“Expand Your World” was the theme of the 70th annual conference and expo of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), which attracted nearly 20,000 attendees, the largest-ever gathering in the history of the conference. Workplace harassment, bias, pay equity, workplace incivility and the importance of culture were among the dozens of topics HR professionals from around the globe explored during the three-day event in Chicago.
Here are some highlights:
Building inclusive workplace cultures
In his opening address, SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. spoke of the expanding role of the HR function in building inclusive workplace cultures. “Organizations finally understand,” he said, “that the people issues that erupt in the workplace − from #MeToo, to pay disparity, to discrimination based on ethnicity, race, age, etc. − are about culture. And culture, inclusion and talent are the very essence of what we do as HR professionals.”
Taylor said that HR can expand the notion of diversity beyond race and gender and help build cultures that include older workers, people with disabilities, veterans and people who have made mistakes and deserve second chances. It also means making workplaces inclusive to “anyone and everyone who can bring the skills we need and live the culture we aspire to.”
Elevating the HR profession also includes fighting for laws and policies, he said, that “may not be popular, but that will set the table for the workplace cultures we want to build, and that will improve our organizations and our people.”
HR must systematically change biases
Keynote speaker Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, told attendees that it’s critical for HR, managers and employees to talk openly about the biases that are preventing women from having the same opportunities as men to get good jobs and to be paid the same as men for doing the same work. During an onstage Q&A, Sandberg said, “We have to understand it’s not equal for women; it is not equal for women of color; and that means it’s particularly unequal for women of color.”
Sandberg also noted how people think a woman’s success is because of her hard work, getting help from others and good luck, while they think a man’s success is because of his skills. HR is in a position, she said, to “systematically find these biases, and systematically acknowledge them and systemically change them.”
Don’t ignore complaints of executive harassers
Handling sexual harassment accusations against the C-suite was the subject of a session called “Corporate Misbehavior: How to Deal with Bad Behavior from the Boardroom.” No question, it can be tricky. HR should make sure executives understand that the rules for appropriate conduct apply to them, not just to lower-level employees, said Dennis A. Davis, Ph.D., an expert on workplace violence prevention, who spoke at the session.
Other ways that HR can get out in front of potential problems is to pay attention to rumors involving executive misconduct, take all complaints and employee survey results seriously, and be prepared to investigate – using an outside investigator if need be – if allegations do arise.
It’s also essential that senior executives participate in harassment training. Leaders who avoid training by saying they are too busy can no longer use that excuse. There are online harassment training courses available that offer short, focused chunks of training that can easily fit into executives’ schedules.
In addition to anti-harassment training, Davis said that bystander intervention training is also important to “empower the people in your organization so that when they see inappropriate, unethical behavior, they’re comfortable calling it out.”
Workplace incivility is contagious
Workplace incivility, which can take the form of slights, insensitivities and rude, threatening behaviors, is pervasive and on the rise. In 2016, 62% of employees reported being treated rudely by colleagues at least once a month, up from 49% in 1998, according to research presented at the conference by Christine Porath, author of “Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace” and associate professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.
As a result of rising incivility and higher employee stress levels, organizations can be affected by lower performance and productivity, employee turnover, poor customer satisfaction – all of which can impact the bottom line.
What can HR do to address incivility in the workplace? First, the experts say, make respect and civility central to your corporate culture and also provide civility training for employees as well as managers and supervisors. As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommended last year, training employees and supervisors on how to maintain respectful, civil workplaces can prevent offensive, rude behavior from escalating to the level of unlawful harassment.
The recent SHRM annual conference and expo in Chicago was the largest in its 70-year history. The record turnout may be the result of the continuing spotlight on HR since the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and other high-profile workplace issues like unconscious bias, the gender pay gap and diversity and inclusion.
One of the takeaway messages is that building workplace cultures that foster civility and welcome diverse perspectives and honest feedback is not just a HR platitude. Organizations with toxic cultures and hostile work environments can face negative consequences and harassment claims that can impact morale and turnover, customer loyalty, productivity, reputations and the bottom line.
And here’s a final “Expand Your World” message from Adam Grant, author and professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, who told the #SHRM18 audience to stop looking for people who will be a good cultural fit. Instead, hire, reward and promote cultural contributors – “the misfits, original thinkers and disagreeable givers who stretch and enrich the culture.”