#SHRM16 Day 3 – Why HR Pros Should Care About the Political Climate

I’m going to preface this by saying I am not a political junkie by any stretch of the imagination.  I generally keep my thoughts to myself and don’t engage in political debate.  However, I was totally and completely RIVETED by Tuesday morning’s keynote at SHRM16.

The keynote paired Fox News’ Tucker Carlson with CNN’s Paul Begala in a lively, and at times heated point/counterpoint discussion on the current political climate, the implications of the upcoming election, and why HR pros should care about it all.

This was the second keynote that paired two speakers together, in both cases with individuals that would seem to be more different than alike, but in the end pulled together some common themes.   Though Carlson’s and Begala’s political leanings were glaringly on opposite sides of the spectrum in most cases, the dialogue was, as I mentioned earlier, riveting, and both came through with some common themes for the HR professionals in attendance.

So why exactly should we care and be paying attention to the state of politics in today’s world?  Well, the simple answer is this: our organizations are a microcosm of the nation at large, and what’s happening in the larger electorate is also happening in our organizations.  So what are some of those things that are happening?

 

Median Income Has Stalled

Our middle class is under unprecedented economic pressure, and income equalities exist throughout the nation.  Median incomes have stalled for a large proportion of American citizens, and without a thriving middle class, it’s difficult to have a thriving economy.  For many of us, a large percentage of our workforces very well may fall into this struggling middle class (if not even lower middle class for those with a large percentage of hourly wage workers).  Income/finance concerns are very real to these folks.  Do we recognize that?  Are we aware and sensitive to their realities of working paycheck to paycheck in some cases?  How in tune are we with the reality of the makeup of our workforces?

 

An Explosion of Diversity

In both the larger electorate and within our organizations, there is a fundamental shift in the makeup of those populations.  The new electorate has a much larger percentage of younger people, people of color, and unmarried women than ever before, and that diversity translates over to our workplaces.  The challenge is that there are still people, including people in our workforces, who have a difficult time adapting to these changing times.  It doesn’t make them bad people, it doesn’t make them “haters” or “bigots,” in many cases it just makes them people with a difficulty adapting to change or shifting the view of reality they’ve just always known.  As HR pros, we have an obligation to promote diverse and inclusive workforces, and help those that struggle with adapting learn to adapt and accept the new reality (at least in the workplace – we can’t control what happens outside of work!)

Tucker Carlson noted that people generally are not wired to handle the current pace of social change, and the single largest failure of the “elite” is not recognizing that fact.  I wonder how many of our organizations are guilty of this very thing?  Do our leaders recognize those that are struggling?  Though it may not be possible to slow down the pace of change, what can we do to help our folks accept it?

 

Your Background Shapes Your Outlook

The final point to be made is that where you live has a profound impact on your outlook.  If you were raised in, or now live in a fairly affluent area, that reality shapes how you see the world and the issues that matter to you.  However, most of our organizations include a cross section of people from all walks of life…are we as HR pros and leaders equipped to be able to understand their versions of reality?  What matters in an affluent area varies greatly from the issues that matter in Middle America, and that varies greatly from lower income/impoverished areas.  Many of us in leadership positions may tend to bias towards the view of a more affluent populations, but can we put ourselves in the positions of those with a very different world view?

So much food for thought and points to ponder for everyone in the room Tuesday morning.

 

About the Author

Jennifer Payne

Jennifer Payne, SPHR, SHRM-SCP has almost two decades of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, learning & development, and employee communications, and currently works in talent management in the retail grocery industry. She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn.

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