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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

Paradigm Shift

By ERIK DERR Contributing Reporter When Karin Mayhew was hired a decade ago to oversee the personnel department of Woodland Hills-based medical care provider Health Net, one of her first challenges was proving the worth of the unit to the company itself. Her staff, recalls Mayhew, Senior Vice President of Organization Effectiveness, was seen by fellow workers as rules-based “paper pushers” whose contributions to the company were questioned. “It was difficult for people to understand the value of what we did,” she said. So, Mayhew, fresh from nearly 30 years heading organizational development for a telecommunications company back East, set out to reposition her department as a team committed to improving business and giving managers the tools they needed to be successful. Since then, Health Net, which claims upwards of 10,000 employees, has earned ongoing national recognition for its innovations in workforce development. In 2007, the company sponsored a women’s health conference spearheaded by Gov. Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver and aimed at female employees. The company last year was selected over 2,500 other large companies, each making $1-billon or more in annual revenues, as the “Most Military Spouse Friendly Employer” by Military Spouse magazine. The changes Mayhew initiated at Health Net were part of an industry-wide trend in the San Fernando Valley, as the nation, towards more business-savvy human resource staffers. Yes, “human resources used to be extremely administrative in nature,” said Joyce Goodman, director of human resources for Calabasas-based Viewpoint School, which employs about 300. “Now there’s a need to work smarter.” Jen Jorgensen, spokeswoman with the Society for Human Resources Management, explained it another way to the San Fernando Valley Business Journal in 2006: “Whether it’s a mom-and-pop business or Fortune 500 companies the human resources person is right there at the table and is often the right hand man of the CEO.” Rachelle Prince, human resources director for Woodbury University in Burbank, explains the human resources field went through several “paradigm” shifts over the last few decades. “The 1970s represented the decade of compliance” and “human resources served as the company cop,” said Prince, who serves Woodbury’s 500 employees. Efforts to analyze and set goals for company functionality characterized the 1980s, she continued, and the 90s saw human resource offices begin to break their traditional transaction-driven roles to become strategic partners in their companies. Finding better ways to recruit and retain talent is a primary focus in the current decade, said Prince. But, as the latest state jobs figures confirm 11 percent unemployment throughout Los Angeles County, market pressures brought on by the economic downturn have forced human resources operations throughout the Valley to accelerate their self-improvement efforts, they’ve been asked to develop better programs and still keep company spending in check. Human resources is being asked “to do more with less,” Prince said. Market watchers also expect a wave of new lawsuits by downsized employees or people claiming their rights have been violated under a wave of recent and coming changes to, among other things, the Americans with Disabilities Act, family leave and hourly wage laws. While predictions of human resources doom pervade market reports and Internet site postings, Robert Foldesi, vice-president of human resources at California State University, Northridge, asserts “these are the times when human resource professionals really earn their money.” Companies are looking to their human resource departments for practical ways to keep things moving, he said. “We have to communicate, we have to keep morale up.” Foldesi and other human resource officers throughout the Valley nonetheless believe today’s dire need for administrative change may prove a boon to their organizations. “It’s a tough time, but it’s a good time,” said Foldesi, whose department oversees about 14,000 employees. Technological advances paired with cost-cutting measures may in fact lead to better self-service systems that allow employees to access programs and sign up for benefits on their own, said Foldesi. And, even though their focus on transactional tasks “will never go away,” such advances would allow human resource professionals more time to develop those prized leadership skills, suggested Foldesi, a human resources professional for 33 years, the last four with the university. Another big challenge facing companies today is how to attract and keep younger workers, particularly those of the so-called “X Generation,” those born between 1964 and 1980, and “Y Generation,” born between 1978 and 2001. Unlike their “Baby Boomer” compatriots, the younger set is often less enticed by job stability than with job flexibility. They are more interested in the ability to develop work environments around their own comfort needs —- or spending less time at the workplace altogether. Younger employees have also shown they’re not afraid to walk away from their jobs if employers fail to meet their expectations. Understanding, accepting and utilizing how younger people stay in touch is something else older company representatives need to figure out. The advent of online networking, text messaging, instant messaging and handheld devices that can pretty much do everything except cook a meal has given younger employees the power to stay in touch, confer about problems and pass on company news on a far more intensive level than many of their older counterparts could ever hope to master or even understand, noted Foldesi. Regardless, he still asserts, “I think people are the same the generations may be different, with different levels of loyalty, ways people like to be connected with each other. At the heart of it, people work for a paycheck or other intrinsic needs.” Foldesi and Goodman, along with Mayhew and Prince, each followed their needs for adventure and variety to work in the human resources field. “This was the best thing to ever happen to me,” said Foldesi. “As a human resources official, you get to view and be involved in every aspect of the organization. Nothing is ever the same.” All four managers believe the future for the human resource professional is bright, as long as he or she always strives to be the best. That means getting a good education and keeping up on the field’s latest techniques and innovations, added Foldesi. “If you want to be seen as competent and professional, you need to be competent and professional.” Now, more than ever, said Viewpoint School’s Goodman, a 25-year industry veteran, human resource people need to show the business world what they’ve got, what they’re capable of doing. “You have to be up on your game, smart and quick,” said Goodman. “You have to be able to take an influential role in your organization. You have to be a trusted and valued business partner.” Said Goodman, “You have to be able to make a difference.”

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