HR managers face varied challenges



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It's a tough time to be in human resources. With rising health care costs, an aging workforce, sputtering morale among workers who have been asked to do more with less, and a widening skills gap, there are many challenges facing the profession.

But it's how an organization reacts to these challenges that determines its future success, whether it's introducing wellness initiatives to combat mounting health care costs or introducing an internship program to prepare the workers of tomorrow.

To understand the challenges facing the human resources profession today, NHBR asked human resources managers at four New Hampshire companies -- one small, two medium and one large -- to talk about some of the concerns (and opportunities) they are seeing within their organizations.

Denise Sandberg is owner of Concord Awning & Canvas in Bow, which has made custom canvas awnings and canopies for residential and commercial clients since 1919. As owner of the 11-person firm, she also manages its human resources.

Q. What would you say is the biggest HR challenge currently facing your organization?

A. Recruiting and hiring the best people for the organization, followed closely by developing our existing workforce to meet customer demand, which is often unpredictable.

Q. Has your organization implemented any wellness initiatives? If so, what were they and how effective have they been?

A. We haven't. Unfortunately at a small company, the people who are running the business every day are the same people who would be promoting and coordinating wellness initiatives. We often run out of time for items we'd like to do, as they get replaced by the items we have to do. We have made substantial investments in tooling and other items to improve the ergonomics of the work that we do.

Q. What effect has the rising cost of health insurance had on the benefits you are able to offer employees?

A. For employees who have chosen to be on our plan, we cover more than half of their individual health insurance costs. We have managed to continue offering a basic health insurance plan but have had to modify it by increasing the deductible so that it remains somewhat affordable for employees to participate. Each year we are on the cusp of not being eligible for a group rate for health insurance if we don't meet minimum participation numbers.

Q. What, if any, hiring challenges are you currently facing or do you expect to face in the coming years?

A. It is challenging to find potential long-term staff with experience in some of the more specialized skills required for the work that we do. It is a real drain on a small organization to have to train someone from the ground up, yet the investment would be worthwhile for someone who would be here for the long term and grow with us.

Q. What are your hiring plans in the next year or two?

A. While we don't have specific plans, maintaining our current staffing levels is a priority. We will also invest in more cross training of our current staff to help with the expected fluctuations in our incoming orders.

Chris Widner has worked at Dyn Inc. for five years, the last seven months of which he has been the firm's director of culture and talent development. The Manchester-based tech company, which provides managed DNS and email delivery to some of the world's largest Internet properties, employs 164 full-time employees and 18 interns.

Q. What would you say is the biggest HR challenge currently facing your organization?

A. Communication. We must figure out what information is relevant to which teams and ensure that they get that information in a timely manner while not disrupting other teams with that information if it's not relevant to them. We've quickly gone from a small group of people who wore multiple hats to a larger organization where people focus on one area.

Q. Has your organization implemented any wellness initiatives? If so, what were they and how effective have they been?

A. We have a team-based DynFit challenge that encourages people of all fitness levels to improve their physical, nutritional, and mental/emotional wellness. This has been a resounding success and has seen running teams emerge from it, as well as people going to the gym together.

Q. What effect has the rising cost of health insurance had on the benefits you are able to offer employees?

A. While we are continuing to provide 100 percent health coverage, the rising cost of health insurance is forcing us to put more focus on our wellness initiative as well as thinking about the foods we provide our employees, especially as we age. This is why we recently hired a chef and will be opening the first farm-to-table corporate café in New Hampshire.

Q. What, if any, hiring challenges are you currently facing or do you expect to face in the coming years?

A. Finding qualified and passionate people who are a cultural fit at Dyn and want to choose New Hampshire over Boston. Our expansion into San Francisco and the United Kingdom means we're learning to understand those regions as well when it comes to recruiting great talent.

Q.What are your hiring plans in the next year or two?

