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5 Unique Challenges Faced by HR in the Workplace

May 23, 2024

The role of HR has evolved over the last several years to be more strategic, more data-driven, and more of a partner to the C-suite and other organizational leaders. But in that evolution HR leaders have also encountered some unique challenges that must be both understood and addressed.

The challenges HR leaders face today range from managing a remote and hybrid workforce, adapting to a growing gig economy, the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) and related ethical considerations, increasing workforce automation and job displacement, and growing employee mental health and well-being concerns.

Navigating these challenges requires both understanding and action. Here we take a look at these challenges and offer insights into how HR professionals can address the distinctive obstacles they’re facing.

Challenge #1: Remote Work Challenges

The pandemic brought a sudden shift to remote and hybrid work — a shift that continues today and that isn’t likely to entirely go away. Managing remote workers brings additional challenges for HR and other leaders, from effectively monitoring performance, maintaining company culture, addressing work-life balance needs, and ensuring cybersecurity in remote locations. 

Challenges in Managing Remote Teams

When managing employees who represent a mix of on-site, fully remote, and hybrid work models, HR must ensure effective communication, collaboration, and productivity, while also fostering a sense of connection and belonging. 

This is no easy task, and HR can’t go it alone. They must also call on the support of senior leaders, managers, and supervisors across the organization and ensure they have the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to manage in this new world of work. 

HR Challenges with Monitoring Performance

The old concerns about managing employees who were “out of sight and out of mind” still linger as HR leaders and managers address the challenges of monitoring employee performance. Traditional methods of performance evaluation may not be applicable in a remote setting.

HR leaders need to adopt new methods of performance monitoring, and coach and counsel managers and supervisors to use these methods effectively.

Obstacles in Maintaining Company Culture

HR must also find ways to maintain and reinforce the company culture in a remote environment to foster employee engagement and cohesion despite physical separations. And they need to ensure that managers and supervisors are doing the same.

This requires proactive and thoughtful communication and the support of employees whether they are on- or off-site. Company culture can also be supported through interactions between and among employees that can be facilitated with technology.

Work-Life Balance Challenges

While a remote work environment might seem to be one that would automatically boost work-life balance, that’s not necessarily the case. Some studies indicate that employees are likely to work more, and feel more stress, in these environments than in the traditional physical workspace.

HR can help by coaching and counseling employees in establishing healthy work-life balance and preventing burnout. Putting limitations on when employees — and managers! — should send or respond to emails is one simple way that can be done.

Ensuring Cybersecurity is a Must

Cybersecurity, always a concern, is even a greater concern for employees who are working from their homes or other settings. In collaboration with their IT colleagues, HR must implement robust cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive employee data and ensure compliance with data protection regulations for all employees. That requires frequent and ongoing communication, training — and setting an example through their own behaviors and actions.

Strategies to Overcome These Remote Work Challenges 

It’s clear that the growth in remote work has presented new challenges for HR leaders. To address these challenges, it’s important to focus on communication and maintaining ongoing connections between employees and the organization — wherever employees may be located.

It’s also important to arm employees with the information and tools they need to remain productive and connected — and to ensure their managers and supervisors are trained and supported in providing communication, goal setting, employee management, and performance evaluation.

By prioritizing performance management, culture reinforcement, work-life balance, and cybersecurity, HR leaders can help ensure remote work success in an era where distributed teams have become the norm.

Challenge #2: Gig Economy Integration

The gig economy is growing. According to Staffing Industry Analysts: “There are between 154 million and 435 million online gig economy workers across the globe, representing 4.4% to 12.5% of the global workforce.” That number is predicted to grow.

For HR, this growth in the gig economy requires balancing the benefits and challenges it presents to effectively integrate gig workers into the organization.

Classification of Workers

An important first step for HR is ensuring that gig workers are appropriately classified as independent contractors in compliance with labor laws and regulations. That’s not a task that’s as straightforward as it may initially appear, and rules and regulations are continually shifting. HR is responsible, though, to ensure that legal risks are recognized and minimized.

Managing a Flexible Workforce

In addition to navigating potential legal landmines, HR must manage a dynamic and diverse workforce with varying schedules, availability, and skill sets. This requires flexible staffing strategies and effective coordination. HR is also in a position to ensure that managers and supervisors understand what is required to manage gig workers effectively, and that they are provided with the tools, resources, and support required to do so.

Ensuring Compliance

In addition to classification, there are other aspects of compliance that the gig economy raises. HR must ensure compliance with labor laws, tax regulations, and other legal requirements applicable to gig workers like minimum wages and overtime pay.

Maintaining Engagement and Retention

Gig workers shouldn’t be an afterthought. They need to be effectively incorporated into the workforce to ensure productivity and positive contributions to the organization. HR must find ways to engage and retain gig workers who may have different motivations, expectations, and loyalties than traditional employees. That may require new tailored incentives and recognition programs designed with gig workers in mind.

Integration With Traditional Workforce

The integration of gig workers with the traditional workforce can be a challenge. HR must rise to that challenge, bringing senior leaders, managers, and supervisors along with them to ensure collaboration, communication, and cohesion across the diverse types of employees reflected in today’s workforce.

Challenge #3: Artificial Intelligence (AI) Ethics

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become ubiquitous across industries and organizations of all types and sizes, and across all professions, including HR. That has raised challenges related to addressing bias and fairness in AI-driven HR processes, protecting employee privacy in AI-powered systems, establishing ethical guidelines for AI implementation, and leveraging AI responsibly to enhance HR practices.

Doing this effectively requires partnership and collaboration with others within the organization, including IT and legal colleagues. It’s important to fully understand any technology being implemented and the risks it may raise for privacy and security. Ongoing communication, training, and transparency is important to ensure employees understand how to use — and how not to use — the new tools now widely available to them. 

Establishing clear policies and guidelines, training and communicating about the policies, and responding quickly to any issues will be key to ensuring the ethical use of AI-powered systems and tools.

Challenge #4: Workforce Automation and Job Displacement

AI and other types of workforce automation also raise the potential for job displacement as some tasks formerly assigned to employees can now be accomplished through these technologies — or are no longer needed. 

HR plays an important role in understanding the impact of automation on the workforce, providing reskilling and upskilling opportunities for employees, mitigating concerns about job displacement and job security, and embracing automation while prioritizing employee well-being.

Importantly, HR needs to ensure that employees understand the true impact of these technologies and that they have access to professional development opportunities to help them position, or reposition, themselves for other roles within the organization, or in other organizations.

Challenge #5: Mental Health and Well-being

Mental health concerns, already high prior to the pandemic, have increased even more since then, fueled by a variety of impacts that have led to stress, anxiety, and burnout for many employees. 

HR can play an important role in promoting mental health awareness in the workplace, providing access to mental health resources and support services, creating a supportive work environment that prioritizes well-being, and implementing strategies for addressing mental health stigma while fostering a culture of openness.

Mental health and well-being are important for everyone. Creating conversation is an important step in helping to battle this troubling trend.

Overcoming These Unique Challenges

HR’s role has evolved significantly over the past several years as new challenges have emerged that must be understood and addressed. The challenges we’ve addressed here require HR leaders to be adaptable, innovative, and proactive in their approaches. As HR leaders continue to respond to the impacts of remote work, a growing gig economy, the impact of AI and workforce automation, and growing mental health and well-being concerns, they must stay up to date on the latest trends and technologies, seek new solutions, and remain open to change. Challenging, yes. But eminently rewarding for those who are up to the challenges and ready to address them.

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