Real HR Leaders Unpack Their Biggest Priorities for the Rest of 2023

If you’ve ever finished a high ropes course, you might already be familiar with what 2023 has felt like for HR pros. Twists and turns at every corner, trial, and error as we test uncharted waters, and a rush of excitement when our efforts take us closer to the end of the zipline. 

2023 hasn’t been for the faint of heart. But it has also driven a new level of innovation, inspiration, and achievement for benefits pros across the country. That’s why we caught up with three HR leaders from various industries to learn more about what they’ve learned this year, and what their biggest priorities will be in the next six months. Here’s what they shared with us during Camp Engage.

Meet the Speakers

Brian Dickens​

CHRO, University of Tennessee​

Shelley Colón​

SVP People + Culture Business Partners & Talent Acquisition, SiriusXM​

Erich Kurschat​

COO, Jellyvision

What does employee well-being really mean in this day and age?

HR leaders’ roles are changing, and so are employees’ needs and expectations when it comes to work. In recent years, “holistic health” has become a buzzword in the benefits space as employers look for ways to better support their employees as whole people: mind, body, and wallet. 

And recent Jellyvision research found that 1 in 4 HR pros are prioritizing well-being his year. But that’s a broad term, especially when thinking about the relationship between employers and their employees. So how do real-life HR leaders define “well-being,” and how are they setting boundaries about what’s appropriate when it comes to caring for their workforces? 

"The focus on well-being stems from conversations around mindfulness: or this idea that health isn’t simply physical, it’s emotional as well. The pandemic blurred the lines between who we are at work and who we are at home. Turning on Zoom and seeing people in their homes means employers have a new opportunity to define what well-being means for their organization, with input from their employees and other stakeholders."
Erich Kurschat
HR Consultant & Founder, Harmony Insights LLC

Colón added that it’s not just about making well-being a priority—it’s about personalizing the experience for each individual employee. 

"We have so many resources available, but we need to connect people with the right ones. Part of that is being human. That means leaders should be noticing and reaching out to employees when they don’t seem like themselves, and supporting them with the tools to help. That’s part of the stigma, we don’t talk about things enough. So when you observe an employee who’s struggling, reach out."
Shelley Colón
SVP, People + Culture Business Partners & Talent Acquisition, SiriusXM

How do you ensure the benefits you offer are relevant and valued by employees?

Remember that new Jellyvision research we mentioned earlier? It also revealed that 64% of HR pros are focused on year-round benefits engagement in 2023. And that’s great, right? After all, benefits are much more than enrolling in the right plans. We want our workforce to actively use the resources we provide for them so that they stay happy, healthy, and connected to our organizations. 

But that’s easier said than done. So how do our HR experts ensure that the benefits their companies provide are actually useful and appreciated by the employees they serve? 

"For us, it’s asking the question. Each year, we go through a survey to ask our employees how they’re doing and which benefits resonate with them. We also have to be willing to listen when employees have feedback about resources that don’t resonate with them."
Brian Dickens
CHRO, University of Tennessee

And according to Dickens, listening is the first step to building greater trust between employer and employee. Once feedback is received—positive or negative—it’s all about showing up, being present with employees, and communicating how the organization will evolve to better fit their needs.

"It’s not just me being present, but all of our senior HR leadership team. We do quarterly town halls where we speak to our entire workforce, and our chancellors at each campus conduct their own smaller town halls. The goal is to bring forth all of the issues that are bubbling up with all 14,000 employees across 95 counties throughout the state and communicate how we’re addressing those concerns."
Brian Dickens
CHRO, University of Tennessee

How can we help employees navigate uncertain times? 

The HR profession is unpredictable, but so is the world at large. From natural disasters to war to baby formula shortages, a tornado of recent events has significantly impacted employees’ mental health—and 17% of Jellyvision customers say they’re especially focused on this area in 2023. 

So we asked our experts what initiatives they’re building to help employees navigate uncertain times. Here’s how Kurschat advises his clients:

"A lot of it comes down to the power of community and coming together with others so no one feels like they have to spin their wheels on their own. There are going to be all sorts of things that employees are concerned about at any given time, so as employers, we have to decide which of those things we can impact and have influence over. Maybe at certain points, the only thing we can affect is the person in front of us. Staying present and focusing on the employee nearest to us can make a huge impact."
Erich Kurschat
HR Consultant & Founder, Harmony Insights LLC

That means both leading by example and encouraging other company leaders to be vulnerable with their own struggles. When employees see others sharing their challenges, they’ll be more likely to come forward with their own and trust that they have a safe space to share.

Is the talent economy over?

Layoffs and cost-cutting have dominated headlines since late last year. As employers look for ways to reduce budgets, it seems that talent has taken the first fall in many cases. Does that mean the competitive job market is finally over? Are employers valuing their relationships with employees less?

"While we’re focusing on costs like many companies are, we’re doubling down on the areas where we know the business needs to go. Talent is never more critical to driving results than in times like now, where we need to hit our objectives and milestones for the year effectively. Now’s not the time to cut back on talent—I think that’s a mistake. There’s still high competition for great talent."
Shelley Colón
SVP, People + Culture Business Partners & Talent Acquisition, SiriusXM

Phew. Our experts came with words of comfort: people should still be employers’ first priority, especially when they’re looking for ways to survive a challenging economy. And our customers agree: 54% said they’re prioritizing employee education and retention this year. 

So how can we make sure our best talent stays with us?

"Many employees are asking, ‘If I’m going to be loyal to you as a company, what’s in it for me? How am I learning and developing? How can you help me see the next step in my career, and where do you see me growing here?’ Seeing employees’ heart, mind, body and spirit is critically important to this conversation, and we need to understand that people are bringing their entire selves to work."
Brian Dickens
CHRO, University of Tennessee

While some employees come in with concrete goals and objectives for how to grow within your organization. But others may not know exactly what steps they should take to make it happen. So is it our employees’ job to explore their options and approach us with a plan, or is it our job as employers to guide them toward their possibilities? 

"We have to recognize that the individual has taken the initiative just to ask the question. It’s the company’s role to show them what resources are available internally that might align with their career. We created something called Learning Pathways, that lets people explore a career topic that’s important to them."
Brian Dickens
CHRO, University of Tennessee

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