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At the annual SHRM conference, thousands of HR professionals heard from industry leaders about the many trends shaping HR and came away with valuable insights to help them do their jobs better, and in turn, improve the employee experience at their organizations.

Didn't get to attend this year's conference? We've compiled a list of main themes from the conference to get you up to speed on what you missed.

1) Approach Diversity Differently

The topic of diversity is just as vague as it is important. When people talk about diversity in the workplace, they are often referring to race and gender diversity. But according to SHRM CEO and president Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., diverse hiring practices should go beyond attracting and retaining more women and people of color. Diverse hiring should also extend to people with other types of diverse ideas, experiences and backgrounds. In his keynote address, Taylor challenged attendees to hire for other diverse or marginalized groups that are often overlooked, like candidates with criminal records, those with disabilities, returning veterans and older adults.

Why pursue candidates with unique backgrounds? Hiring them can radically improve the way your business operates. For example, hiring older workers who are typically considered “overqualified" or “too close to retirement" can create a multi-generational workforce that offers different types of viewpoints, mentorship opportunities and a healthy exchange of ideas that you won't see in an office of all millennials. Meanwhile, hiring people with disabilities can improve the quality of work your employees deliver. For example, an employee who is on the autism spectrum may have the ability to effectively memorize important information, while an employee with obsessive-compulsive disorder might express a high level of creativity and attention to detail.

“We need to let these people in," Taylor said. “We need to create workplaces where everyone can thrive."

2) To Hire Better, Identify Candidates' Values

When it comes to hiring, experience and professional accomplishments are important metrics for determining whether a candidate would be an asset to your organization. But these considerations are only a few pieces of the puzzle—understanding a person's character is arguably much more important. Since you only meet candidates a handful of times and very briefly, before you extend an offer, you need to determine the right questions to ask to identify those who are fundamentally a good fit—and weed out the rest.

At SHRM's smart stage session, “Three Questions You Should Ask Every Applicant," Consultant Karl James Ahlrichs recommended hiring managers ask questions that will help determine a candidate's values and work ethic, flexibility and adaptability in the face of inevitable change, and identify a candidate's ability to take ownership of actions or decisions. Answers to these questions can typically paint a better picture of the type of employee a candidate will be than discussing concrete skills and experiences alone.

3) Follow This Formula for Turnover Prevention

In a time of low unemployment, your employees are a hot commodity. More organizations are offering better benefits and higher salaries in exchange for the most qualified candidates. Plus, many of today's employed workers are interested in other opportunities. In fact, a recent study from Mental Health America found that 70% of workers are either actively looking for a new job or thinking about it. So how do you keep your employees from jumping ship?

The answer is a comprehensive strategy, not a quick-fix solution. Cornerstone's VP of Global Small and Medium Business Paul Broughton, who presented on this topic at SHRM, said that organizations can retain their employees by taking a LEAP: that is, prioritizing learning, empathy, advancement and purpose. Here's how LEAP breaks down:

Learning

Learning and development opportunities can make or break an employee's experience at a company. More than ninety percent of employees said they would be more likely to stay at an organization that invested in their career development. Meanwhile, talent development professionals say that getting employees to make time for learning is their number one challenge. Employers can meet their employees in the middle by incentivizing learning and development activities. How? Broughton recommends offering a reward system for learning and offering prizes to employees who make time for development—and managers who champion them.

Empathy

People don't quit companies—they quit negative or unsupportive bosses. In fact, 82% of employees say they would consider leaving their job for a more empathetic organization. The reverse is also true: an empathetic manager can keep a high-performing employee around. Fostering a culture of support and emotional intelligence can help you retain a talented workforce. You can start by introducing these concepts as part of your mission statement or core values and training employees on empathy and emotional intelligence. By demonstrating a commitment to a supportive work environment and communicating these values from the top down, employees will begin to take note.

Advancement

Talented employees are ambitious, which means many will eventually want to grow into a managerial or more senior role. HR professionals can work with individual employees and their managers to discuss opportunities for upward mobility and more responsibility and design a career development plan to track performance metrics and identify leadership training opportunities.

Purpose

Millennials might as well be known as the “do good" generation—they want a job that not only pays the bills, but also offers them an opportunity to contribute to a larger cause. According to a Glassdoor report, 75% of employees between 18 and 34 expect their employer to take a stand on social issues from immigration to climate change. Take a look at your company's mission, and think about how you can infuse these expectations into your organization's existing values. For example, start by sponsoring a cause that your employees care about or organize a company-wide volunteer day.

By taking these steps, you will increase your chances of retaining employees and decrease the number of employees who decide to jump ship.

Photo: Creative Commons