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The HR Doctor Is In

Survey Shows Top Seven
Human Resource Issues

Dear Reader:

Recently the NACo human resources affiliate, the National Association of County Human Resources Administrators (NACHRA) teamed up with NACo to survey county human resources directors. Directors were asked to name the human resource issues currently being faced by their counties. The results are worth sharing because they represent a "pulse taking" that may very well apply to all of NACo's member counties. More than two dozen widely varied issues were named. Here are the ones mentioned by respondents most frequently:

1. Performance measurement - It is clear counties continue to search for innovative techniques to answer questions from the public, from other agencies and from private business about "how well are we doing?"

There is a great danger in trying to answer that question only while wearing a green eyeshade and holding a calculator. The answer cannot be presented only through the eyes and the approach of an accountant or auditor.

Quality of service issues and staff willingness to innovate and to take risk are also important criteria which are as much qualitative as they may be quantitative. The same is true of how rapidly and responsibly policy decisions can be made or amended as circumstances change.

2. Very high on the "popularity" list, and with good reason, is sexual harassment prevention and intervention. The HR Doctor has written a "prescription" in a past article which sets out the fundamentals of what a strong county policy should have. However, despite all the publicity that has been devoted to the subject in recent years it is clear that some people "just don't get it" about how inappropriate, unwelcome comments or actions can affect an agency's liability, productivity and morale. I will be pleased to send a copy of the article to any reader who might have missed it.

3. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) issues are clearly on the minds of HR professionals in counties. How do you deal with and respond to challenges and opportunities in working with this important law with its many vague phrases. How do you live with it day by day without adding thousands of attorneys to the staff of every county in the country?

The law is evolving and will continue to do so in the future. On this and many other issues a county's first line of defense and first line for pro-active improvement can be the HR staff.

4. Training opportunities have been attracting more interest and activity on the calendars of HR directors throughout the country. Partly, that's because there is a need for more skilled and educated workers and recognition that the best "return on investment" for an agency is to invest in the development of its existing workforce. However, there is also a need to keep county employees on top of legal responsibilities around issues such as ADA, FLSA, and sexual harassment liabilities.

5. Allowing flexible work hours is a policy that helps counties balance employee family and work pressures, while maintaining consistent or improved productivity. County HR policies need to be designed to avoid receiving a thank-you note from some employees for installing the flexible schedule, while at the same time receiving a subpoena for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

6. Work place violence intervention and pro-active prevention programs remain high on the list of issues for every county in America. Those who responded to the NACHRA survey clearly understood the importance of this issue. The HR Doctor will continue to offer help and will urge NACo to take an active role in this top priority area.

7. Rounding out the top issues is "pay for performance." If you are able to measure performance what can we do to reward those who contribute more to the organization success? How can we do this in a framework dominated by 19th century models of pay for time and not necessarily for outcome? How can we do this in the face of collective bargaining obligations, which often have as their centerpiece a desire for "across the board" pay approaches?

The HR Doctor predicts that as the new millennium arrives the chorus of county officials calling for major changes in traditional "merit pay" or civil service pay practices will increase very significantly and changes will come.

These were the "magnificent seven." However other concerns mentioned included improved recruitment, employee assistance programs, discrimination, early retirement, downsizing, expending benefits, job sharing and more. These subjects would help guide the HR Doctor in writing future columns and NACo in establishing workshops and training activities.

One thing you can do after reading this article is to ask yourself whether these concerns are a reflection of what's going on in your own county HR programs. If you don't know, you have an opportunity to change that by asking for briefings from the HR staff on their projected future issues and asking what is going on now that would put us in a better position in the long run to demonstrate program improvement.

These issues are identified as "HR issues," however more and more managers in every function of county government will come to realize that it is no longer possible to be a successful engineer, sheriff, tax collector, accounting director, or social service director without also being a skilled HR professional. NACo and NACHRA have an expanded future role in helping counties achieve success in this area. The HR Doctor also looks forward to helping you understand these issues more clearly.

Very best wishes

The HR Doctor

(The HR Doctor is written by Phil Rosenberg, Broward County Fla. personnel director.)


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