The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) hosted its annual conference and expo in New Orleans June 12–15. HR professionals, executives, managers, and students gathered from all over the country to connect and learn together. Over 200 sessions provided expert industry insight on recruiting, career growth, HR technology, diversity and inclusion strategies, leadership skills, and so much more. With the catchphrase “Cause the Effect,” each speaker at SHRM’s conferences implored HR leaders to create a ripple effect of positive change, especially in the wake of the last 2 years’ challenges.
SHRM’s CEO, Johnny C. Taylor Jr., recalled a question asked of him that he posed to all HR professionals: Are you a thermometer or a thermostat?
“Thermometers simply measure the temperature—they tell you what the current temperature is. Thermostats, on the other hand, change the temperature,” Taylor explained. “We have to become thermostats as a professional. There will always be a role in HR for thermometers as we collect important data and workforce insights, but our highest and most valuable contribution to our organizations going forward will be how effectively we change the temperature by influencing the hearts and minds of our people for mutual benefit.”
So how can employers become thermostats?
Listen to Employee Needs
It’s essential to listen and adapt to employees needs. Melissa Anderson, SHRM board chair and SVP and chief HR officer for Albemarle Corporation, explained that employees need more than just talk from companies—they need action.
“Everything we touch—every decision—we make, brings us new, more visible opportunities to lead, new responsibilities we should welcome, new effects to cause,” Anderson said. “There can be great joy in this work because we are literally making a difference in people’s lives.”
The aftermath of COVID-19 has demonstrated firsthand to HR professionals how essential it is to be intentional and caring toward your workforce. The pandemic posed countless challenges, especially in the realm of mental health and work/life balance. Anderson explained, “Employees are counting on us to help them maintain healthy bodies, minds, and souls … HR can and must cause the effect for employee mental health and wellbeing.”
Bruce Broussard, CEO of Humana, believes that a healthy workplace culture can be established through frequent, intentional communication to all levels within a company. “The communications and actions a leader has sets the tone and sets the culture. So, when I think about all the communication we do, we must focus on transparency, humility, and empathy.”
While the conversation around mental health may not always come naturally, leaders can establish in their communications that healthy work/life balance is and should be the norm. For example, managers can ensure that workers take mental health days, vacation, and sick leave and respect that time off by not sending non-urgent communication.
Change Is a Constant—The Question Is How Well You Adapt to It
While everyone thinks fondly of the times before COVID and what work will look like when the pandemic ends, the fact of the matter is that the way we work has irreversibly changed. The past 2 years forced people to stay at home, and many people used that time to reassess what’s important in life. For HR professionals, who were thrown face-first into the changes brought on by COVID-19, there was a lot to learn and reflect on.
“We learned that we need to get ahead of change and embrace it. We had the power to actually effect that change. We learned that failing to prepare for and master change resulted in vulnerability, insecurity, and crisis,” Taylor said. “Having endured a slew of crises and knowing the next one may be just around the corner, we now feel the deep-seeded urgency to drive change rather than be driven by it—not just to endure, but to flourish.”
If there’s anything leaders can take away from this year’s SHRM conference, it’s that they’re capable of making a positive impact, especially when they put their people first. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer, and help your employees thrive.