The human resources (HR) department was once viewed as a burdensome operational overhead. After all, how difficult can it be to post job advertisements, conduct an initial screening, prepare an employment contract, and act as a liaison between senior management and the workforce?

C-suite executives paid little heed to the importance of having a vibrant HR department; casually dismissing it as irrelevant and unnecessary. But millennial attitudes towards work and job satisfaction have changed things around drastically. This demographic is not content with being viewed as a cog in a larger machine. They demand flexibility, creativity, purpose, and ownership over their work. They want their ideas to be taken seriously and prefer flat management hierarchies where they’re empowered to suggest new and improved ways of doing business along with recognition for their efforts.

Compounding this dynamic is the increasingly difficult hunt for talent.

Manpower Group report claims that more than 40 percent of 42,000 employers surveyed found it difficult to close available positions. There’s a number of reasons for this situation:

  • The exponential rise in venture capital funding for new and up-and-coming startups means it’s possible for scrappy companies to offer better pay packages than legacy firms. Fledgling firms in the United States raised a colossal $84.2 billion in capital investments in 2017 alone, the highest it’s been for a decade. This trend shows no signs of dissipating; new companies working on blockchain projects are sidestepping venture capital firms by issuing their own currencies. They’ve already raised $3.8 billion in 2018 so far via this route. A large part of these funds is earmarked for hiring and staffing overheads.
  • Global availability of high-speed broadband internet and the rise of VPN software means employees are increasingly ditching the 9-5 lifestyle in favor of remote work arrangements or even freelancing. According to Forbes, more than 35% of the American workforce in 2016 comprised of freelance workers with the number going up each year. Job portals like Jobbatical advertise vacancies in faraway, exotic locations with their tagline “work where you’re happy.” This is problematic for legacy employers who would like their employees to be sequestered in a physical location for security or compliance reasons. Given a choice between working on a tropical beach or in an imposing, dull office, what would you prefer?

  • The days of working at one or two companies throughout one’s career are well and truly over. Millennials quit their jobs every two or three years and prioritize aspects like job satisfaction, engagement, and a sense of purpose at work. A recent Gallup poll said 60 percent of millennial workers would consider leaving their jobs if they didn’t feel engaged.

For recruiters and HR professionals, the internet has proven to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s allowed them to significantly expand their talent pipeline with the use of professional networking sites, social media, and niche forums. But the internet’s true purpose is the removal of barriers to information; employees are increasingly using sites like Glassdoor to ‘rate’ employers and write feedback about managers. You’d be hard-pressed to find a prospective millennial employee who won’t consult the internet before deciding to accept a job offer. And who can forget Susan J. Fowler – the woman behind the viral blog post about her harassment at Uber; which eventually lead to the resignation of Travis Kalanick – founder and CEO?

No employer wants high staff turnover; after all, it entails training and onboarding costs and is definitely a burden on the organization. With these challenges, how should modern and forward-thinking HR professionals adapt?

1. Prioritize an open and transparent culture

One of the key differentiators of the modern workforce is the emphasis prospective employees place on workplace culture. Current literature about high-functioning teams and employee satisfaction puts culture at the forefront. Businesses are now increasingly judged by their net contribution to society and not just by how much profit they rake in. An empowered HR department will work with C-suite management to build a cohesive work culture. This entails open and honest discussion between manager and employee as well as quick complaint redressal. If corporations aren’t quick to reward talent throughout all rungs of the workforce, they could soon find themselves struggling to attract the best and brightest.

2. Give HR the freedom and flexibility it deserves

We’ve mentioned before how the HR department was often chastised as meaningless and not serving any real purpose. Today, however, ignore it at your own peril. People management is one of the most important factors determining workplace success, and HR is a valuable ally on this front. The department has to be empowered to make important decisions pertaining to employee satisfaction and workplace culture and recognized for these efforts, too.

3. Invest in talent management structures

With so many companies vying for the smartest employees out there, it’s essential for recruiting managers to build up passive talent streams. If your approach to hiring is to simply post a vacancy on a multitude of job boards, then you’ll probably just get a lot of useless CVs and not much more. The best recruiters invest in their relationships with prospective employees. They engage with them on social media and spend time frequenting the same forums that they do. For example, IT engineers love to post their contributions on platforms like GitHub. The best ones aren’t scouring job platforms; they know they can find new gigs through their network. As a recruiter, you need to understand that it’s an increasingly competitive world out there and work dynamics aren’t skewed in favor of employers anymore. Getting with the program is important.

The future of work will be increasingly technology driven. We already see glimpses of that emerge in the workplace. HR functions are no longer simply administrative; said departments need to take on an assertive and proactive role to ensure they’re perceived as an employer of choice. Otherwise, senior management should be content with talent that’s a level behind the competition.