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SHRM Research: HR Strains to Meet Needs of Companies Stressed by Inflation

February 21, 2024by Barbara Flynn0

By Kathy Gurchiek


Ninety percent of HR professionals say they take immense pride in their work, but they’re stretched thin trying to meet their organizations’ needs, according to new research from SHRM. Inflation and its impact on their employer’s budget—especially on wages and hiring—continues to be their organizations’ overriding concern.


“SHRM has found that inflation and talent shortages are still significant workplace concerns among employees and employers alike,” said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, SHRM president and chief executive officer.


“As these factors influence employees’ standards for their organizations, as well as employers’ administrative capabilities, we urge all members of the world of work to maintain civility in 2024 and foster a culture of mutual understanding.”


In fact, 81 percent of HR professionals said maintaining employee morale and engagement was their top priority for 2024, and nearly 60 percent think their organizations were effective or very effective in fostering a civil, respectful workplace last year.


After inflation, their organizations’ other top priorities were retaining valued employees (78 percent) and finding and recruiting job candidates with the skills their organizations seek (70 percent). But 57 percent of HR professionals say they are working beyond normal capacity trying to realize those priorities. More than one-fourth are actively looking for another job (27 percent) or intend to pursue a job in another organization this year (28 percent). By comparison, 25 percent of other U.S. workers are actively looking for another job and 26 percent plan to do so, according to SHRM’s research.


“It appears that many HR professionals may be stressed, overworked and struggling with understaffed departments,” SHRM said in its 2023-24 SHRM State of the Workplace Report released Feb. 8.

The findings are from a survey of 2,028 HR professionals—22 percent of whom are HR executives—and 599 U.S. workers. Surveys were conducted the first week of November.


Top Concerns


With inflation their organizations’ uppermost workplace concern in 2023, according to nearly three-fourths of HR respondents, finding ways to reduce costs and increase efficiencies tops their to-do list.

Also of concern: employee mental health, labor shortages and an economic slowdown.

More than half of HR professionals (58 percent) said their organization faced its greatest hiring challenge last year. Finding workers with the skills their organization needs is high on the priority list for 70 percent of HR respondents. Slightly more than half (56 percent) of HR professionals noted their department “lacks sufficient staff to cover the workload.” Only 19 percent of HR executives expect to be able to increase their department headcount.


“The fact that staffing levels are unlikely to change is another reason why finding greater efficiencies will be important to reduce burnout in 2024,” SHRM reported.


Meeting These Challenges


So, what are HR’s strategies to meet these challenges in 2024?


Increase Compensation—for HR and Other Employees


While lower percentages of HR professionals predicted budget increases in any functional area of HR compared with 2023, 34 percent said their departments plan to increase their budget for HR employee compensation for 2024, making it the second-highest area in terms of increased investment.

Additionally, among HR professionals who said their organization plans to pay more for talent this year, more than half said their organization projects raises of between 3 percent and 4.9 percent for employees. One-fourth are projecting raises of up to 2.9 percent. The annual inflation rate was 3.7 percent for the U.S. at the end of January 2024. Only slightly more than one-fourth (27 percent) of HR executives said they factor inflation into annual pay raises.


Offer Flexibility


Employee engagement is a concern for employers around the world, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report. A majority workers, it found, are putting in the minimum amount of work required as they silently watch the clock and are “psychologically disconnected from their employer.”

“Nearly six in 10 employees are quietly quitting,” Gallup reported, “but they are likely to become engaged with a few changes to their workplace.”


One of those changes involves schedule flexibility. One-fourth (24 percent) of HR professionals in the SHRM survey cited not being able to provide that flexibility as a hiring challenge in 2023. More than one-third (35 percent) of HR professionals plan to improve workplace policies around leave and schedule flexibility to better meet the needs of their workforce—with the aim of retaining employees and improving morale and engagement.


“This strategy could also help attract prospective employees,” SHRM noted in its report, “since HR professionals selected lack of schedule flexibility as a barrier to talent acquisition.”


Emphasize Training


Slightly more than one-half of HR professionals said upskilling or reskilling their workforce is a top priority. That includes training and development for people managers to have a better understanding of their roles and develop skills such as empathy.


Employee mental health was also a big concern for organizations, and SHRM suggested in its report that providing opportunities for career growth can also improve mental well-being. SHRM research on the state of mental health in 2023 found “opportunities for growth within the workplace represent the single biggest factor in employees’ overall mental well-being—surpassing job security.”

In its State of the Workplace report, SHRM recommended that providing clear paths to job advancement “may help improve retention, reduce skills gaps and increase productivity, all while containing costs.”


Utilize Succession Planning, Mentoring


Succession planning is a top priority for nearly half (49 percent) of organizations, SHRM found, and nearly two-thirds (63 percent) plan to support formal or informal mentoring programs.


Make Judicious Use of AI


AI can be used to reduce repetitive and time-consuming work to help reduce costs and increase efficiencies; streamline the recruitment process; and, along with gamification, expand upskilling, reskilling and professional development initiatives.


Barbara Flynn

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