3 Takeaways from SHRM Conference 2017
Three themes that generated the most buzz:
1. "We can't keep competing on wages"
All eyes were on non-traditional benefits - like child care - as a way to win talent wars over years. How tough is it out there? One HR director at an auto parts manufacturer summed it up this way: "We need to create an experience that sets us apart, and outweighs the value of the extra dollar an hour that our employees get offered by a competitor down the street," he said, explaining his rational behind building a child care center at one of his company's larger plants. "In this market, we can't keep competing on wages because someone will always offer slightly more."
2. Continued interest in student loan assistance
Myriad conversations on the exhibit floor showed that student debt continues to be a hot topic. Why? Financial stress is a huge threat to productivity. And PWC's 2017 Financial Wellness Survey says student debt is a major source of financial stress. "Among the 40% of Millennials and 31% of Gen X employees with student loans," read the survey, "we find rising numbers who say that their loans are having a significant impact on their ability to meet other financial goals." We spy a trend for years to come.
3. A savvier approach to benefit equity
Should benefits cater to specific groups or be universal and equitable for all? The answer is...yes. Conversations at SHRM show a new line of thinking about benefits, finding a balance between targeted and broad-based programs. An HR business partner at a technology firm described Millennial-appealing loan repayment as a way to balance out more traditional medical, dependent care, and retirement programs for tenured employees; a benefits manager at a healthcare organization, on the other hand, talked about beefing up Boomer-focused programs in order to reaffirm the commitment to long-time staff. Both show organizations taking more holistic approaches to supporting their people.
Looking to SHRM 2017 and BeyondAll of the above conversations were energizing because they focused first on what employees need, and second on the concrete steps HR can take to respond. Next comes the hard - but extremely rewarding - work of putting these plans into place. From what I saw over three days in New Orleans, today's HR leaders are up for the challenge.
January 15, 2017