SHRM Members Tap Local Chapters for Support, HQ for Information

By Mark Jr.

Jun. 25, 2009

HHR practitioners stressed out by delivering bad news during layoffs aren’t likely to contact the industry’s national organization for emotional support.

Rather than serving as a massive employee assistance program, the Society for Human Resource Management is providing professional guidance to help manage the economic downturn.

“Our members are coming to us for those tactical, regulatory, legal data points so that they can advise their executive management,” says China Miner Gorman, SHRM chief operating officer.

Yet SHRM also is hearing about individual pain that comes from losing a job or having to deliver the bad news when others are downsized. Those stories, however, are conveyed at 600 local SHRM chapters during monthly lunches or dinners.

At a recent meeting of SHRM of Greater Tucson in Arizona, participants spoke about layoff rounds at their companies, according to Judith Burgard, president-elect of the organization. Others mentioned job openings at their firms.

It was a sort of employment exchange that could help HR managers point displaced workers in the direction of a job. At another meeting, the group shared ideas about novel ways to avoid layoffs.

The Tucson SHRM chapter also revived a program to help members who have lost their jobs, while it continues to offer skills training that will keep them competitive in an increasingly brutal labor market.

Taken together, these initiatives can soothe frazzled HR professionals.

“That is what the chapter network does informally,” Burgard says. “It’s a very important stress reduction factor.” When she visited the SHRM chapter in Detroit in May, Gorman thought she might encounter frayed nerves and negative attitudes.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Gorman says. “They were strong. They were positive. I left inspired by their professionalism [and] the strategic thinking in that room. HR is playing a critical role in leading their community forward as the primary industry that supported that economy for so long is unraveling.”

Breaking bread with peers at local chapters is one of the defining moments of SHRM community, according to Sue Meisinger, former SHRM president and CEO. It’s one of the few places where members can vent because they often find themselves isolated in confidentiality at work.

“Those local relationships built through the chapters are very important during tough economic times,” Meisinger says. “It’s one of the ties that bind.”

Members are likely to turn to SHRM headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, for advice on conducting layoffs or managing benefits for separated workers.

They can do that through the Knowledge Advisor service that puts them in touch with certified HR experts on topics like reducing headcount without violating federal notice requirements. Or they can e-mail information queries to Express Requests.

This year, more than 47,000 members have used Express Requests and about 24,500 have utilized Knowledge Advisors. Those totals represent 40 and 17 percent increases, respectively, over the same period in 2008.

The SHRM annual conference in New Orleans has been programmed to offer recession-response information with such things as a career transition center.

Workforce Management, June 22, 2009, p. 22Subscribe Now!

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