Five Big Things You Might Have Missed from SHRM 2022

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Over the last two years, the world of work has changed in profound ways. This year’s annual meeting of the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) was an opportunity for thousands of HR leaders to assess these changes and chart a path forward. They examined new retention challenges, discussed the power of flexibility and the need to update approaches to physical and mental wellness, and explored the difference between DEI and DEI&B.

Here are the top five big takeaways for HR professionals.

1. Retention is hard — but not impossible

In a post-Covid world, employee retention is all about understanding what employees value most and creating a culture that supports work-life balance. 

One of the top pro tips from this year’s SHRM is to embrace the entry (or stay) interview. Speak with employees early to find out what they value outside of work and make sure that their role fits within their priorities. For example, an employee whose priorities revolve around their role as a parent may say that being able to pick the kids up and be home for dinner is everything to them. For this person, flexibility is key and should be built into their role. Knowing and protecting employees’ priorities helps to ensure their long term happiness at work. 

The experts also stressed investing in a culture and policies that truly match the values of your workforce. For example, if you’re spending money on free dinner at 6:30 each night, but your employees are family-focused — or just need time to rejuvenate away from the office in the evening — you might be doing more harm than good. Most employees, especially your high achievers, are likely to feel guilty or anxious when they can’t stay for dinner. That perk quickly becomes a stressor that drives people away.

As Arianna Huffington explained in her keynote, supporting employees’ priorities — like being home in time for dinner — matters because today’s workforce values work-life balance even more than increases in pay. And employees want you to value what they value. That’s why best-selling author and multi-generational workforce expert, Lindsey Pollack, Yale University’s Raina Sorgenti, and Ovia’s Shauna Murphy Cour dedicated their session to innovative benefits that support families and help retain more working parents and women. 

A recent study by Ovia found that 90% of members would consider moving to a new company (in the same role) if it had better family benefits. It’s clear that family-friendly policies are a key to retention. The top three most-requested benefits are fertility, maternity, and parenting support; longer and more flexible parental leave with gradual return-to-work options; and better return-to-work planning. Other popular requests are caregiving benefits, coaching for pregnancy, postpartum, parenting, and mental health support.

2. Physical and mental wellness programs need a makeover

The pandemic has helped us come to an important collective realization: physical and mental health are workplace issues. And there’s a lot more we can be doing to support employees’ wellness. This year’s SHRM speakers shared plenty of ideas for reinventing health and wellness at work. 

One of the top actions employers can take is to provide comprehensive wellness benefits for everyone, including extra safety nets for major life events (think: fertility, pregnancy, postpartum, early parenting, menopause, and times of grief and loss). These are moments when people are vulnerable to burnout and serious illness. 

While we all know that physical health is key to maintaining a functioning workforce, many companies are realizing that they haven’t done nearly enough to support employees’ mental health. As Huffington explained in her keynote, “We’ve shared a collective delusion that burnout is the price of success.” But science tells us the opposite: when people care for themselves, set boundaries, and find balance, they’re able to be more productive and successful. 

To really take advantage of this insight, leaders must buy into the idea that self-care and work-life balance are key to business success. Managers must share this message with employees and everyone must feel encouraged to find a healthy balance. Employees need time and permission to reset, and access to mental healthcare for issues such as depression and anxiety if they need it. 

Improving mental and physical health resources isn’t just a nice benefit, it’s a business strategy. When organizations care for their employees, those employees bring their best selves to work, and they’re more likely to stay. When it comes to attracting and retaining employees, every business is a healthcare business. 

According to a study published in the journal of Population Health Management, overall well-being is predictive of future employer outcomes related to health care, productivity, and retention. The estimated cost to employers of absence and performance loss from physical health issues alone is $225.8 billion per year, 71% of which stems from on-the-job productivity impairments. When employers were able to provide and impact wellness, they realized substantial health care savings, productivity gains, and turnover reduction by improving the well-being of their employees.

3. Flexibility is king

Employees (especially parents) need flexibility to maintain work-life balance. Flexible hours, remote and hybrid work options, and personalized return-from-leave programs are key for engagement, retention, and talent acquisition. In fact, according to Ovia’s recent survey, having a flexible work arrangement ranks as the third most important benefit for working parents today. 

As so many of us have seen through the pandemic, embracing remote and hybrid work also means finding new ways to engage and support employees. In her SHRM session, Sonia Aranza, CEO of Aranza Communications covered some do’s and don’ts for building an inclusive hybrid workplace culture. She and other speakers offered tips including creating digital spaces for remote workers to build a shared culture and making sure teams have the collaboration tools they need to work together smoothly. 

In another session, HR leaders talked about policies that give employees more flexibility. For example, Raina Sorgenti of Yale University described their generous leave policy that covers up to 18 weeks of paid leave and 36 position-protected weeks total. She also noted updated LOA policies that allow employees to take family leave without using up their sick leave first. This small change is a huge benefit for new parents who often need sick days to care for themselves or their children after their parental leave is over. It’s tweaks like these that give employees the flexibility they need to thrive. 

4. Diversity and inclusion are the future

If you’re up on the research, you know that diversity can boost a company’s success and profitability. So you might be thinking about how to strengthen your own DEI initiatives. Speakers at SHRM had plenty of useful insights. To start: check your existing benefits to make sure they don’t exclude anyone. Are policies written in a way that’s accessible to everyone? Do they embrace all different kinds of families?

Once your policies are in good shape, add belonging to DEI. DEI&B means making sure employees feel they can bring their whole selves to work. That way, employees can focus their whole attention on work and don’t spend energy, or anxiety, keeping parts of their lives secret. That vital sense of belonging tells employees they don’t have to compartmentalize their lives. It’s the warmth that keeps employees cozy in their positions and with your organization. 

To nurture DEI&B, develop your talent pipeline early and put your money where your values are: fund your ERGs and invest in benefits that close gaps in coverage for your workforce and ensure all employees feel welcome and supported.

5. Emotional intelligence is the heart of any HR strategy

While we can’t always anticipate the next HR challenges, the experts were clear on one thing — we’ll need to keep leading with emotional intelligence. While people tend to be their most reserved at work, we still need to recognize and address emotional wellbeing in the workplace so we can resolve conflict, lift people up, and get the job done. When everyone’s emotional needs are cared for, teams are set up to be cohesive and collaborative. 

SHRM 2022’s point: it’s time for human-centered HR

Together, these five takeaways can be boiled down to one big idea: we’re all human, and we have the opportunity to care for our employees accordingly. Putting humans at the center of our HR strategies — through careful listening, wellness programs, DEI&B, and benefits based on our employees’ values — takes us a long way toward solving the biggest HR challenges, from attrition, to engagement and productivity.