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3 priorities for HR professionals in 2019

In recent years, a number of trends have significantly changed the way HR works. From enabling digital transformations to identifying new ways to attract and retain top talent in the tightest labor market we’ve experienced in decades, to creating an environment where employees are engaged and are able to perform their best work, it can be difficult for HR managers to know which challenges to prioritize and where to direct their efforts.

League’s HR Advisory Council, a group of HR thought leaders and business influencers shaping the future of work, identify their top priorities in the year ahead — and provide tips on how to best address them.

Keeping high performers motivated and engaged

In 2019, I’m going to sharpen my focus on becoming an employer of choice for high performers. Studies show that high performing employees can deliver 400% more productivity than the average worker. This group often has different needs and wants than the average employee: they take a long-term view of their careers, want to keep their skills current and cutting-edge and need to know they’re working alongside other high performers. Yet most HR leaders tend to lump all employees together in a category so broadly defined that it becomes difficult to make meaningful decisions.

Building an environment where high performers can be their best starts with understanding that they have different drivers than the average employee. Know who your top talent is by selecting for culture (and actively manage those who don’t align). Focus on recognizing and rewarding high performing employees and invest in leadership development at all levels. Create a frictionless environment that brings out the best in them. Listen and respond to their feedback in real-time.

And don’t be afraid of alienating the average employee…you have to be able to make hard decisions and reward based on differentiated capabilities. Left untended, your high performers will seek alternative opportunities that provide more challenges, growth and rewards. Your competitors would love to have them. Keep your best workers by meeting their wants and needs.

Omer Aziz, International HR Executive  

Finding new ways to improve employees’ financial wellbeing

An emerging issue that I’m going to dig into in 2019 is financial wellbeing. This is an important pillar of our overall Global Wellness Strategy, which focuses on mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing.  We’ve all heard news bites on various surveys or polls conducted that show that Canadians, in general, are struggling with their finances, which has been exacerbated as interest rates rise. The cost of living continues to go up and employees are stretching their dollars between things like mortgage payments, student loans, health care and more. They’re not confident about reaching their long-term financial goals and retirement plans often serve as a safety net for immediate needs.  All of these things lead to stress, which impacts employee wellbeing.

Employers have an opportunity to put their creative hats on to think through how employee wellbeing can be improved through education that may help them achieve their goals for every stage in their “financial lives,” whether that’s saving for a car, college or retirement. But information alone is not enough to bridge the gap for employees who are struggling. Financial education needs to be coupled with products and services in the industry that encourage good financial behavior and improve financial health outcomes.

Talk to your employees about the challenges they’re facing in their lives and tailor your broader employee wellness and engagement strategy accordingly. Whether it’s through focus groups, surveys or in-depth interviews, try to create a safe environment where people feel comfortable sharing their needs with you. Work with your benefits and retirement plan providers to build a communications program that helps educate. Most importantly, be persistent. Understand that improving employees’ financial wellbeing is a long-term game, but a worthwhile investment because it is a direct link to broader employee wellbeing.  

Rahim Bhayani, Vice President – Total Rewards, OMERS

Creating an open dialogue around mental health  

With over 500,000 hours of work being missed each week in Canada, absences due to mental illness have moved from an HR issue to a business issue of primary importance to boards and C-suite executives around the world. It’s hard to ignore when we know that 1 in 5 adults will personally experience a mental health problem or illness this year – and those are only the people who are reporting it.   

Leaders are increasingly encouraged and trained to make the workplace a safe space where employees can bring their whole selves to work. But there is still a lot of work to be done. Revealing a mental health issue is often a very scary and vulnerable experience. While leaders are sharing their own stories about how mental health has impacted their friends and their families more freely, there are too few leaders sharing their own personal experiences and struggles with mental health. If we are to truly remove the stigma around mental health, leaders need to show their own vulnerability and lead the movement of bringing mental health to the forefront of the conversation rather than simply playing a supporting role.

Recently we invited Michael Landsberg to speak about his personal and very public experience with mental health at an internal League event. While the official presentation was inspiring and initiated excellent dialogue in the room, it was the raw and deeply personal story shared by one of our leaders that changed the focus of the conversation from mental health issues that affect people around the world, to mental health issues that affect me.  

Mental health is not hierarchically selective and our executives and leaders are not immune to the struggle. Many workplace strategies are developed to support the general employee population, and an unintended consequence may be that executives and leaders do not feel comfortable accessing the resources if they need them. The very intention and design of the mental wellness programs often put leaders in the role of facilitator and may exclude them from the solution altogether.  

In order to make real change in our workplaces, we must talk about mental health at all levels and continue to encourage our executives to take the lead…because when they do, it makes all the difference!  

Kim Tabac, Chief People Officer, League

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