Change and the Modern Art of HR: Reflections from SHRM 2023 and a Look Forward

July 17, 2023

As agents of change, HR professionals are shaping new ways of work for today’s employees and generations to come.
Shari Simpson Headshot

By: Shari Simpson

MBA, MHRM, SHRM-SCP, Senior Manager, Thought Leadership

Ask 20,000 HR professionals how change makes them feel, you’ll probably get some interesting answers.

What was clear at the 2023 SHRM annual conference is that change is everywhere — and HR is right at the heart of it.

At the Paylocity booth, visitors could watch change happen in real time as renowned Las Vegas artist Brad Wilkinson transformed blank canvases into masterpieces to highlight #TheArtofModernHR. It was a fun way to showcase the creative side of HR and the impact each of us has as individuals. Our booth became a living gallery of problem-solvers!

Throughout the conference, I had a chance to talk with peers and experts about the changes they’re seeing in the world of work. Let’s look at how some of those changes will affect HR going forward — whether you’re a department of one or one hundred.

The Skills-Based Evolution

One change we’ve seen coming is the shift to a skills-based mindset. Really, the skills-based model addresses other changes in the workforce, like the need for today’s workers to apply adjacent skills and adapt quickly to new roles.

Former president Bill Clinton addressed the skills gap in his keynote: “We shouldn’t require a college degree if the job doesn’t require it … We need to think about constantly training because the nature of work is constantly changing.”

The transition to a skills-based organization won’t happen overnight. It means looking at some of our core HR functions differently, like how we hire, develop, and retain talent.

For example:

  • How can we describe jobs in terms of skills rather than qualifications?
  • What does a skills-based job interview look like?
  • What skills will our employees need in the future to reach business goals?
  • How do we provide skills training that’s valuable to both our employees and our organization?

While we’re adjusting our own perspectives, we’re also in a position to help both leadership and employees think about work in a whole new way. Although challenging, this change opens tremendous opportunities to develop a highly skilled workforce for tomorrow.

Being Mindful of Mental Health

Mental health was on everyone’s minds at the conference. There’s no question the pandemic has completely changed how we talk about mental health in the workplace. There’s also no doubt this is a much needed change.

A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and CNN found 90% of adults believe there is a mental crisis in the U.S. Almost half the adults surveyed reported having a severe mental health crisis in their family.

In addition to dealing with multiple social stressors, our deepening dependence on technology makes achieving work-life balance increasingly difficult.

Of those adults who reported their mental health as only fair or poor, six out of ten said they have not been able to get the care they need. The most common reasons cited were being too busy, unable to take the time off from work, and concerns about cost.

What does this mean for employers?

In the near-term, HR will have to continue to advocate for expanded benefits, monitor employee sentiment and well-being, and guide employees to the services they need. Employee resource groups can help address the stigma that still surrounds mental illness, not just at work but in the community. Provide training for managers so they can help employees find the right balance between life and work.

And a reminder — your own mental health comes first. HR is an emotionally charged career, and we absolutely must grant ourselves the grace to heal and renew.

Boost Employee Mental Wellbeing —
and Your Own

Hear how evidence-based mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and leadership development programs can increase employee resiliency and strengthen collaboration in our HR Mixtape podcast with Ashley Nelson, executive coach, consultant, and founder of Inseus.

Data-Inspired Inclusion

Diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging (DEIAB) is a subject near and dear to our hearts at Paylocity, and we had two ace reporters in the field — Sierra McDaniel, Talent Acquisition Partner, and Alexandra Pahr, HR Coordinator — covering some of the most relevant concurrent sessions.

Both Sierra and Alexandra noted an interesting theme at the conference: How can we leverage data better to move DEIAB from stand-alone initiatives to intrinsic culture?

First, we have to understand what data we have and, just as important, what we’re missing.

“If you don’t know who your people are and what they think, you have no idea where to focus your efforts,” Sierra reported, following a session on measuring success with Michael Bach, CEO of IDEA Hub Consulting. “You also can’t show how this work adds value to your top and bottom line.”

In the session “Stop Visualizing and Start Utilizing — Making Data Work” with Shane Yount, president of Competitive Solutions, Inc., Alexandra heard one of my favorite quotes from the conference:

“Are we using data to build a culture of spectators or players?”

As we get better and better at collecting and reporting meaningful data, how do we turn insights into actions that have long-term impact? That is our next step in the DEIAB journey.

Deep Dive

For a deeper dive into this crucial topic, be sure to check out our recent panel discussion on
Building Bridges: Unleashing the Power of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility, and Belonging.

The Changing Role of HR

I sat down with Jennifer McClure, CEO of Unbridled Talent and Disrupt HR, to talk about how we can prepare for and embrace the future of work amidst so much change.

She quickly reminded me the role of HR has been changing for years. Back in the day, when HR was called “Personnel,” it was considered primarily administrative. Now, not only do we have a seat at the business strategy table. We have a voice.

“We’re in the best position we’ve ever been to really have an impact,” Jennifer said.

But she added, “The opportunity also is a challenge. It’s more complex than it ever has been before.”

Citing early controversy about social media as it permeated the workplace, Jennifer urges leaders to pay attention to the way we use technology in our everyday lives. “Technology has been an impetus for change all along,” she stated.

It’s easy to see how technological advances over the past thirty years have significantly streamlined administrative HR tasks. It has also completely changed how we interact with employees and how we design the employee experience, from recruitment to retirement.

Whatever tools your company chooses to manage HR and payroll, they are first and foremost productivity and communication tools used by people. That means HR should also take a seat at the IT table to influence and help implement new technology across the organization.

Staying in Touch With the Future

Listen to my conversation with Jennifer McClure in our podcast, “HR Evolved: Navigating Challenges and Embracing the Future.”

What’s Next for HR?

If I knew for sure what the next big impact on work would be, I would have been on the stage with the President!

While I won’t make any predictions, I will share a recommendation borrowed from The LEGO Batman Movie: “Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.”

As HR professionals, our superpowers shine when we’re prepared for what’s coming next and stay true to our purpose. And we do that through continuous learning and by staying connected to other HR professionals to navigate the change together.

The better tools you have, the faster and easier you and your organization can meet change head on. Fortunately, you can get the tools you need from Paylocity — and I don’t just mean our software suite. We happily share the latest news and trends through our blogs, podcasts, and webinars. Also be sure to subscribe to our podcast, HR Mixtape, to hear conversations with thought leaders about today’s most pressing HR issues.

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No one knows better than HR practitioners that change is hard. It can also be exhilarating to drive change — which means it’s never been more exciting to work in HR!


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