HR Administration

Last Thoughts on SHRM17 and Tropical Storm Cindy

By Andie Burjek

Jun. 26, 2017

SHRM attendees shared what perks they enjoy on a whiteboard. Answers included education assistance, massages, good leadership and better opportunities to move up.

During the last day of the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2017 conference in New Orleans, Tropical Storm Cindy was freaking out a lot of people. But locals I spoke to did not seem as concerned. It was almost concern, maybe? My point is, we all made it home and have had some time to think about what we learned.

These are some of the more noteworthy ideas I came across the final couple days of the conference.

Leading By Example: Some of my three least favorite things in the world are sports, lifestyle brands and the television show Dancing with the Stars, so I was pretty indifferent about watching Laila Ali speak. But she was also on the television show Chopped, which is one of my favorite things, so I gave it a chance.

And she was a great speaker. She’s big on the health, wellness and fitness space right now. One of the best pieces of advice for HR professionals is the importance of leading by example. “If I can’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of anyone around me,” she said. This is especially important, she added, at a point in time when so many common health problems like diabetes and heart disease are caused by lifestyle choices. So, HR leaders, practice what you preach.

Burnout: I spoke with a very interesting woman about burnout in business travelers. What people often focus on when talking about burnout is the psychological/mental strain it puts on a person, she said, but rarely do they realize the impact it has on a person physically — the prolonged periods of sitting without moving, and getting your sleep schedule confused.

One thing she mentioned is that Midway Airport in Chicago recently opened a yoga room. Cool idea that I would hope many business travelers will use to de-stress.

Ergonomics: Which brings me to a talk I attended on ergonomics. There was valuable information there, but let’s start with my personal point of contention. A speaker on this topic said a few things I did not like, first by condemning “ladies who cross their legs” for bad posture and talking about people going to the doctor during work hours as a “loss of productivity.”

I know that technically this is true. When people take off some time to go to the doctor’s office, they’re not doing work. But I think you should frame this as “my employee is being proactive about their health” and not “my employee is not being productive.” And many doctor’s offices are only open during office hours, so what other choice do employees have but to take some time off?

The valuable part of this talk included an explanation of how the opposite of sitting is not standing. People need a balance of sitting and standing. So a desk that is just a sitting desk or a desk that is just a standing desk doesn’t fly. What works is switching off between standing and sitting every so often. Some suggestions this speaker gave were standing brainstorming sessions, walking meetings and stretching while working.

Education Benefits: Rachel Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild Education, gave me the rundown on education as a benefit. What differentiates this as education as a mode of training/skilling is that as a benefit, it is used more as a retention and recruitment tool than a way to upskill employees to higher positions. In the training setting, further education would have to relate directly with the job, but in the benefits setting, it could be any degree.

She also mentioned that, in general, businesses are more apt to offer MBAs or master’s degrees to high-ranking employees. They have the impression that gives them the most bang for their buck. But offering education as a benefit to front-line, hourly employees (i.e., retail, food service, call centers) does in fact help out the company, said Carlson. This is an area where companies see a lot of turnover, and offering education as a benefit could be an incentive to make people stay.

Health As A Business Objective: Dinesh Sheth, CEO and founder of Florida-based Green Circle Health, told me about his company, a health care management and wellness platform. We talked about how, interestingly, no company has health as a corporate value in its mission statement.

At least this is interesting to me considering how often I read about companies that strive for a “culture of health” nowadays. Is that “culture of health” term meaningless until companies begin to include it in their mission statement? Or is its inclusion in the mission statement meaningless unless the company actually strives for a culture of culture? I lean toward the latter.

Sheth and I also spoke about the concept of corporate wellness and how it’s not really new at all. Wellness has been around since the beginning of corporations, he said. Think about companies finally instituting the 40-hour work week or other labor laws focused on employee well-being.

Obviously the history of the labor movement and labor laws in the U.S. is much messier than that one sentence, but what I got out of this conversation was that as trendy as corporate wellness comes across now, there has been a push for companies to help improve employees lives for a while.

Thanks for checking out Workforce’s coverage of SHRM’s 2017 conference!

[Related article: “SHRM17: It’s All About #Cindy, Funerals and Shoes”]

[Related article: “To Encourage Health, You Just Need a Little Nudge”]

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editorComment below or email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at

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