C-Suite Advisory

Six Dilemmas HR Heads Are Grappled With!

Human resource heads of organizations and businesses are always expected to remain agile and adaptive to the changes taking place in, around, and outside their workplace. Yet the forces of changes engendered by the knowledge economy, digitalization and technology, and the pandemic have made their job extremely challenging by throwing up fresh set of dilemmas. In the recent past, the fast-evolving scenarios of work models, newer employee demands and aspirations, heightened societal expectations are all putting HR policies and actions to test and in sharper focus.

So, what are the new set of dilemmas the HR heads are grappled with? Here are the six:

#1.WFH/ WFA vis-a-vis Hybrid Workstation- To What Extent?

Acknowledging a preference for remote work by employees, the HR leaders are generally open to the new work paradigm of WFH/ WFA, though some are finding a Hybrid work model as a golden mean. Yet, there are deeper questions they all are grappled with. To what extent remote work can a company efficiently and sustainably run its operations over a long run? Which domain of work are more naturally suitable to be developed remotely? How do they plan remote working- team-by-team or individually? How does the company balance its own interests with the preferences of each employee? Whether adoption of a ‘blanket’ policy for remote working plans for individuals would be sensible and sustainable? To what extent existing parameters for performance appraisal, pay, promotion, and compensation compatible and relevant to a WFH/WFA or, for that matter, Hybrid work environment? 

#2. Enforcing Discipline vis-à-vis Caring for wellbeing

Over a long time, HR heads have over-emphasised with work hours and control over employees. Enforcing discipline has been seen as a normal and essential functions of HR departments. The pandemic has now put the norm under lens. Organizations are realizing that overstressing discipline at the expense of employee wellbeing is a bad idea. During the pandemic, this overbearing approach by many companies has been one of the factors behind the Great Resignations in the US. Stress in work lives of employees now matters. Surveys and research demonstrate that people want to work for employers that show they care. Clearly, this is the time, HR heads feel, is to ponder and decide whether to build an environment that supports sustainable productivity or fret about monitoring employees?

#3. Hiring diffused workforce vis-à-vis Protecting culture

As businesses open up to openness and diversity with a diffused workforce, with added flexibility and option for remote work, HR executives are confronted with a dilemma. How should businesses protect their culture as their workforce becomes more diffused and workers work virtually? How could they ensure all employees, especially newer and younger ones, remain wedded to the organization’s culture and purpose and do not feel isolated? To hire people based on talent across different geographies and ethnicities with option for remote work is one thing but to make them buy the corporate ethos and culture is a different ball game altogether. As the latter requires supportive policies, open channels of communication, and commitment to having an inclusive organisational culture, a balancing work is well cut out for HR leaders.

#4. Deciding ideal size of workforce vis-à-vis Automating operations

Thanks to digitisation and newer technologies, businesses are becoming more automated. As such, HR heads are seized of planning for more job curtailment or even resorting to re-casting the corporate structure. This includes pressing need to attract and retain workers with skills and talents for the future. But the transition from human to an automated workforce is no ordinary move. Such transition is a major structural shift that may reshape how a company operates. Clearly, there are some key questions before HR heads: What should be the ideal size of the workforce? How much fund should a company commit to sustain it? Which operations and roles could be slashed? Which new roles need to be created? Which metrics can they track to gauge a smooth transition? What should be the policy for contract work, freelancing or outsourcing?

While downsizing workforce may be resorted due to the compelling factors, HR heads need to be sensitive to their employees, the communities in which they operate, as well as societal concerns emanating from the threat of widespread layoff. So, another challenge is how to address severance innovatively, transparently, and humanely.

#5. Shareholders vis-a-vis Society at large

Businesses run on commercial lines and are usually expected to bring higher shareholders value primarily in terms of improved bottom lines. Yet, HR leaders are finding a strong need to adapt their organizations to reflect a broader purpose beyond generating returns for shareholders. As it is, hundreds of large global companies are on course to pursue a social purpose of their companies and are pledging to be good corporate citizens. A company’s value today is reflected in the intangible aspects of its business such as sustainability, social responsibility innovation, and governance rather than just offering a product or services to earn a profit. So, the dilemma is how much allocation in terms of resources or funds be made to ESG vis-a-vis core operations?

#6. Investment in upskilling or Hire skilled workforce

To thrive in business, it is critical that employees are continuously trained and upskilled.HR leaders very well know this. Yet the prohibitive cost of training, high attrition levels particularly by niche talents, flexible work locations etc. have put HR teams in a fix. Do they keep investing in training or hire more ready-to-deliver and skilled workforce? There are related points to ponder. How to identify the skills that employers need more? How to spot and predict skill gaps fast? While they are engaged in targeted hiring and onboarding, on-the-job coaching, designing career paths etc, HR leaders should also appreciate that half-hearted, piecemeal, and unstructured measures could come in the way of winning trust of employees who have clear preferences for companies that help them build new skills, experiences, and long- term career development.

Surely, resolution of the dilemmas would depend on the specific industry in which a company operates in, creative employee-oriented initiatives, and framework of progressive ideas, practices and policies that would be put in place. The proactiveness and broader vision with which HR practitioners and people leaders weigh their options in resolving the vexing issues will decide their company’s growth trajectory and destiny.


Written by Ram Krishna Sinha.
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Ram Krishna Sinha
Ram Krishna Sinha, is a former General Manager at Bank of India. Presently a Board member, he writes extensively on contemporary issues. An author of the motivational book “X Factor @ Workplace”, Mr. Sinha is an Opinion Columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.