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Thanksgiving: More than a day off work for HR

As the Thanksgiving holiday nears, many are pausing to reflect on what they’re thankful for in their personal lives. But the season also can be a time for people to consider what they appreciate about their work lives. 

What should human resources professionals be thankful for? For starters, innovation that has brought about an elevation of the profession, according to Brad Federman, chief operating officer for F&H Solutions Group, a human resources consulting firm in Memphis, Tennessee. With the advent of assistive technology, many of the “transactional” aspects of human resources that so often make professionals feel bogged down can be automated, he says.

“Software now has the capability to shave hours off of processes such as performance management and candidate searches,” Federman says.

Also, since outsourcing has become a more viable and popular route for many organizations, HR pros find themselves freed up from tasks such as exit interviews, administration of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, payroll, and benefits administration. With such functions performed by others who specialize in those specific tasks, HR professionals can “move into the role of a strategic partner for their organization—an emerging and valuable trait for many human resources departments,” Federman says.

HR professionals also can be thankful they have an impact on their organizations, he says. “HR has the ability to help increase profits, improve sales, and keep the organization safe. HR also has the ability to support a culture and environment that gives people purpose beyond a paycheck.”

Training, communication improvements
Advances in technology also have made training easier in recent years, but it’s important to keep the risks of new forms of training in mind. “If training, whether online or in the classroom, does not engage the employee, then almost 70 percent of knowledge is forgotten within 24 hours,” Federman says. “That is a significant loss of time, personnel, and money for any organization.”

Communication is another area made easier and more effective with technology since new improvements allow employees to constantly collaborate no matter their location. But, again, risks exist. “In the same theme as the increased availability and ease of training programs, over-saturation of communication can be a danger to all employees,” Federman says. “Constant phone calls, emails, and text messages can cause employees to feel hyper-connected and fatigued, but the fear of ‘unplugging’ from the workplace will cause many people to continue this unhealthy habit to a point of burnout and low engagement.”

Many employees feel they need to bring work home in order to succeed, and “a major culprit is the smartphone,” Federman says. “Technology has become an integral tool for the HR professional, and most are thankful. However, it is important to remain vigilant against the negative side effects that come from these advances.”

More respect
The human resources profession’s progress in getting more respect from top executives presents a major reason to be thankful. “Many organizations have experienced an evolution that has revealed the advantage of having HR as a strategic partner,” Federman says. “Slowly, HR professionals are beginning to gain the respect of top executives.”

When the HR department is considered “a central component to corporate success” executives understand the importance of partnering with HR, Federman says. “Processes such as performance management, engagement, and succession planning, which are historically troublesome areas for organizations, can be turned into invaluable tools for an organization’s future when human resources is supported by top executives.”

And those executives have important reasons to be thankful for HR. Federman cites a Wall Street Journal report of a 2011 study showing that when companies include strategic HR within their other operations, they experience nearly 40 percent lower turnover, 38 percent higher employee engagement, and more than twice the revenue per employee than do companies that view HR as a primarily transactional function.

“While it takes time to reveal the value of an HR department to executives, it is the belief of many that the relationship between executives and HR is improving,” Federman says. “In order for HR departments to get a seat at the boardroom table, they need to develop business acumen, be able to create a business case, and tie their activities to the strategy and success of the business.”

Finding a silver lining
Even parts of the job no one is thankful for—such as dealing with worrisome and even illegal problems such as sexual harassment in the workplace—can have a silver lining. For example, all the recent controversy over allegations of harassment committed by influential executives presents HR an opportunity.

“While the recent sexual harassment allegations against high-profile individuals make great headlines, those in HR know that such behavior has been going on in the workplace for a long time,” Reggie Gay, an attorney with the McNair Law Firm, P.A. in Greenville, South Carolina, says.

Upper management may have been guilty of not taking sexual harassment concerns seriously, Gay says, but the attention the issue is getting may be bringing to light an employer’s exposure to liability if such conduct is allowed.

“No longer will a lack of training, the turning of a head, or dismissing the behavior as ‘that’s the way he has always been’ be tolerated,” Gay says.