Who Knows Employees Better Than SHRM? Um … Maybe Everyone?

Illustration by istockphoto.com

I was on SHRM’s website today and eyeballed this popular survey, Challenges Facing HR Over the Next 10 Years.

The report contains responses from both 2012 and 2010 for comparison purposes, but I’m going to focus on the 2012 answers here, which SHRM obtained from 487 of its randomly selected members. (That’s a dismal 17 percent response rate, by the way. Perhaps next time SHRM will do a survey on why it can’t get members to respond to surveys? Maybe.)

Anyway, according to the report the three most important challenges HR executives will face in the coming decade are (drumroll please):

  • Retaining and rewarding the best employees (59 percent);
  • Developing the next generation of corporate leaders (52 percent);
  • Creating a corporate culture that attracts the best employees (36 percent).

Now, I assume (not having completed the survey — was I even invited? I can’t remember) that respondents were presented with a multiple-choice menu and couldn’t just submit any old thing, which is why “Getting some damn respect from somebody — anybody!” wasn’t among the responses, and I’m not surprised by this.

However, I was surprised by the answer to this question:

Over the next 10 years, which of the following tactics do you believe will be most effective in attracting, retaining, and rewarding the best employees in your organization?”

Yes, tell us, please

Because the top answer, voted by 40 percent of respondents, was “providing flexible work arrangements.”

Say what?

Recognition for good work came in at 14 percent, providing employees better opportunities to use skills and abilities came in at a lousy 11 percent (as did valuing diversity) and most interesting of all, developing ourselves came in at 13 percent.

(As to that last bit, either most of us think we’re all that and a bag of chips, or we don’t think we have much impact on employee attraction and retention. Either way, I’m flummoxed.)

Is this what HR pros really think?

And I don’t know, I’m thinking these responses can’t be what HR pros really think.

Flexible work arrangements will be the way to attract and retain talent? What kind of talent would that be? Are we talking real talent or warm bodies masquerading as talent? Because I hear a lot of employees complaining about a lot of stuff, but I’ve never heard a top performer say that her job is fantastic — great boss, great work, nice co-workers, groovy culture, awesome pay, lovely commute — and she’d love to stay, but she’s gonna have to bounce because another company offered her the chance to work from 8-6 instead of 9-5. Nope.

Which is not to say that flexibility isn’t important to employees. We all know that it is.

Article Continues Below

But more important than compensation? More important than personal development? More important than meaningful work? More important than actually waking up and wanting to go to work because your company culture doesn’t stink to high heaven? Really?

So, I honestly don’t know what to make of this.

It’s not rocket science

Did SHRM screw up in its development of possible responses? Was the respondent pool too small? Am I just nuts? Perhaps all of the above?

You tell me, please. Because this isn’t the answer I would have expected, based on what I know to be true about employees, who I grant you aren’t all alike but do share some commonalities of thought, such as valuing decent compensation, doing meaningful work, and being appreciated by their organizations.

In my experience (and according to a CEB study, actually), these are the top reasons people start looking for another job. Work-life balance is on the list, but it’s No. 5.

CEB claims to have gotten feedback from 50,000 workers (versus 487 HR folks), and I love my HR folks, but my money’s on CEB.

Just saying.

So let’s all start responding to those SHRM survey requests, OK? Because businesses need real data, and this here is just sad.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.