YourForce: HR Activism and Retirement Planning

By Mike Prokopeak

Mar. 9, 2018

During the State of the Union address this year, a group of HR professionals took to Twitter for a little HR activism.

Using #HRSOTU, they advocated for priorities like immigration, workplace flexibility, apprenticeships and health care.

But in the hallowed halls of Congress policy takes a back seat to politics. HR can’t wait for lawmakers.

The #MeToo movement and rising wave of sexual harassment allegations are a prime example. It’s causing some to take a hard look at HR’s role and oftentimes failure to better define policy and procedures to protect employees and employers alike.

Retirement planning is another opportunity. More than half of workers are woefully unprepared for their golden years and risk seeing their living standard drop. Our special section this month has ideas to help.

Politicians talk; HR has to act. And they are.

—Mike Prokopeak, Editor in Chief


The workplace has changed a lot since 1922. That year The Journal of Personnel Research debuted, rebranded later as Personnel Journal and finally Workforce. Now in our 96th year, we take a look back at what was on the minds of past generations of people managers.

Enron’s Epic Meltdown

Following energy giant Enron’s collapse into bankruptcy in 2001, companies and employees entered panic mode, according to Shari Caudron, who painted the collapse as a one of many catalysts for changing concerns toward retirement. It “vastly accelerated the public’s anxiety about their retirement assets. As a result, retirement is no longer a simmering back-burner topic reserved for Congress and financial planners. It’s a boiling cauldron of issues that sits squarely in HR’s domain,” she wrote.

The article also explored another major impact of the company’s disintegration: the loss of employee trust. Most of the workers’ 401(k) assets were invested in company stock, and they believed that was safer than having a diversified stock fund.

After the collapse, they did not trust that management was being transparent with them. Caudron suggested that the debacle was a “defining moment for HR.”

The issue also featured a Q&A section. A company that had to relocate after 9/11 had trouble with an ADA suit filed by an employee with mobility problems. Another company wanted to know if it could punish an employee who’d just received a disciplinary notice by withholding his benefits. And an HR practitioner wanted to know how to interview HR professionals who already know the “right” answer to interview questions.

Another article cited that the biggest talent crunch was to be expected from 2015-2025, as baby boomers retire. Looks we’re living that now, with 10,000 boomers retiring each day.

— Andie Burjek

Several readers responded to the story titled “Employee Loyalty Not for Sale” in the January/February issue of Workforce. Bill Fotsch said: 

Trivial perks are not only ineffective as the article suggests, they are also demeaning. In contrast, industry leaders, like Southwest Airlines, CapitalOne and BHP Billiton empower employees to think and act like owners, driving and participating in the profitable growth of the company.

Said John-Michael Pagano: 

Certainly there is some give and take, but in reality it comes down to three things for most employees. It’s first and foremost about respect. Encouragement, positive feedback, the knowledge of where they stand at all times, all are part of the respect that every employee needs to operate at their full potential. Second, work-life balance. You can’t take away parts of an employee’s life, hijack their time — time that they will never get back. The knowledge that they won’t be scorned for choosing family over work gives them a sense of security and fosters a trusting culture. Last, there must be a compensation system based on merit where key performers are rewarded for their efforts. They must also need to know that they can advance in some way, otherwise they will aspire to an “up or out” mentality.

And finally John McAuley added: 

This is a very good presentation. It flies in the face of many of our out dated ideas, quirky perks etc., but it is spot on. Thanks. 



Mike Prokopeak is Workforce’s editor in chief.

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