Among organizations in and around the United States, 30% have only one HR professional. That’s according to SHRM’s president and CEO, who gave that figure during the opening keynote at the 2019 Annual Conference and Exposition. That represents a great number of individuals who single-handedly manage every HR aspect for their organization.
At this year’s expo, I was lucky to attend the session “The Top Five Priorities for an HR Department of One,” given by Jennifer Currence, SHRM-SCP, MBA, and President of The Currence Group. Before the talk began, attendees were asked to speak to one another in small groups to discuss their concerns. Then, Currence asked attendees to get up to a microphone and give their greatest concerns as a department of one.
Their concerns were many, and I wanted to share some of their responses with you.
Among the group of five HR professionals I spoke with, all of them expressed their difficulties in getting their employees to understand their benefits. Many organizations have so many benefits that it can be a real challenge to get every employee to understand them all. Giving employees access to a database of information is not enough, the group agreed.
One individual suggested finding a way to educate employees about the benefits that are of interest to them rather than overwhelming them with everything at once. That could involve sending benefit information to employees in small groups or meeting one-on-one with employees to discuss what works for them.
Another said her company uses e-mail analytics to understand the reach and impact of the company’s benefits communications. Some aspects of that tool the company finds most useful includes its ability to track who opened which e-mails, how long they interacted with those e-mails, and whether they opened extra materials. With this tool, HR knows when a specific benefit communication received poor engagement and can adjust its strategy accordingly.
Using Benefit Vendors
I spoke with another HR professional whose company has had a lot of success by getting all of its benefits vendors in one room once a year. That way, employees have access to them (and free sandwiches) for an entire day to discuss any and all of their benefits with those responsible for providing them. Everyone in my group was excited by this useful idea.
Offering Pet Insurance
Pet insurance is a growing benefit. Many employees consider their pets family, which results in some pretty expensive vet bills. Of the five people I spoke with, two said they offer employee-sponsored health insurance for their employees’ pets. Of those two, one has a lot of employees taking advantage of the benefit, but the other does not. When I asked why, she said she felt that communication of the benefit was the issue.
Unique Concerns for Educational Institutions
Sitting down with these professionals was a good reminder of how different HR concerns in different industries can be. One HR professional works for a small school district. Many of her workers only work for 9–10 months a year, while the rest work year-round. That alone lead to many complications when it came to job duties; classifications; and, most importantly, time off benefits. The janitorial servicemembers have very different leave benefits than teachers, who get 2–3 months off a year.
When you struggle with the idiosyncrasies of your specific HR role, it could be useful to network with other HR professionals to get ideas that will solve your specific needs.
A Unique Approach to Benefits Competition
I’m sure my readers are painfully aware of this concern at many organizations. One of the HR professionals at the microphone gave her method of competing over benefits. Her company pays for all health insurance benefits while maintaining a high deductible plan. It uses a concierge to accomplish this. The company has seen 10% savings simply by preventing increasing insurance rates with this method. The plan has also had the effect of creating employees who are conscientious about how much they spend on health care. The entire packed session room was stunned and exited to hear about this approach—especially that it worked so well at keeping costs down.
One of the HR professionals shared with the audience her approach to engaging employees and keeping them healthy. At her organization, the dress policy is athletic clothes with neutral colors. The workers need this gear because the company has walking meetings, offers fresh fruit every day, encourages exercise during work, provides healthy beverages and shakes, and otherwise does whatever it can to keep employees motivated and healthy.
The return on investment (ROI) comes from two sources: Engaged employees work harder, making more money for their organizations, and a healthy workforce comes with far fewer health-related costs. This company even offers free, quarterly massages.
If you are stuck regarding your HR policies and benefits at your organization, remember that necessity is the mother of invention. No group of HR workers has more of a need than HR departments of one, and they have to innovate just to stay afloat. Try networking with some of these brave individuals. Who knows—you might just learn something.