HR Challenges Expand in the New Year

Workplace violence, marijuana use, cybersecurity and leave laws are among the topics keeping HR leaders up at night according to a recent XpertHR report. Let’s explore the findings and check in with the leader of Tom Spry Executive Search on the topic.

January 7, 2019 – Today’s workforce is changing at an incredibly rapid rate as transformations in society, government, culture, technology, communications and the legal landscape impact employers and the workplace. With 2019 now here, the workplace will continue to see disruption, and employers are in for more changes as new and different challenges emerge.

Against this backdrop, workplace violence, marijuana use, cybersecurity and leave laws are among the most difficult challenges facing employers in 2019, according to a new XpertHR survey of over 800 human resource professionals.

The survey found that 45 percent of respondents viewed preparing for and responding to an active shooter or workplace violence incident as very or extremely challenging. A noted concern was creating a “culture of safety in the workplace.” This can include preventing actual acts of violence such as a shooting, as well as threats of violence, such as stalking which may arise in connection with domestic violence.

“The best way to address a threat of workplace violence is to actively prepare employees and supervisors,” said Beth Zoller, legal editor at XpertHR. “Put policies in place for visitor safety, workplace violence prevention, domestic violence and ban weapons from the workplace, to the extent permissible by state law.”

The XpertHR report said that employers should also “conduct a safety and security audit to identify and correct gaps in workplace safety and security, background screen applicants, look out for any red flags indicating potentially violent behaviors and create a zero tolerance workplace violence prevention program.”

Legalization of Marijuana

Another perplexing and challenging issue HR leaders said they face is dealing with increasing marijuana use. Medical marijuana is legal in nearly 30 states and recreational marijuana use is now legal in more than 10 states including Washington, D.C. Nonetheless, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I controlled substance and illegal under federal law.


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XpertHR’s survey confirmed employer frustrations in addressing marijuana use among workers and attempting to maintain a safe and drug free workplace. Forty-one percent of respondents said that they find managing the conflict of federal and state marijuana laws a challenge and 34 percent said they are challenged to maintain a drug-free workplace in light of changing laws.

Data Laws

The survey also found that employee privacy and protecting confidential data in the workplace are critical issues for the year ahead. Respondents reported that they are challenged by preventing cyber breaches and data security (51 percent), managing mobile devices/wearable technology and the internet of things (41 percent), managing the use of technology and social media while at work (39 percent) and protecting employee information from data breach (31 percent).

Another complex HR challenge facing employers is the expansion of federal, state and local leave laws. XpertHR’s survey showed that 47 percent of respondents were challenged by tracking and complying with rapidly changing leave laws across states while 46 percent were challenged by tracking and complying with local leave laws. Forty-three percent said they have difficulty handling the administrative burden of managing leaves and 41 percent viewed determining what federal, state and local leave law requirements apply to specific employee situations as challenging. Paid sick leave and paid family leave are particularly perplexing in their application and administration.

Related: Data Privacy Laws and How They Might Affect You

XpertHR’s survey confirmed that employee handbooks are a top challenge for employers and they are even more complicated for multistate and multijurisdictional employers. This is especially true in light of rapidly changing and often conflicting federal, state and local laws regarding harassment, accommodations, pay equity, leave, drug testing and weapons. Handbook challenges cited by employers include ensuring handbooks are read and understood by employees (50 percent), keeping handbooks current with new laws and trends (47 percent), managing employee handbooks as a multistate employer (46 percent) and incorporating local requirements into employee handbooks (38 percent).


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Workforce planning is another issue keeping HR executives up at night, according to XpertHR’s survey. Sixty-four percent of respondents reported difficulty in finding high quality applicants. Ensuring employees and supervisors have the necessary skill-sets is a challenge for 52 percent of respondents, the survey said. Creating a succession plan poses a challenge to 50 percent, and increasing employee engagement, morale and satisfaction is a challenge for 49 percent.

“Our survey found that HR professionals are struggling to find balance in all areas and felt overburdened by numerous and often confusing regulations while attempting to meet organizational and employee needs,” said Ms. Zoller.

Veteran Search Consultant Weighs In

“Finding experienced leaders and management that can effectively motivate and develop an organization will always be a challenge without a genuine relationship with a search partner,” said Tom Spry, founder and leader of Tom Spry Executive Search. “Cultural understanding, brand awareness, along with effective and consistent communication with all parties involved in the hiring and onboarding process are essential to a successful hire.”

Sample actions by successful companies, he said, “and include onboarding candidates to fit the company culture should come before skillset.” And, above all else, “be positive — celebrate what you want to see perpetuated within your organization. Build recognition programs; eliminate cynicism and sarcasm from your work environment and focus on positivity,” he added.

Related: Jobs Report Points to Potential Uncertainty Ahead

“Prefer skills over knowledge – leaders need to change their mindset that a degree is be more important than real life experience,” said Mr. Spry. “Solid soft and hard skills can be more valuable than a Harvard MBA. Leaders need to communicate their company’s WHY – why they are doing what they do.  People need to know why they’re doing something otherwise they’re less likely to act.”

“We have found that Personally Identifiable Information (PII) has been mitigated by better data center security and SOC compliance,” Mr. Spry said. “Technology leadership is empowered to be proactive. Most companies are white-labeling sites that are accessed from work machines and preventing personal software from being utilized on POS and handheld devices.”

“Education is the cornerstone of cybersecurity in the workplace – proper training on what to look for, how to properly handle unexpected emails or documents, and proper encryption usage,” he said.

Related: The Global Recruiting Sector is in Growth Mode, But Challenges Loom

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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