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May 25, 2011
This article is part of a series called ERE Media Conferences.

As bad as it is dealing with unseasonably cool temperatures and drizzly rain while at a conference in San Diego, the flip side is that you have nothing to distract you from the task at hand — learning, networking, socializing, and having a little fun.

That changed Tuesday at WorldatWork’s Total Rewards 2011 Conference & Exhibition, because the sun came out and things finally warmed up. This, finally, is what most of these conference-goers came to California for!

But sun or no sun, it seemed to me that the warmer weather didn’t have a substantial impact on attendance at the concurrent session or in the exhibit hall. Call me crazy, but I think it may be that people really are appreciating the ability to travel again after a few years of cutbacks and reductions. If there was a pent up demand to get out and travel, it may be because HR and compensation/rewards professionals also have a pent up demand to learn and engage with much-needed professional information.

But that’s just a theory. Check with me again about that next month after SHRM’s big, annual bash in Las Vegas. That may be the true test.

So with that, here are some of the highlights from Tuesday at Total Rewards in San Diego.

  • Annual Work-Life Innovation Awards. There was no keynote or general session Tuesday, but WorldatWork’s annual awards breakfast instead. The big ones are the Work-Life Innovative Excellence Awards, which spotlights the evolution of total rewards in the work-life arena with organizations that have successfully aligned work-life initiatives with the objectives of every business to attract, motivate, and retain talent while achieving bottom-line results. Three organizations were honored:
    • Deloitte for its Mass Career Customization and creative approach to career planning;
    • Ryan LLC for their commitment to redefining work by the results produced, as opposed to face-time, and their myRyan program; and,
    • The National Security Agency (NSA), for their Nursing Mothers Program that has improved productivity, reduced absenteeism, and increased morale and enhanced recruitment and retention among new mothers.
  • HR’s role in the financial crisis. I didn’t get into this yesterday, but there was an interesting Monday session (titled Compensation and HR During Crisis: Which Solutions Add Value?) that focused on what organizational programs and activities either added value or missed the mark during the banking/financial crisis. And, it wasn’t hard to take away the impression from speakers Patricia Zingheim and Jay Schuster (both Ph.Ds, they are partners in Schuster-Zingheim & Associates) that human resources and many HR programs contributed to the problem. Although they were straightforward and matter of fact during the presentation, many of the comments were like this — “HR leadership and programs lacked agility and adaptability as need changed.” Or this — “HR and compensation let us down in challenging times when we needed help the most.” Now, much of what Schuster and Zingheim were saying came from surveys of CEOs and company executives, but they kept coming back to the same notion — that too many HR policies and functions were designed for good times and either failed or were unable to adapt when time got tough.
  • Other concurrent sessions I wished I could have attended Tuesday. HR Policies: Rules? Guidelines? Aspirations? Wellness on a Shoestring, Risk: Friend or Foe? and The Compensation Committee Comes Alive!
  • Good panel, bad timing. Sometimes, great conference sessions get overtaken by things that can’t be controlled. So it was Tuesday with a session on Impact of the Great Recession. It’s a great topic, and timely, but it had the unfortunate bad luck of being schedule at 3:15 pm — right before the cocktail reception in the Exhibition Hall. Mark Sypko of Kenexa, who moderated the panel discussion, gamely tried to keep things going, but it’s damn near impossible to deal with not only being one of the last sessions of the day, but free liquor as well. Oh well — better luck next year.
This article is part of a series called ERE Media Conferences.