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17 May 2016 The future and HR - the other side of the worm-hole

By Warwick Ryan, Partner

Recently, we hosted a seminar on the Future of HR and heard from two experts in the field about their experience and thoughts on the rapidly transforming workplace and their predictions for the future. 

That night we slipped trhough the worm-hole to reveal what a thriving HR professional will look like in the future dimension.

The distilled wisdom of the evening was that a successful HR professional of the future will have morphed themselves from filling a largely process-driven or 'compliance' role into being a trusted advisor to their employer in relation to its human capital strategy. 

The HR advisor must consider how to:

  • manage the costs of human capital where there is great competition for talent
  • best remunerate and resource employees to help them exceed customer expectations, 
and, at the same time
  • continue to minimise selfish behaviour in the workplace and protect the business from its ramifications

The view of the panel was that HR professionals will need to have a much deeper understanding of the business and to be able to talk with authority and insight in relation to its financial and operational aspects as well as its human capital needs.  In addition, the HR professional will need to have a very good understanding of the marketing direction of the business and insight into where the market and competitors are heading (or even are likely to go).

Increasingly, the basic processes that sit within many HR functions are being replaced by off-the-shelf technology-driven solutions.  Much of what has occupied the HR professional – particularly the inexperienced ones – is being usurped by technology. 

It is a seminal time: change can be intimidating or it can be embraced.

I had the pleasure of contributing to the panel from a legal perspective.  I took the audience (briefly!) through the last 40 years of seemingly exponential growth in legislation and mapped out the trend towards an increased sense of entitlement on the part of staff.  That 'ground upwards' pressure is opposed by ever-tightening constraints on company expenses as markets become more and more competitive through international mobility of production and the galloping technological improvements in all fields.

My final contribution was the observation that the workplace has changed from one of two parties (employer and employee) to an atomised workplace – one where employees are both the claimants and also often the targets of other employees' grievances.  Increasingly, members of management are being named personally as defendants in actions and are separately represented in cases before the Federal Court on areas such as adverse action, bullying and discrimination.  In recent cases, HR managers have been held liable for being complicit in employer breaches and are facing personal fines (as well as footing the bill for their own legal defence).

This invidious situation for HR managers arises because the employer's lawyers provide ongoing advice and guidance that is in the employer's interests – interests that may not ultimately coincide with the HR professional's interests.  For example, advice to the employer may be based on a premise that the employer is willing to take a risk where there is a grey area in legislation and a financial incentive in taking the risk.  Yet, if the Fair Work Ombudsman launches a prosecution, the HR professional personally (along with the company) may be found liable and fined for the breach.   

So, this is the atomised future, where the individual manager/employee has to comply with their obligations to their employer but also protect their own interests.  

It is not difficult to predict that HR professionals will sometimes feel they are facing an impossible balancing act…  

Finally, I hope I gave our diverse HR guests some comfort by sharing with them our latest service offering: the 'Sounding Board' – an affordable, secondary advice service line personally for the HR professional.  If you would like to find out more about services such as the 'Sounding Board', please get in touch via private message.

Warwick Ryan, Partner  |  Phone: +61 2 9233 5544  |  Email: wpr@swaab.com.au

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This article is not legal advice and the views and comments are of a general nature only. This article is not to be relied upon in substitution for detailed legal advice.

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