When you get right down to it, human resources is really all about solving problems. Some of them you’re responsible for solving even before they happen… putting together payroll and benefits systems that make sure employees get paid correctly and on-time, and making healthcare and other services available to employees and just a couple things that fit this description.
But as you would expect whenever a big group of people and systems come together in unexpected ways, most of the problems you’ll be tasked with fixing occur as they happen. A lot of what you’re asked to do as a human resource professional comes down to addressing the same old problems dressed up in different sets of particulars.
Not everyone comes equipped to deal with all these problems, which is why companies need HR professionals in the first place. But you can’t expect to show up on day one and do any better than anyone else… unless you have been prepared with the right education to fix the most common issues that HR professional confront.
Picking the right HR degree program and choosing the right classes can help prepare you for dealing with the top five problems that inevitably come up in every HR department sooner or later.
Understanding Benefits Packages
Insurance is the biggest benefit that most Americans expect from their employer. Understanding insurance plans and benefits has never been easy, but it’s always been the job of HR professionals to mediate between insurers and their companies.
That got a whole lot more difficult after the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more popularly known as Obamacare, was passed. Suddenly, plans had to meet new standards and many of the old options went out the window. New employer requirements were also a part of the package. Even as access to healthcare made life easier for many Americans, making sure these new employer requirements were met and documented became a real headache for HR professionals.
But it’s not the only challenge in the benefits world. As more and more employers have to compete for fewer employees in many job categories, they’ve turned to new benefits to attract top talent. HR pros have responsibility for designing and calculating benefits such as:
- Extended vacation and flex time
- Free meals and snacks on the job
- Fitness memberships
- Childcare benefits
There’s no single class you can take that will prepare you for the unique benefits packages that you will find at any given employer, but a good degree should get you ready to make your own assessments by presenting a broad overview and background of benefits systems, including the laws (like ACA) that influence them.
Dealing With Management Changes
A disruptive event for any business is when senior leadership changes. This hits HR harder than most departments, because they are responsible not only for enacting the mandates of the new management team, but also for answering the questions of other staff.
Training for this type of work comes in the form of business and psychology courses offered in your HR degree program. Change is hard and threatening for employees. Morale can take a hit even when the organization is changing for the better. Understanding how to soothe and communicate with staff helps HR teams smooth over transitions between new and old management.
Facilitating Strategic Planning, Mission, and Vision in the Corporation
For a lot of big businesses, mission statements are something of a joke. Written by committee, they are often reduced to meaningless buzzwords like:
…we must continuously achieve superior financial and operating results while adhering to the highest standards of business conduct. These unwavering expectations provide the foundation for our commitments to those with whom we interact.
If that doesn’t elicit a ‘no duh’, then you probably need to tighten your grasp on the obvious.
HR is often responsible for facilitating the unfortunate and time-wasting exercise in strategic planning that leads to these laughable statements, as well as the equally reviled vision statements that sometimes accompany them. Worse, HR often is expected to sell and promote the results to staff who have more focused and immediate concerns.
Most HR programs have courses on strategic planning that can help you avoid the pitfalls of meaningless mission statements and planning sessions that miss the point of the business. Taking some of the hard-nosed business-oriented electives in your program can also keep you on track when it comes to separating genuine strategic planning from humorless exercises in ego-stroking.
The meat and potatoes of every HR department is helping businesses and employees deal with conflicts without creating legal liabilities or causing disruptions in the workplace.
It’s inevitable to have some conflict in the workplace and just as inevitable that it will be hard to deal with. People are usually afraid of conflict and unable to manage it in a positive way because they feel threatened.
HR pros get the training to distance themselves from such personal reactions. Courses in conflict resolution, communication, and psychology help you sidestep the natural reactions and to help shepherd other staff through their own conflicts to resolve them in a positive way.
Ultimately, you’ll learn how conflict can work to the benefit of the company and of staff by getting disputes and differences out in the open where they can be investigated and resolved.
Coping With Innovation and Obsolescence
The iPhone was a miracle of innovation when it was first released in 2007. Everyone wanted one and it seemed suddenly that everyone had one… a camera, computer, and audio device in their pocket.
Smartphones have become a boon for businesses, but HR professional remember the rough patch they went through in between that first release and today. Personal devices raised a host of new issues for employers and employees, from privacy to security to technical support. HR was on the front lines through all of it, mediating between IT departments and workers, assisting in drafting the early BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and compensation policies that have created the amazing and flexible smartphone-enabled work environment we all enjoy today.
Smartphones weren’t the first technology innovation to disrupt the workplace and they won’t be the last. As information technology evolves, HR professionals can expect more and more such disruptive events. That’s exactly why most HR degree programs today have dedicated coursework dealing with technology and information systems, so you aren’t caught flat-footed when the next innovation makes workplace policies and practices obsolete.