical. And you need them all.

Catherine: So I would say the use of engagement surveys, questions to get a sense of what’s going on in an organization are key.

Data, data data. I mean, that’s what’s going to help drive your decisions. There are also resources like Glassdoor or as I mentioned before, and some organizations have something called Fishbowl where you can go in and see how people feel around certain topics.

Hal: So, you know, companies all have a reputation, and that in conjunction with the different variables that you mentioned will attract people who will want to work there. And so you get to the interviewing process—and a lot of it is done remotely now, too.

How do you really get to know a person over the course of a virtual interview? Any thoughts, any insights into how to know if somebody is going to be a good team member?

Catherine:  Well, I think if you’re if you’re going to do remote interviews, still being able to see the person to grasp the nonverbals, you can get a sense of the genuineness of their responses. I also think as you go through the interview process, you can ask open-ended, behavioral-based questions to get a sense of how they would approach a situation.

Hal: So Catherine, as we close our conversation I’d like to briefly ask your input on addressing mental health in the workplace. We’re seeing a tremendous amount of depression and mental health challenges throughout the country. Are you finding new ways to deal with that?

Catherine: Yeah, I’ve seen a significant increase in that. And I don’t know if it’s happening more or more people are more comfortable coming forth with issues or concerns. But companies are going to need to address the entire employee and that includes the personal side, especially their health and wellbeing.

I also think training of those in supervisory and management positions is going to be key, because they are the front line, they’re the ones interacting with the team members and some don’t know what to do or aren’t aware.

I think that our training needs to be around empathy, too. How do we destigmatize this? Empathy isn’t always the first skill that everybody has, but it’s something that we can coach people on. And what I’ve seen some organizations do, and I myself, actually, am certified as a mental health first aider, so a lot of professionals can get certified. We’re not diagnosing mental illness, but it’s recognizing the signs of a mental health crisis and pointing them to the right resources when needed.

You have to build a relationship with the individual. Employees aren’t going to come to you saying that they have concerns or personal issues, if they don’t trust you as their leader or manager, and if they don’t have a relationship with you.

I also think it’s the basics of giving feedback in real time so that it doesn’t get to a point. Sometimes we see that an employee is experiencing performance concerns, and sometimes it is related to something going on with their medical health. But they should be addressing that feedback and providing it early on so that we can at least separate that and do what we need to do to address the performance, but also see what’s going on with the team member and give them the resources they need.

Hal:  Well, I now understand why you head up the Philadelphia SHRM organization. It’s been a delight talking with you. I’ve found everything that you’ve said both insightful and fascinating. Thank you so very much for being a part of it today.

Catherine: Thank you so much, Hal. This was great.

Making Waves is a series of conversations between New Ocean Health Solutions CEO Hal Rosenbluth and a variety of executives from a wide range of industries and areas of expertise. The below article has been edited for length and clarity from the podcast version of Hal’s interview with Catherine. 

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