9 Challenges Faced by Human Resources Managers

February 15, 2024by Jeremy Pollack

There’s no way to sugarcoat it; HR managers have their plates full. From onboarding new employees to mediating conflicts among existing ones, the workload of an HR manager can be very varied – and very intense.

In this guide, we’re going to look at some of the major challenges facing HR managers today, the importance of overcoming them, and some of the tools and techniques that can be used to thrive as an HR professional.

Importance of addressing and overcoming HR challenges

Addressing and overcoming human resource management challenges is vital for the smooth running of any HR department and for the organization as a whole. Challenges facing the HR department often translate into challenges for the entire workforce if not properly addressed, impacting productivity, sustainability, and profitability.

The human resources department is responsible for workers at every stage of their employment. This means that any challenges affecting HR can impact the hiring, onboarding, training, career development, and performance management of employees. As such, some of the key benefits of addressing and overcoming HR challenges include:

  • A better chance of acquiring top talent. HR departments that are running smoothly can actively source the best prospective employees for available roles, and develop compensation and benefits packages that will attract them.
  • More effective training and development. Equipping employees with the relevant skills they need to perform well is an ongoing process. HR departments that have overcome their challenges are better placed to deliver timely, meaningful training to develop their employees.
  • A positive company culture. HR leaders are responsible for many of the factors that contribute to company culture, including employee health and well-being, engagement, and conflict resolution.
  • A more diverse and inclusive workforce. Overcoming human resource management challenges allows HR teams to hire from a greater talent pool, building a more diverse team as a result. This often leads to increased creativity and innovation that benefits the entire organization.
  • A better employee experience. HR departments that are working well can facilitate open and honest communication and build a more engaging work environment. This boosts employee morale, reduces employee churn, and improves overall productivity.
  • Improved compliance. HR departments must deal with a great number of labor laws and regulations. Failure to navigate these challenges can result in legal consequences, including fines and a damaged reputation.

9 Challenges Faced by Human Resource Managers

Now that we’ve got a better idea of what’s at risk when HR challenges are left unaddressed, it’s time to take a closer look at exactly what kinds of challenges need to be overcome. Here’s a rundown of nine of the most pressing human resource management challenges faced by organizations today.

Attracting and retaining top talent

Talent acquisition is one of the highest-priority activities for HR departments around the world. Organizations are constantly trying to attract top talent in an effort to build top-performing teams that will help them edge out their competition.

Acquiring talent, though, can be an arduous task. Most markets are incredibly competitive when it comes to talent acquisition, meaning the best candidates will have no shortage of options when it comes to choosing a role.

HR managers have a significant challenge on their hands, making sure they secure the candidates they’re after. Naturally, this begins with making sure that available positions are well advertised.

As well as the more traditional avenues for recruitment, every HR team must also pay close attention to emerging strategies. This includes holding virtual recruitment events, recruiting through social media, and conducting online interviews and onboarding.

Not only does this help to streamline the recruitment process in many cases, but it also widens the talent pool. Coupled with the advent of remote working, these techniques allow organizations to employ the best talent for their roles, regardless of where in the world they’re located.

Once opportunities are well signposted to top talent, the challenge becomes making them an offer they can’t refuse. There’s no shortage of factors under consideration for candidates searching for a new role. Alongside an attractive salary and benefits package, opportunities for career growth and flexible work arrangements are also of crucial importance.

A bar graph showing what would attract employees to a new opportunity

Image sourced from get.workable.com

Keeping employees motivated and engaged

Once employees are in the building, the challenge becomes keeping them engaged and motivated. If they’re disengaged, the negative implications can be devastating.

Organizations whose employees aren’t engaged suffer an increase in absenteeism and turnover, with knock-on effects on productivity and profitability. Having to constantly fill gaps in the workforce is a drain on resources and requires valuable time that could be spent on higher-value tasks.

There are more surprising benefits to a positive employee experience, too. For example, organizations with high levels of employee engagement experience a sharp reduction in safety incidents, as well as reduced shrinkage from theft.

Series of percentages of top-and bottom-quartile business units and teams had differences in business outcomes

Image sourced from gallup.com

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to improving the employee experience. What most HR professionals would agree on is that two-way communication is essential. That means showing employees that their voice is heard, their opinions are valued, and that they’re essential to the company’s growth.

Organizations that struggle with this may wish to look into communication training for employees. This can arm both employees and managers with the skills they need to listen effectively, including empathetic listening and perspective-taking. Relationships across the organization are often improved as a result, which in turn leads to greater efficiency in achieving relational goals, and fewer conflicts to be resolved.

Promoting engagement and motivation is also crucial in overcoming resistance to change. This applies right across the business but is particularly important for HR-related practices such as conflict resolution.

