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SHRM calls out biased hiring practices at conference

With employee resignations at a record high, HR is facing a reckoning over how it hires and retains employees, said Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of SHRM.

In the face of record employee turnover, HR managers are being faulted for biased hiring practices by the Society for Human Resource Management. 

Employers are having difficulty filling jobs, a problem reflected in the latest labor data. Last week, the U.S. Labor Dept. reported a record 10.9 million job openings in July. Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), blamed HR for some of the difficulties employers are facing.

At the just concluded SHRM conference, Taylor didn't pull any punches in his criticism of HR managers and their hiring practices."Some of our colleagues in HR can be the most judgmental and biased in the workplace," Taylor said to attendees at the Las Vegas conference. 

"Our profession is famous -- or infamous at times -- for weeding out 'undesirable job candidates,' and we decide what 'undesirable' is," Taylor said. That weeding out process might target older workers, the "woman in the wheelchair," those with a criminal record or those without college degrees, he added.

Taylor's overarching point was to urge HR managers to apply empathy, and consider the emotions and concerns of others in their approaches. His comments came at the same time that employers are seeing record-high quit rates, according U.S. labor data. Some 4 million workers voluntarily left their jobs in July, according to the latest data which was reported this month. The quit rate was 2.7% for July, on par with prior months and the highest percentage of quits this century.

While Taylor focused on hiring practices, others at the SHRM conference discussed turnover reduction efforts. One employer, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) in Ottawa, said it has been successful in retaining employees thanks to its employee rewards and recognition program

Recognition reduces turnover

The CAA's rewards and recognition program has had a measurable impact on reducing turnover, one of the firm's program managers said at the SHRM conference. It uses the recognition platform by Workhuman, a firm based in Dublin, Ireland with U.S. headquarters in Framingham, Mass. 

Some of our colleagues in HR can be the most judgmental and biased in the workplace.
Johnny TaylorCEO and president, SHRM

"We have had the lowest turnover in the last three years," said Mara Notarfonzo, vice president of CAA's Total Rewards program, at a conference session. "Do we equate it to recognition? I would say yes."

The program includes some financial rewards, but Notarfonzo said its major selling point is an opportunity for public recognition of employee efforts tied to the firm's values. This includes peer-to-peer recognition and ongoing feedback to reinforce behaviors and contributions.

CAA discovered that employees who gave and received recognition were more engaged and the least likely to leave the organization.

Recognition "does a lot to drive that sense of engagement, and that sense of value and worth," Notarfonzo said.

The recognition program became essential for engagement when CAA moved to remote work because of the pandemic, Notarfonzo said. "Everyone jumped on it because we couldn't meet face-to-face." 

Notarfonzo's emphasis on recognizing employees tied into Taylor's concern about HR's neglect of employee needs. Taylor blamed the turnover risk on organizational culture. "Your employees don't feel heard or seen, and many of them feel unvalued," Taylor said to SHRM conference attendees. 

Last week, SHRM released survey data indicating that 53% of working Americans who left their jobs in the previous five years quit because of workplace culture. 

Taylor added that one in 10 workers does not feel physically safe on the job, and more than 25% do not feel emotionally safe. "You're going to lose them," Taylor said, unless organizations invest and work with them and demonstrate empathy

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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