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July 11, 2014

HR in the age of social media

By: Jason Hagey   Comments: 7
Before the rise of social media, LinkedIn was a Rolodex, Pinterest was a bulletin board and YouTube was an office window.

Michelle Cowden, an account executive with LinkedIn, offered those analogies Thursday during AWB's annual HR Forum at Seattle's McCaw Hall.

The half-day seminar was replete with signs that human resources and networking have changed dramatically just in the last few years, starting with the title of Cowden's presentation: "Go Social or Go Home."

Michael Lee, owner of Express Employment Professionals in Seattle, offered several more examples, not only showing how social media has changed HR, but highlighting the huge cultural differences among the various generations that comprise today's workforce.

Baby boomers, he said, grew up riding in the back of pickup trucks; millennials rode in car seats until age 21. Meanwhile, 84 percent of millennials have posted a selfie on a social network versus just 14 percent of baby boomers.

"And half of those were by mistake," he said, drawing laughs from the multi-generational audience.

The event concluded with a presentation on employment law issues that featured a video with actors illustrating a poorly executed job interview. That was followed by mock courtroom arguments from Ryan Swanson & Cleveland attorneys Kristin Meier and Gulliver Swenson representing the opposing sides in the subsequent lawsuit, and commentary from the firm's Susan Fox.

The video offered sobering, if sometimes comical, examples of what not to do during a job interview.

Cowden kicked off the event with a simple explanation of why HR professional need to use social media: It's where the talent is.
michelle 2
With a falling unemployment rate and baby boomers on the leading edge of retirement, it's getting harder for employers to find talented workers, she said. Attracting new talent -- and retaining existing workers -- is more important than ever.

"The talent war is over and talent won," Cowden said. "We're basically fishing for talent. Where is our target talent?"

Most likely, working somewhere. And using a social network such as LinkedIn.

So rather than sit back and wait for people to respond to job postings on online boards, Cowden said HR professionals need to cultivate a strong brand for their company in order to gain the attention of talented workers who may not be actively looking for a job.

"We're all passive talent," she said, adding, "The best talent isn't posting (on job boards). They're working."

Lee followed Cowden's presentation with one that focuses on the generational challenges posed by today's workforce. There are currently four distinct generations active in the workforce, beginning with the "traditionalists" -- basically anyone older than a baby boomer.

Michael Lee 1There are still 41 million of them working, and they're often seated in positions of power, Lee said. But for the most part, they don't understand social media.

Baby boomers, the next oldest group, remains the largest workforce demographic with 77 million active workers. They are often in the highest level positions, but as a group they often don't feel like they're in control, Lee said. 

Generation X, born between 1965-1980, represents about 30 percent of the workforce with approximately 45 million employees. But unlike previous generations, it's the first workforce demographic that will never be the largest, Lee said.

Generally speaking, Gex X-ers are techn-savvy and more accustomed to changing jobs than previous generations. They're also more casual, introducing terms such as "work-life balance" and "casual Friday" into the vernacular.

And then there are the millennials, a group that ranges between 86-89 million.

"They're entering the workforce rapidly and boy have got some opinions," Lee said. 

Millennials already represent about 20 percent of the workforce. Lee characterized them as a group that's optimistic, tech-savvy and less motivated by pay alone than previous generations. They're also more interested in a flexible work environment. 

The huge differences between the four generations can pose challenges for HR professionals, but Lee argued that the differences can viewed as potential positives for those who are willing and able to recognize them.

"Take care of your people so they don't go looking elsewhere," he said. 

Some other highlights of Lee's presentations:

  • Multi-tasking is a myth.
  • In this age when noise is everywhere, focus is incredibly important
  • Everyone needs a life plan.
The event concluded with "Employment Law Court," a presentation from Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland attorneys Susan Fox, Kristin Meier and Gulliver Swenson.

The role-playing exercise centered around the case of Perry Plaintiff vs. Deep Pockets, Inc., and it included a portrayal of a job interview gone wrong.

Ryan Swanson law court 1It touched on everything from the types of questions to avoid asking during a job interview to how to handle non-compete agreements in a way that keeps employers out of court.

One social media tip the attorneys offered -- that was not followed in the mock hiring video -- is to make sure the person who does background checking on job candidates is not the same person who conducts the interview.

That's because it's hard to prove later that some piece of information discovered on the candidate's social network -- information that can't legally be used as a reason to not hire a person -- didn't influence the hiring decision.

Social media. Generational differences. Employment law pitfalls.

There are a lot of issues for today's HR professional to consider. No matter how much technology changes, everything still comes down to people.

And that, Lee said, means building a work environment that people like to be around.


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