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Outlook 2010: A Vision for a 21st-Century HR Policy

This is part of a special advertising section on the challenges facing HR executives in the coming year.

Friday, October 2, 2009
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Today's generation of HR leaders faces a set of challenges not seen in decades, and it is one that will require considerable thought, energy and creativity to be met. More than anything else, we need a vision for a 21st century HR policy. 

HR Policy Association represents the chief human resource officers of nearly 300 of the largest private-sector employers doing business in the United States, and from daily conversations with our members, we hear a series of common concerns. It begins with confirmation of a jobless recovery and ends with the question of whether the nation is on the correct path to achieve adequate employment opportunities and job security. 

We hear constantly that, even when business conditions eventually improve, there will be a strong reluctance to resume hiring. One reason is that many employees near or at retirement age are no longer in a position to retire and, even if they were, they are unwilling to let go of the lifeline of a paycheck. Traumatized by the current recession, they are being far more careful in the way they handle their money. 

Another reason is the tremendous uncertainty about the business environment and the actions being taken by the new Congress and the administration in response. The question we hear most often is whether the policies being pursued will result in an economy that will encourage building and expanding employment opportunities in the United States. 

Right now, that question is being answered far more in the negative than the positive. Those operating globally see new markets and strengthening economies in areas outside the United States -- China, India and Brazil, for example -- and they are deploying resources where the opportunities exist.

For the United States, in contrast, business leaders appear to be waiting to see how the current situation unfolds.

The greatest immediate concern we hear from HR leaders is how Congress will handle the healthcare-reform issue. Most people agree that the United States is on an unsustainable path, with the cost of healthcare for employees, dependents and retirees far greater than any other nation on earth, and still climbing.

The question, then, is after Congress completes action on this contentious issue, will true reform have occurred or will the current dysfunctional system be locked in place and the costs being borne by employers be even greater than they are today?

In addition, they see Congress and the administration determined to expand the nation's legislative and regulatory structure and make enforcement far tougher. For example, virtually all laws have a statute of limitations, but already the new Congress has removed the time limits on when discrimination lawsuits must be brought. With great fanfare, the new administration is significantly increasing the enforcement of the dysfunctional Fair Labor Standards Act, written when brute force powered industry and workplace technology was the stuff of science fiction. And during the coming election year, there will be a push by lawmakers to enact a series of new employee rights and employer liabilities to curry favor with voters.

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What all HR leaders want to see in place are HR policies that promote competitiveness, job creation, and employment security. Today, unfortunately, many believe the path the United States is now on discourages, instead of promotes, these objectives. 

Over the years, the business community has done an excellent job articulating changes in HR policy that it sees as detrimental. Today, HR leaders need to lay out a clear vision for policy makers of what the human resource policy of the United States should be in this new era of an interdependent global economy driven by technology.

That, more than any other, is the main human resource challenge for 2010: explaining to our federal government and the public not just what HR policies shouldn't be, but what they should be.

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