Will 2018 Be the Best, the Worst, or Both?

1/5/18

As we say goodbye to a year that would rival any in recent memory in terms of both domestic and global upheaval, we now look ahead to one that could very well embody Mr. Dickens' famous dichotomy.  As things turned out, for most of our member companies, 2017 ended on a positive note with enactment of a tax reform measure strongly supported by the business community.  This is already raising expectations that this should not only benefit shareholders but also translate into jobs and higher wages.  Fueled by a very favorable business climate, there is every reason to be optimistic in that regard.  If all of that plays out, we could very well have "the best of times."

So, if “it’s the economy, stupid,” why aren’t we uncorking the champagne?  Because most if not all of the issues that made last year so challenging for HR leaders remain in play, led by:

  • A shortage of skilled and qualified workers in many critical areas of our economy, exacerbated by an often bitter debate over immigration that puts the United States at a competitive disadvantage, even as longer-term concerns over workforce displacement by AI and robotics continue to fester;

  • Intense public scrutiny of the role of HR in ensuring a safe and respectful workplace in light of serious allegations of sexual harassment, particularly at the highest and most visible levels of our institutions;

  • A health care system whose bedrock of employment-based coverage remains threatened by uncertainties regarding the future of federal health care policy; 

  • An unrelenting surge of legislation at the state and local level imposing new and often conflicting layers of workplace regulation, making it very difficult for multi-state employers to have uniform policies regarding paid leave, pay equity, scheduling, and others yet to come; and

  • A society and its workforce weakened by an opioid epidemic that is estimated to be linked to a 20 percent decrease in men's workforce participation and 25 percent in women's.

These are just a few of the broader concerns that help frame the various issues covered in our annual outlook of HR policy issues.  

Meanwhile, many of the events of last year signaled heightened public expectations regarding the role of major corporations—and their leaders—in addressing our biggest problems.  This covered a number of sensitive areas, including racial and ethnic tensions, global warming, and disparities in wealth, among others.  Many companies see these expectations within their own workforces, particularly among the newest entrants.  And with confidence in the ability of political systems—in the U.S. and elsewhere—continuing to decline, these expectations can only grow.  As companies try to balance their responsibilities in these areas with the expectations of shareholders, chief human resource officers play a critical role, not only in sorting through the human resource issues involved but also as a key advisor to the CEO and Board of Directors.

Interestingly, all of this comes at a time when our Association celebrates its 50th anniversary.  Since 1968, we have watched the chief HR function evolve from managing labor relations, personnel policies and payroll to becoming a key player in the business strategies and governance of multi-billion dollar enterprises competing in a rapidly changing marketplace that our parents would barely recognize.

Throughout this period, the Association itself has evolved.  We not only focus on a broader array of public policy issues, but have also found other ways to help our members besides being just a lobbying group.  Through the strong CHRO community that has developed, we have found ways to help our members collaborate outside the policy arena in areas like health care (e.g., Retiree Health Access, Health Transformation Alliance), corporate governance (e.g., Center On Executive Compensation, CHRO Impact series) and workforce development (e.g., Jobipedia, Recruiting Software Initiative).  At our annual CHRO Summit on March 9-10, we will look ahead to the next fifty years and how the Association can continue to be both a catalyst and an enabler of more efforts like these as the dynamic role of the chief human resource officer continues to evolve.