Today’s HR is not what it used to be

HR is not
what it
used to be

By Lynn Littlejohn

Some of us who have been in Human Resources for a long time remember the day when the Office Manager was assigned duties for HR as a secondary work assignment. Today, the level of importance that HR plays in an organization’s success has expanded well beyond those demands.

HR professionals who have been in the business for many years have learned that in today’s business world, the ever-growing demands for the department are critical.

Relevancy of the HR role

COVID-19 brought a high level of awareness among senior management of the responsibility that HR now plays. Not only is HR charged with a tremendous number of regulatory guidelines to follow, but this role must also include keeping employees paid and happy, keeping our banks staffed and attracting future talent to us as a potential employer.

Today, HR is included with the big boys in the banking organization, requiring a critical skill set of management strategy and intellect for managing multiple projects at once.

COVID-19 and the Affordable Care Act

Under the Affordable Care Act put in place during COVID-19, community banks with less than 500 employees gave HR a short learning curve to develop the required documentation from a blank piece of paper. HR was required to document how employees met qualifications under the Act to qualify for payroll reimbursement credits. This gave HR the opportunity to shine a light on all departments as a vital part of the organization by keeping employees on the job and encouraging them to stay home when they were not healthy.

Our Austin Bank HR team was on point when working with payroll vendors to ensure payroll records reflected time off that qualified under the ACA. We were inundated with questions from managers about how to handle situations when offices were not able to operate as usual. Due to the dedication and research of our staff, we were able to answer most of those questions.

Our HR team had to work through replacing the many employees who elected to retire during the pandemic — some came out of fear due to interacting with the public and the many unknowns of how the disease was contracted. This exit included a sizable amount of long-tenured front-line staff who often trained newer employees.

Cultural shifts

To replace talent, banks have long since forgone the days of placing newspaper ads. We now must determine the best social media options for searching for today’s new generation of candidates.

Did I mention that more than 50% of our 500-employee workforce are Millennials and Gen-Xers? The cultural shift that motivates this group was a fast-track adjustment for us old-time HR staff members who were accustomed to working with Baby Boomers.

There were times when our HR team had to balance empathy and compassion with professionalism when working with employees who were devastated by the effects of COVID-19. HR was often their first call when there was an urgent need to find out about benefits regarding insurance and pay.

Counterpart collaboration

Luckily, during this time, with the Texas Bankers Association’s help and being introduced more intimately to the TBA HR group, our HR staff could reach out to our counterpoints at other Texas banks to find assistance, comradery and understanding by sharing strategies to accomplish what was needed in the moment.

At a minimum of weekly — most often daily — the TBA HR email chain was sharing questions ranging from dress code to remote work, bank holiday hours, current COVID-19 protocols, 401(k) and compensation plans, just to name a few.

At the forefront of ramrodding this crew is TBA’s Sarah Maldonado, vice president of human resources. Sarah has stepped up the growth and interaction with this group by scheduling virtual meetings with Texas bank’s HR members quarterly to discuss the latest hot topics and what each of us is doing to strategically meet any current objectives or difficulties.

Another benefit of working with Sarah is sharing TBA information, such as complimentary highlights from compensation surveys in which TBA HR members participated. Her direction has helped us learn to work together to help each other and develop us as one big Texas bank HR team.

Today’s HR

Being in HR is not for the faint-hearted. We have many different hats to wear. We take pride in treating employees as our customers. HR can set the tone for an organization’s culture.

HR develops internship programs, mentorship programs and training programs. HR is responsible for onboarding new employees and providing their first impression of the bank. HR is responsible for developing training programs for employees transitioning into management and leadership roles, along with employees who need to improve their skill set to meet the new challenges and fast-paced changes involved in banking.

Shifting and pivoting

For those who do not like change, HR is not the place to be — we deal with change every day.

On the legislative front, we are updating retirement plans to meet the requirements of the Secure Act. We are keeping an eye on the status of the proposal to increase the wage base to be classified as exempt. Legislative pieces such as the Crown Act require HR to update policies regarding hairstyles in the work environment. Some days, it seems hard to keep up with everything.

Did I mention the day-to-day duties that we must continue to manage? Payroll must be run, jobs must be posted, interviewing must take place, job fairs need to be attended, handbooks must be updated and group health insurance must be managed.

We cannot set aside any of the detail work needed to keep the HR department functioning for our employees. Somewhere in the mix, we are honored to serve as the fun police. Things like arranging and judging pumpkin decorating contests, Halloween costume contests and identifying fun competitions that we can implement to foster interdepartmental engagement are just expected. Understand that for HR, employees are our customers, and we wish to keep them informed and happy!

Labor of love

So, for those who like to be in a constant state of change, like to start the day with a long list of to-dos and finish the day without any of those marked off the list, and like working with the best group of community bankers in the great state of Texas, then Human Resources is the place for you!

Now, can anybody tell me anything about this new thing they call AI? That is on my new list of market changes to learn about and embrace.

The old saying “there is no rest for the weary” seems to apply, but I cannot imagine another place that I would rather be.

Lynn LittlejohnLynn Littlejohn is the senior executive vice president and chief HR officer at Austin Bank. She has been with the bank for 27 years.

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