If employees resist changes in these critical areas, conflicts are more likely to go unresolved, leading to a negative impact on employee morale, collaboration, and productivity.

To make sure that any resistance to change is minimal, it’s crucial for HR managers to effectively communicate changes before and during implementation. How this is accomplished can vary depending on the ends of the organization, but regular bulletins supporting documentation on an employee intranet, or even via email, is a good place to start.

Any wide-ranging changes should also be supported by dedicated training sessions where possible. This gives HR professionals a chance to explain new policies and procedures in-depth, and answer any burning questions from those who’ll be affected. For companies that employ a large number of remote or hybrid workers, webinars and conference calls can be a suitable alternative to in-person sessions.

Adapting to technological changes

If there’s one constant in the world of business, it’s that things change. Adapting to and managing change effectively can mean the difference between success and failure. It’s no different for HR departments and their managers.

Technological changes are one of the biggest stumbling blocks for many HR departments. As companies update their existing processes and systems, many HR teams must adapt to using new tools and technologies.

This often involves adapting to use cloud-based SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms, which for many, represent a completely different way of working. Adjusting to these changes is essential if HR managers want to take advantage of the automated processes and increased efficiency that these platforms provide.

The shift towards cloud-based platforms has been driven partly by the shift towards remote work. As more and more companies plan to allow some remote or hybrid work, teams are increasingly moving to solutions that allow them to work efficiently and effectively from home as if they were in the office.

A bar graph showing if an employees company is planning on permanently allowing some amount of remote work?

Image sourced from buffer.com

One area in which this has particularly impacted HR teams is conflict mediation. The shift towards remote work doesn’t completely remove the risk of conflicts arising, unfortunately. In fact, distributed teams can find it harder to collaborate and communicate, leading to frustration and an increased risk of interpersonal conflict.

When these conflicts arise, HR managers must switch to remote mediation to make sure that they’re resolved quickly and don’t become a major stumbling block that impacts the whole team.

Thankfully, remote mediation can be applied to various examples of workplace conflict. This even includes some of the conflicts that can arise as a result of remote work. For instance, distributed teams can experience project miscommunication and strained collaboration if they’re not using the right communication and collaboration tools.

Disagreements about how to progress with tasks and even simple personality clashes can also be solved through remote mediation.

Additionally, tools such as video conferencing software allow HR managers to hold mediation sessions with remote workers as if they were in the same room. Mediation can occur in an environment where the HR manager can maintain control, while still allowing conflicting parties to air their grievances and reach an understanding ‘face-to-face’.

Managing labor laws and regulatory compliance

While regulatory compliance is the responsibility of every employee, developing and enforcing regulatory guidelines and processes is often the remit of the HR department.

Failure to implement robust regulatory practices can result in labor laws being breached, leading to lawsuits, fines, and a damaged reputation. When the risks are so significant, it’s no surprise that organizations spend thousands of hours each year on compliance.

A pie chart showing the number of hours organizations spend on compliance in a year

Image sourced from drata.com

Within the HR department, many of the challenges of compliance revolve around maintaining employee confidentiality. With potentially thousands of sensitive records on file, HR managers must make every effort to store data securely and minimize the risks of data breaches and unauthorized access.

Best practices for handling sensitive information include adopting data management solutions that boast robust security features. Data encryption, firewalls, and two-factor authentication can all be used to make sure that only an organization’s employees have access to sensitive data.

Confidentiality is especially crucial during conflict resolution and similar practices. Employees need to feel that these matters can be handled privately without fear of reprisal for coming forward with grievances.

Monitoring employee performance

Monitoring employee performance is another crucial function of HR departments, as individual performance can often correlate to organizational performance. If the business is falling short of meeting its KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), tracking employee performance can help to explain why, and can signpost potential areas for improvement.

HR managers can track employee performance in a variety of ways. Many larger organizations will utilize software to help HR managers track the performance of large numbers of employees efficiently. This can also be of great use to individual employees, who can find it easier to set goals and track their progress towards them with the help of these platforms.

Research shows that one-to-ones are a great tool for monitoring employee performance. Not only do they give HR managers a chance to speak to employees individually to set meaningful goals, but employees who experience frequent one-to-ones are proven to be more engaged and more productive in their roles.

A bar chart showing that employees with more frequent one-on-ones are more likely to be highly engaged

Image sourced from quantumworkplace.com

Maintaining a positive company culture

A positive company culture generally helps to improve the employee experience, reduces employee churn, and boosts productivity.

Nobody wants to work in a fraught environment with feuding employees, so identifying and mediating conflicts is essential for building and maintaining a good workplace culture. HR management should draw up and implement effective conflict resolution policies and strategies. This makes sure that when conflicts do arise, they’re handled fairly and efficiently to limit the damage caused.

