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Five Trends Impacting Employees Today: What Every HR Manager Should Know

Posted by Elaine Varelas  July 4, 2011 10:00 AM

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Whether you’re a seasoned HR veteran or a newbie, you’ve probably noticed some of the ways you used to do things have changed. Technology, new products, expanding global markets, and the economy all influence how we work, and many organizations strive to be early adopters of innovation to remain competitive. For HR managers, it is equally important to examine the ramifications of significant shifts in the workplace. How does this often lightning-fast change affect employees? Here are five HR trends that have emerged over the past few years, and ways HR managers can help employees better adapt:

1. Metrics for Measurement
Employees have always been evaluated on job performance. Organizations have used employee and peer reviews and customer surveys to gauge performance. Recently, many organization have implemented a metrics-based system to measure performance, utilizing numbers and data to hold employees accountable for activity and results. Metrics measurement is a useful tool for leadership teams looking to eliminate waste or duplication, and to make the organization streamlined, more accountable and profitable.

While this numbers-based system can be beneficial to the organization, it can make employees feel like they are being targeted or micromanaged. HR managers can help alleviate some of the stress by making sure that employees understand the process. Communication is the key. Employees need to know that the organization is not looking to target specific people, but to help the organization become more efficient and effective. Make sure that expectations and goals are clearly explained, and give employees a chance to share feedback.

2. Technology for Transactional HR Functions
There was a time when benefits changes, vacation requests and approvals, and payroll functions were conducted one-on-one between HR managers and employees. Now, these common transactions are often completed online. Converting these transactions to a technology base has eliminated many of the repetitive tasks for HR managers. While it is a positive innovation and a welcome change for many, it can depersonalize the HR process (instead of having a conversation with a person, employees are sending requests through cyberspace). HR managers can make sure that employees still feel connected in other ways by remaining accessible to employees for answering questions or addressing concerns. They should also work to establish and maintain relationships in other ways as their day-to-day contact subsides.

3. Vanishing Support StaffMost employees today are on their own to create a document, make a phone call or unstick a paper jam. There is an increasing need for self-sufficiency among workers because there is little or no dedicated administration or IT support staff. Gone are the days of dictating a memo or asking an assistant to place a call. Employees are expected to know how to use the technology they need to do their jobs. HR managers can help employees by offering training programs or refresher courses in new software or systems (Excel, email etiquette, social media 101) so employees master the skills they need to do their jobs efficiently.

4. Shrinking Office Space
Rising real estate costs, the proliferation of technology, and employees’ fluctuating work schedules have contributed to companies downsizing their office space. Organizations can also save on square footage and cost because equipment is shrinking and files can be stored digitally. Instead of file cabinets and bulky desktops cluttering office space, employees can keep all of their work on laptops and take it home. This makes travel and telecommuting easier to do. One change this presents for employees is that their office space is often shared. HR managers can help employees make a seamless transition from home to work by making sure that office space remains neutral. It isn’t comfortable for any of us to work surrounded by pictures of other people’s kids and pets. Employees should know to leave the space clean and ready for the next person. It is also important to make sure that the items employees need are ready each time they come in, including power cords, cables, printers, and other office supplies. Following these steps can eliminate frustration and increase productivity because employees can get right to work instead of wasting precious office time searching for a stapler.

5. The 24/7 Employee
Just because employees can be reached by phone, text, or email 24 hours a day, seven days a week, doesn’t mean they should be. What are the cultural expectations at the organization? What is the expected return time for emails or phone calls during office hours and after hours? HR managers should work with the leadership team to develop company-wide parameters and then encourage managers to discuss expectations with employees. This task can be daunting for global companies that may require employees to participate in calls or projects after regular business hours. If the requests are reasonable and agreed-upon by all parties, it can alleviate employees feeling as if they are always on-call.

Much has changed in the business world over the past decade. While many of these changes are positive, some can leave employees feeling disconnected from their colleagues and the organization. HR managers can help ease employees into these trends by establishing boundaries, eliminating the hassle, and opening lines of communication.

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About HR Columns

Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.