For almost two years, the world has faced a series of tumultuous events.

What we have cumulatively been through has impacted everything about how we live and work, and because of that, human resources professionals have had to adapt. Experts shared some of the key issues that human resources managers are facing right now and how companies can make sure they are doing the most for their staff.

Key Issues in HR

With 2020 being a year of incredible upheaval, 2021 has served as a time to reinvent what the human resources industry looks like. The pandemic caused workers to rethink what they really want most in a career, in addition to what aligns with their lifestyle and values.

This is evident in the large number of workers that are leaving their jobs, not just for new roles, but leaving the workforce altogether. Because of this, HR professionals and other company leaders are getting creative in how they attract and retain talent, and they are considering how to traverse the challenging waters that continue to rise from the pandemic’s worldwide impact.

“The demand for talent exceeds the available talent supply,” said Michala Anderson, jobs expert for Robert Half in Omaha. “Employers need to adjust and prioritize their retention strategies to ensure they attract and retain top talent.

“Locally, we’re seeing historically low unemployment rates at 1.7% in Omaha. Nebraska is currently sitting at a 2% unemployment rate, which has sequentially decreased over the course of the fourth quarter. Things are looking brighter but work still needs to be done in this recovering economy and retention is a big part of that recovery effort.”

Emily Maurice, employment law attorney at Goosmann Law said a lot of HR trends still pertain to COVID-19. “Plenty of companies have questions about whether there can be a requirement for employees to provide proof of vaccination status, a vaccine mandate, and what accommodations need to be provided during the pandemic,” she said. “COVID-19 also compounds issues that were already facing human resources leaders such as gender discrimination, disability accommodations, and retaliation.

“Employees are facing child care shortages, health concerns for themselves or family members that can be exacerbated through COVID-19, and increased worry about needing to take time off for either of those issues. While most of the human resources issues are familiar, the issues have taken on new life with the added element of the pandemic.”

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Anderson noted that human resources leaders are having a lot of discussions about pay and flexibility in hours and location.

“Pay raises are on the horizon,” she said.

“A shortage of skilled talent is driving up pay. While average starting salaries remained
relatively flat in 2021, they’re expected to increase 3.8% overall in 2022. Roles in strong
demand may see bigger gains.

“This is a candidate’s market and employers must adjust to the needs
of workers and job seekers in order to attract and retain them.

“In this tight labor market, competitive salaries are table stakes for employers. Companies must regularly revisit pay ranges and discuss career paths with employees to align on expectations. In Omaha, a high volume of candidates who are hoping to see a hybrid model remain after reentry plans are complete.

Having that flexibility, we have seen, is as important as salary right now in Omaha.”

Emerging Benefits

“Traditionally, employees desire medical insurance, strong retirement savings plans, and paid time off programs,” explained Stephanie Hand, shareholder at Lutz. “The pandemic
has increased the desire for flexibility/ remote work options and wellness/ mental health benefits.”

Andrea Fredrickson, president of Revela, agreed.

“What seem like traditional responses and practices, have been challenged and in many cases, retired,” she said. “Standard, predictable work schedule shave all but been eliminated. People want more time to be with their families or to pursue personal interests — less stress and complexity in their daily lives, with more freedom and flexibility.”

Anderson stated, “More than 4 in 10 employers are rethinking employee hours, saying they are open to staff creating their own work hours, less than 40 hours a week, or even four-day workweeks as long as they get the job done.”

Listen to Your Team

With such an intense focus on retaining talent within the workplace, it is important to remember that doing right by your staff is part of the recipe for company success. Human resources professionals believe this starts with a listening ear.

“It used to be that just the best companies were focused on listening to their employees and really putting things into place the things that are truly valuable for their employees,” Fredrickson said. “Today, doing this isn’t an option. It is a base requirement to attract and keep good employees. Truly listen to what people are wanting in their life.”

Hand noted that companies can accomplish more by getting continuous feedback from their employees.

“It is important for us to acknowledge that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to the employee experience — in fact, one size fits one,” Hand said.

“Understanding and getting to know your employees’ stories, preferences, strengths, and needs is important to retaining, developing, and motivating them. Most important, work every day to inspire mutual trust with your employees. It takes ongoing effort, but
it’s the secret sauce to a successful culture and organization.”

An open-door policy also helps make way for human resources to create an equal playing field for all employees.

“Ensuring that there is an equal playing field also looks different than it did pre-pandemic,” Maurice said.

“Pre-pandemic looked to equal pay, equal hours, and equal opportunities for advancement.

“Now, an equal playing field looks to how employers can respond to accommodations for lack of child care or medical concerns or the desire to work remotely. The thing that employers are dealing with today is more of a leveling out of employee satisfaction and employer needs, rather than an equalization of employee to employee.

But employer focus right now is maintaining a successful business along with employee satisfaction.”

Mike Bojanski, vice president of human resources for Finley Engineering, stressed that an equal playing field means emphasizing the need for strategic focus and integration of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in all parts of business operations. And it
starts from the top down.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion is not an initiative or program, it is a cultural imperative,” he said.

Hot Button Issues

As an HR leader, there will be various issues that arise in the workplace but knowing how to navigate some of the most prevalent ‘hot buttons’ with sensitivity and a focus on education is imperative — especially right now, with issues still arising out of the pandemic.

“The most prevalent legal ‘hot button’ issue today is vaccine status,” Maurice said. “This includes whether employees are required to provide his or her vaccine status and whether an employer can mandate a vaccine. Other issues focus on gender — one is the fact that women are leaving the workforce in droves due to several reasons, the biggest being a lack of child care … the ‘Me Too’ movement is still very relevant.

“Human resource managers must work harder to ensure employees are educated on these issues and that any training can be effectively provided to employees regardless of an employee’s work location. Companies need to make sure that effective communication is
the number one goal … a company that can provide effective communication to its employees will have the most satisfied employees.”

COVID-19 vaccine mandates and paid family leave are current hot button issues.

“My experience in a 30+ year career is that the legal hot buttons typically remain the same but depending on the makeup of the federal government, certain hot buttons get hotter,”
Bojanski said

Reshaping Leadership

While good leaders can truly lead no matter what is thrown at them, human resources leaders have needed to lean into their strategic thinking skills these last two years, and this will continue to be the case looking ahead.

“I believe strategic thinking HR leaders have always embraced flexibility for their teams which included allowing team members to balance work responsibilities and personal responsibilities, allowing remote working arrangements, and trusting team members will get the work done regardless of where or when they work,” Bojanski said. “Effective HR
leaders have embraced what the younger generations feel, ‘working to live instead of living to work.’”

Hand noted that managing people on an individual basis is as important now than it ever was.

“We have all navigated, interpreted and survived the pandemic in our own ways and with this, we have to continue to motivate and manage team members with empathy and individual understanding,” she said. “In turn, our HR staff will do the same for other employees. With the continued challenges of the unique labor market, HR managers are encouraging their team members to think creatively about how to best attract, connect, develop, and retain talent.”

One thing is certain, effective leaders must be skilled in communicating and connecting with people, so they can hear what employees need and ultimately, make a difference in the workplace.

“Leadership amid a pandemic requires effective communication,” Maurice said.

“Some employees want to have the option to work remotely or have medical restrictions that require exceptions to the traditional workday and workplace.

“There are other employees who simply want to continue doing their job without having to provide medical information or continue to be in a physical work location that is outside of the home. The pandemic has increased the range of employee desires and needs and human resources managers need to be open to that fact and respond accordingly.

Communication is the key element to running an effective business with satisfied employees.