A. Steady growth. I don't anticipate, however, a tripling in size over an 18-month period as we've done before.

Kathleen Lewis, a longtime employee of Public Service of New Hampshire, has been the utility's human resources manager for just under two years. A subsidiary of Northeast Utilities, PSNH has about 1,500 employees in New Hampshire.

Q. What would you say is the biggest HR challenge currently facing your organization?

A. As our workforce matures, we are focused on continuing to attract and develop the technical and leadership talent we need to support our business operations and our customers.

Q. Has your organization implemented any wellness initiatives? If so, what were they and how effective have they been?

A. The health and safety of every PSNH employee is our highest priority. We have a robust safety program, and our wellness program -- WellAware -- won an award from the National Business Group on Health for improved employee health outcomes.

Q. What effect has the rising cost of health insurance had on the benefits you are able to offer employees?

A. Providing a competitive total compensation package is an important investment in our employees. Although the cost for health care benefits continues to rise, NU is committed to providing employees with optimal coverage at the most cost-effective levels. Our health care strategy includes wellness and educational initiatives to improve the health of employees by engaging them to take an active role in their own health and health care decisions. The company also offers a consumer-directed medical option that emphasizes educated decisions while providing awareness of the true value and cost of health care. Providing employees with the appropriate tools and resources to make educated decisions is the key to helping them maximize their health and financial security.

Q. What, if any, hiring challenges are you currently facing or do you expect to face in the coming years?

A. One challenge we face is to constantly develop the pipeline of emerging talent as we anticipate future retirements from the Millennial and Baby Boomer generations.

Q. What are your hiring plans in the next year or two?

A. Most of our hiring is replacement driven, and is technical in nature with an engineering focus. We often promote from within and then hire from the outside at the more entry levels; this is especially true with our skilled craft workers. An area where we have seen significant movement which prompts external hiring activity is in our Customer Care organization.

Jeannie DiBella is executive manager of human resources for the Telegraph Publishing Company in Hudson, parent company of the Nashua Telegraph and the Cabinet Press, which has about 100 employees. She also manages human resources for the 35-employee McLean Communications in Manchester, the parent company of NHBR, New Hampshire Magazine, and Parenting New Hampshire.

Q. What would you say is the biggest HR challenge currently facing your organization?

A. Keeping morale up at a time when individuals are expected to contribute more and maintain high standards with fewer internal resources, tighter budgets and streamlined benefits.

Q. Has your organization implemented any wellness initiatives? If so, what were they and how effective have they been?

A. While we offer a formal wellness program, we do what we can internally. We hold an annual health fair, bringing in local vendors along with our health providers to promote awareness of services available and provide health screenings. This year we held a 12-week weight loss competition and have a daily walking program. We have bulletin boards dedicated to promoting a healthy lifestyle through posters and flyers. We also utilize our company newsletter to provide staff members with information and resources. For the staff members that have participated in our programs, we have achieved a level of success. However, since most programs are voluntary, we don't get the buy-in from many of our employees. We continue to look for programs that will appeal to the majority of our staff members.

Q. What effect has the rising cost of health insurance had on the benefits you are able to offer employees?

A. The increase in health care costs plays a significant role in our ability to offer additional benefits to our staff. Unfortunately, we are unable to fund additional benefit programs while we attempt to maintain the same level of contribution to our employees' current benefit packages.

Q. What, if any, hiring challenges are you currently facing or do you expect to face in the coming years?

A. The biggest challenge is to find qualified candidates for the positions we offer. At a time when so many people are looking for work, human resources managers tend to be inundated with resumes and applications when posting an open position. Unfortunately, many of the applicants don't meet the qualifications for the position. Once you have your new employee in place, the challenge becomes keeping them satisfied. As more jobs become available, employers will lose employees to other companies that might offer richer compensation packages.

Q.What are your hiring plans in the next year or two?

A. We will continue to evaluate our needs to determine if we need additional staff and if we need to fill positions when openings occur. Succession planning will continue to be critical to our future success.


 

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