What Keeps HR Professionals Awake At Night?

Written by Ira S. Wolfe for Business2Business, November 2004

It’s 3 AM . Patti Martin, human resource manager at Union National Community Bank in Mt. Joy , stirs from a deep sleep and groggily reaches for the paper and pen on her bedside table. “I can’t fall back to sleep unless I write down what I was thinking,” says Martin. She’s one of the lucky ones. From time to time, she gets a full night’s sleep.

Tossing and turning all night.

Many of Martin’s colleagues don’t share her good fortune. Instead of enjoying restful slumber they toss and turn, agonizing over work-related problems.

What keeps human resources managers such as Martin awake night after night? In a nutshell, the increasingly difficult job of assuring their employers have enough skilled staff to deliver products and services on time and in a manner that assures excellent customer satisfaction. These days that’s a tough job, and it gets more and more difficult as time goes by.

The source of the difficulty lay in forces beyond Martin’s, or any other HR professional’s, control. The 2004-2005 Workplace Forecast: A Strategic Outlook compiled by the Society of Human Resources Management, identifies the top 10 trends most likely to impact on the workplace. To ignore them means harsh implications for managing a workforce. The trends include rising health care costs, domestic safety and security, use of technology, growing complexity of legal compliance, focus on global security, an aging workforce with too few skilled replacements, e-learning, outsourcing manufacturing jobs, and the changing definition of family.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, reiterates this concern. Citing the Aspen Institute report, Grow Faster Together. Or Grow Slowly Apart. How Will America Work in the 21st Century?, he wrote “the United States is given a dramatic wake-up call about a major crisis of the merican workforce. This crisis arises from a worker gap, a skills gap, and a wage gap that, if not properly addressed, will threaten U.S. competitiveness and indeed our very way of life.”

All this dramatically affects the human resources function. To learn more about how local human resources managers felt about these challenges, I contacted several of them and asked them “what human resources issues keep you awake at night?” (We excluded health care benefits and insurance from our discussions because nearly everyone agreed it is a major problem.) Here’s what I learned.   


Ira S Wolfe