Identifying conflict triggers can help to reduce the number of conflicts experienced, reducing the time needed for mediation and resolution. Exploring the causes of common conflicts can help HR managers nip them in the bud, preventing conflicts from escalating to the point that they harm morale and productivity.

It’s important for HR managers to balance neutrality with advocating for fair resolutions during conflict mediation. Maintaining an unbiased stance during conflict resolution is key, and can be achieved through practices such as actively listening to both sides of a conflict and then carrying out an objective evaluation of the scenario.

There are other factors that can contribute to a positive company culture beyond effective conflict mediation. Diversity and inclusion policies are a fantastic place to start for organizations wishing to build a diverse workforce that focuses on innovation, career advancement, and personal growth.

A bar graph showing the benefits of diversity & inclusion in the workplace

Image sourced from goodfirms.co

Ensuring adequate training and development

Training and career development is yet another crucial area of responsibility for HR managers. It’s vital at every stage of the employee journey, from onboarding and initial training to reskilling, upskilling, and leadership development.

While HR management is often keen to train employees with everything from online webinars to conflict resolution workshops, the programs offered don’t always live up to the employees’ expectations when it comes to the skills covered. HR leaders must make sure they offer training in both hard skills and soft skills, as well as self-management and general life skills.

A bar graph showing if L&D plans for 2022 are in sync with what employees want to learn

Image sourced from talentlms.com

Reskilling and upskilling are vital for keeping the workforce up to date with technological advancements. Organizations that wish to remain competitive need employees who have the right skills to be productive and innovative, and ultimately drive more revenue.

Of course, the teaching of these skills must begin as soon as an employee is hired. An effective onboarding process gives new hires all the skills necessary to hit the ground running in their new role. Employee onboarding software can help streamline the process for organizations and their employees, coupled with regular meetings and discussions, tools like this can ensure new employees have the support they need.

By providing new hires with preset lists of induction tasks to get them up to speed, platforms such as these also allow HR managers to closely track their employee’s progress so they can be provided with all the support they need.

Making sure pay structures are fair and equitable

Fair and equitable pay structures are a key component of a positive company culture. Offering fair, competitive compensation packages and benefits is essential for attracting talent to an organization, and keeping them there once they’re onboard.

Unfortunately, research shows that many organizations still have a long way to go when it comes to offering fair and equitable pay. For example, there is clear evidence that a gender pay gap still exists at all education levels.

A bar graph showing how the pay gap persists at all education levels

Image sourced from whitehouse.gov

HR managers should be continually reviewing their pay structures, taking every effort to make sure that pay is fair and equitable right across their organization. Compensation doesn’t begin and end with pay, though.

It’s also important to offer competitive benefits packages where possible, and to make sure that employees are fairly compensated for their work-related expenses. This is often something that small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, may find challenging.

Tools such as expense management software can be a big help, especially if you employ a large and international workforce. These solutions can automate admin tasks to save HR departments time and minimize errors when processing expense payments.

This helps HR departments to focus their efforts on more valuable tasks while simultaneously keeping employees feeling fairly compensated for their troubles.

Developing plans for effective succession

Succession planning is another critical task that HR leaders should be undertaking. While it can be tempting to focus on acquiring and training the best talent at the beginning of their careers, it’s important to remember that nobody works forever.

Eventually, employees leave, and it’s important to have future leaders ready for when they do to minimize disruption. Alarmingly, 36% of organizations report not having any kind of succession plan in place.

Series of donut charts showing if HR management teams have a succession plan prepared

Image sourced from shrm.org

A good succession plan involves identifying key individuals who can be developed to take over crucial responsibilities when existing employees retire or resign.

It starts with building a list of critical positions within the organization, identifying successors to those positions, and developing a plan for preparing those individuals for those roles through training, skill-building, mentoring and involvement in mentor matching programs.

Summing up

An HR department that runs smoothly is essential in building an organization that people enjoy working for. Not only does this make acquiring top talent more achievable, but it also boosts employee engagement, productivity, and profitability.

As a result, the responsibilities placed on HR management are wide-ranging. Whether it’s monitoring employee performance, safeguarding employee health and well-being, or adapting to technological changes, HR managers must enact strategies and policies that build a positive company culture, while also following labor laws and regulatory compliance.

Thankfully, there are many tools and technologies that can help. Automating tasks, streamlining workflows, and enabling remote working allow HR managers to work efficiently and effectively, even when they’re looking after the interests of distributed teams.

Jeremy Pollack

Jeremy Pollack is the Founder and CEO of Pollack Peacebuilding Systems.

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