Dear HR Executive:
Here's a report from B21's correspondent at the SHRM conference, Dave Clemens, Editor-in-Chief of our newsletter Human Resources 21.
Report from SHRM -- Day 1
LAS VEGAS: JUNE 25, 2007 -- It's official -- SHRM's 2007 annual conference is the biggest gathering ever of HR professionals, the organization announced Sunday at the start of the four-day event in Las Vegas.
As SHRM also pointed out, big -- no, let's come right out and say excessive -- is what Vegas is all about. So having 20,000 or so HR people under one roof at the Vegas Convention Center somehow fits right in to the local ethos.
A couple of statistics shared by a SHRM spokesman at the opening orientation session on Sunday:
- The largest jackpot ever won in Vegas was $39 million-plus -- unfortunately, not by an HR person! It was a 25-year-old software engineer.
- Some 60,000 pounds of shrimp are consumed every day by hungry tourists and others in the City in the Desert.
SHRM didn't give any statistics on the amount of bottled water it expects conference attendees to guzzle, but I'll bet it will be a huge number. An unofficial conference theme is... hydration. With summer temperatures soaring to 105 degrees and a hot desert wind blowing, HR people will have bottles to their lips constantly for the next four days.
Which conjures up a vision of 7-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong reaching down to his bike frame to grab another bottle of water. Armstrong was today's opening keynote speaker.
Unlike Armstrong, most HR people have never had to haul themselves and a bike up three or four 10,000-foot passes over a 150-mile mountain stage. But sometimes dealing with an employee who's late every other day, or trying to explain to an especially obtuse manager why he shouldn't call female subordinates "Toots," can feel just about as exhausting. So maybe Armstrong's message of persistence and endurance will carry weight with the HR crowd.
Armstrong's current challenge, he told attendees, is eliminating cancer in his lifetime through the efforts of his foundation and other concerned Americans. Having survived advanced cancer and then climbed to the top level in his sport afterward, he said he'd want "cancer survivor" engraved proudly on his tombstone one day, while "won some bike races" could be left off.
Armstrong encouraged SHRM members to attack their challenges with the same spirit he's come to personify. He didn't mention HR-specific challenges, but SHRM's new mission statement -- also unveiled today -- alludes to a very big one: persuading CEOs that HR can provide critical support for the achievement of key corporate goals.
A recent worldwide survey by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu indicates that top executives still have their doubts about HR's strategic value. But maybe if Lance Armstrong can do what he's done, HR people can prove the doubters of its broader mission wrong, too.
Vendors of recruitment and applicant screening tools took pride of place at the exposition accompanying the SHRM conference.
As a member of one vendor's booth team put it: "The unemployment rate is low and qualified personnel are harder than ever to find. So employers are desperate for solutions. At the same time, they don't want to hire people who misrepresent themselves or who have a sketchy past."
Online job boards -- Monster, CareerBuilder, Yahoo Jobs and Jobing.com among them -- mounted the biggest and glitziest displays, luring attendees with contests for prizes ranging up to a Toyota Prius, and big-name presenters leading sessions to rival those in the core conference sessions.
Other vendors, like SmartSearch and Sonic Recruit, offer better ways of managing the vast pools of resumes and other applicant data that the Internet makes available to employers seeking to fill positions. And employee verification/screening firms -- ranging from Sterling Testing Services to Justifacts to employeescreenIQ -- promise to vet your applicants for everything from county criminal records to sex offender registry entries to dubious claims of educational qualifications. Some providers -- like ChoicePoint and HRsmart -- merge the management and screening functions.
For sheer memorability, though, nobody at the exposition beat screening firm Employment Background Investigations. Perhaps mirroring the Alice in Wonderland quality of some job applicants' elaborate deceptions, EBI offered free orange-colored Mad Hatter floppy top hats that dozens of conference-goers strolled the aisles wearing. Did everybody just want to put on a silly hat? Nope. EBI pasted "playing card" stickers on the hats (remember the Queen of Hearts in Alice?) and offered free i-Pods to any pair of attendees who found each other and brought their matching stickers back to the booth. Great marketing ploy.
HR visitors from abroad
Among those 20,000 SHRM-ers at the opening plenary session were the first delegations ever from India and China, SHRM CEO Susan Meisinger said. Individual delegates from these new economic powers have attended before, but not as groups. Somewhere between 20 and 40 people from each of the Asian giants came to Vegas.
SHRM's initiatives in those countries aren't just aimed at teaching American HR techniques to local people. The organization believes Americans can learn from how India and China handle the human resource challenges of the kind of hyper-growth many companies in these countries are experiencing.
Apparently, though, not all the foreign delegations that might otherwise have turned out actually did so. Meisinger -- who said Vegas was way too hot for her, temperature-wise -- said sponsors of some would-be foreign attendees considered the town too hot in other ways, and refused to send them.
New research: How men and women differ
SHRM published new research studies during the conference, on benefits, e-recruiting and job satisfaction. The single most striking point, in our view: There's an immense gender-specific difference in what male and female employees consider the top aspect of job satisfaction. Some 59% of men said it was health care and medical benefits. But fully 63% of women said feeling safe at work contributed more to their job satisfaction than any other factor. Feeling safe didn't register in the top five for men.
SHRM's research people said they weren't certain what caused this sharp difference. But they speculated that women might feel particularly vulnerable to perceived threats of terrorism or other perils bursting into the workplace from outside. (The question wasn't aimed at perceptions of workplace safety in the OSHA sense.)
SHRM also said that for employees at companies with under 500 employees, a feeling of safety was key to job satisfaction for both men and women. And across the board, over-55 employees considered this feeling the main key to satisfaction with their jobs.
Takeaway: Maybe HR people in general need to be more proactive in communicating to employees what employers have done to safeguard their people from external threats.
Stay tuned for another report tomorrow.
Dave Clemens, Editor-in-Chief, Human Resources 21