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How HR Is Evolving to Meet the Challenges of Today’s Workplace

To meet the moment of today’s workplace, the role of HR has expanded to now include everything from addressing employee demands for a more flexible workplace to boosting workplace culture and team cohesion in a hybrid work environment. For insight into how HR is tackling this current moment and bracing for more future challenges, two HR thought leaders sat down at the commercial real estate (CRE) event CoreNet Global Summit North America last week to share their thoughts.
On the last day of the event, Johnny Taylor Jr., CEO and president of the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), and independent talent strategist Ginny Clarke, formerly director of executive recruiting for Google, took to the main stage to share their perspectives on a wide range of HR and workplace topics, talked about how HR and real estate could work together to create the workplace of the future and how to address challenges around employee retention and recruiting.
The Changing Nature on How HR, Real Estate Are Collaborating
While real estate and HR professionals have historically worked together, the collaboration has recently shifted from a “tactical” one to a more “strategic” one, as the two HR professionals discussed in the opening part of the conversation.
Pre-pandemic, it was important for workplaces to operate in key geographies near sources of top talent (major cities, top colleges, etc.), and the workplaces needed to be attractive to entice people to work for a company, Clarke explained.
“We cared about where the people that we were hiring were going to be, and … we were hiring in all different parts of the world,” Clarke said. “So, the space mattered, and we heard about that. And we heard about the extent to which the people that we were hiring were attracted by some of these venues.”
But as we’ve since the pandemic, simply designing a modern, attractive workplace isn’t enough to engage employees and keep them within the organization. As we’ve seen from research and surveys time and time again, the move to remote work during the pandemic for many white-collar workers changed their perception of what an office could and should be.
"Employees have become far more selective about where they're willing to work. It's not just pay; it's not just benefits, but increasingly, they look at the total ... workplace," Taylor Jr. said. " They will come into an office and decide, ‘I don't like the feeling’ ... [and] if they don't feel it, they don't want to work there. So, we're increasingly losing talent because they were critical of our workspace."
Addressing Employees’ High Expectations in a Tight Labor Market
In addition to being more selective of where and how they work, employees are voicing their pay and benefit demands in ways that were unthinkable years ago. And frequently, HR professionals need to stop and listen to them, or they risk losing that employee to another organization.
To illustrate this changing dynamic, Taylor Jr. shared how an employee three levels lower on an organization chart recently requested a meeting to ask for a raise. After Taylor Jr. asked the employee if there was an “internal equity problem” within the organization or some other issue that might attribute to needing a raise, the employee responded, “I just bought a house.”
Pre-pandemic, employees would not have thought to come to HR with such a request, and if they did, HR professionals would not take it seriously, Taylor Jr. admitted. Now, he says, HR managers at every level of the organization chart need to anticipate these employee conversations and really listen to what employees are saying.
One of the biggest reasons for this changing dynamic between HR and employees is today’s turbulent job market, which both Clarke and Taylor Jr. saw as an issue for some time to come. Not only will recruiting challenges persist into the future, but a lot of the traditional thinking about creating environments to attract top talent might not be working or won’t pay off for years to come.
For instance, many large enterprises have focused a lot of time and resources on creating workspaces for younger generations (millennials and Gen Xers). However, a large percentage of the workforce is actually much older than that, Taylor Jr. pointed out.
"Here's a startling statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: The population of 55 and older will have roughly half of the new jobs in the next decade. So, we're busy talking about Generation Z and millennials, [but] the fact of the matter is right now 60% of the workforce are not Generation Z," Taylor Jr. said. "We've got to now factor in what do all these various generations want — at once — and make them all happy.”
On top of that, many enterprises might be missing out on “hidden talent” that exists today, Clarke said. Citing the work from Joseph B. Fuller of Harvard, Clarke shared how 27 million Americans are available to work, but they are getting “bumped out of the algorithms, [and] they are not considered viable workers.” These can include people with mild disabilities, veterans, people with trailing spouses, and the formerly incarcerated (a point made at this year’s Chicago Build event).
And Clarke admitted that, unfortunately, many organizations still fall back on “pedigree" (where you went to school, test scores for entry level positions, and so on) when it comes to hiring, and "none of that has ever been correlated as a predictor to one success in the role.” Not only are prospective employees being passed up, but the people who are getting promoted to higher levels within an organization aren’t necessarily the right fit for the role, Clarke noted, sharing how Gallup research has shown that organizations fail at promoting managers 82% of the time.
D&I in the Workplace: Making Inclusion Matter
The conversation moved to how diversity and inclusion (D&I) might factor into recruiting. Just as Clarke and Taylor Jr. highlighted several ways workplaces are falling behind on retention, they shared how there was a lot of work to be done with regard to D&I.
"When we start talking about hiring for diversity it's 'oh, well, let's go to the HBCUs [(historically Black colleges or universities)]. That will fix everything right there. And STEM, let's invest in STEM,” Clarke said. "Go ahead, invest in STEM; philanthropy is fine. So, do that from a philanthropic standpoint, [but] that's not doing anything for your workforce."
Picking up on the point about the HBCUs, Taylor Jr. added that the workplace might be missing a bigger point by focusing its D&I efforts on HBCUs. "Only 9% of black people in this country who attend college attend an HBCU. The overwhelming majority of black talent is not on an HBCU campus," Taylor Jr. said. So, to get a truly diverse pool of younger talent, workplaces might want to think about looking at more of the state colleges, he added.
Beyond boosting the number of employees from diverse backgrounds in an organization, Taylor Jr. went on to say that while many workplaces might have made progress on getting diverse talent through the door, they haven’t don’t such a good job of actually utilizing the different perspectives and experiences diverse hires bring.
"What we now know, and all of us who have been doing this work for a long time believed almost naively [is] that diversity, having a more diverse workforce, can solve all of our problems. And what we now come to realize is that inclusion is the challenge," Taylor said.
Though a lot of D&I efforts were created with good intentions, in not addressing the inclusion aspect of D&I, many workplaces have come off as being insincere, which only made the matter worse. Younger employees are “over virtual signaling,” and they are really looking for “culturally-embedded diversity and inclusion,” Taylor Jr. said. He also acknowledged that true inclusion in the workplace is hard work, and it requires looking at different aspects of diversity, which can include gender, race, religion, and political affiliation.
Future of Work: HR Is Leaving Their Mark
Building the workplaces of the future, addressing retention, and promoting inclusion within an organization all require strong HR leadership. If enterprises are serious about tackling these challenges, workplaces will need to scrap many of their preconceived notions on what works and doesn’t in today’s workplace. They also need to lean on the expertise of HR – and other departments – to truly figure out what employees want and then create that vision of the future.