A human resources wish list for a successful new year (Editorial)

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. If you’ve decided you want to change something why wait until Jan. 1 rolls around? But I do have a list of wishes for human resources in 2005. In fact, this is turning into a Canadian HR Reporter year-end tradition.

One item perennially on the HR wish list is that senior management be more appreciative of both the value of human capital and the need for educated HR professionals with enough organizational clout to apply people management philosophies and systems that motivate staff and improve productivity. This one is a slow build, so expect it on a few more annual wish lists before it’s achieved across corporate Canada. But there are signs of progress.

HR associations and academics are diligently working to raise the profession’s image and skills, and there are many examples of respected HR departments and practitioners adding value to their firms through good people management. David Brown’s cover story on mergers and acquisitions is one indication that CEOs and CFOs are clueing into the fact that mergers look one way on paper and another when real humans (i.e. staff) are involved. If senior executives are waking up to the need for HR involvement in M&As, can the realization that HR has a role to play in the people aspects of other major corporate initiatives be that far off?

On the subject of senior executive awareness, employee health and wellness still requires greater top-level support. Mentally stressed staff, over-worked and under-resourced, with a host of medical problems linked to smoking and obesity, are hardly the productivity dynamos needed to out-distance the competition. Employee health, both mental and physical, needs to receive the same priority that technology and machinery are given.

Employee health also requires a commitment to a safe workplace. Canada usually averages at least one worker death per day every year, with thousands more injured. Safety advocates will tell you these are not accidents but preventable deaths. In some cases the irresponsibility of employers makes them more like killings, and this is why the federal government passed Bill C-45, known as the “corporate killing law.” Amendments to the Criminal Code, which came into force last spring, allow prosecutors to charge supervisors, executives and employers when a worker is killed or injured on the job.

But Crown prosecutors have been slow to lay “corporate killing” charges. While some of this can be explained as unfamiliarity with a new law, here’s hoping that 2005 sees the legislation used as it was intended. Better yet, let’s hope safer attitudes will result in less need for charges in the first place.

Another 2005 wish list item falls under the heading of “ethics,” subcategory “pensions.” Corporate pension plans have taken quite a hit lately, with HR and finance fretting over funding shortfalls. This is thanks to stock market woes that have seen pension assets plummet. Some of the responsibility for a weak stock market can be laid at the feet of a handful of executive ne’er-do-wells who pillaged and/or bankrupted their firms sending markets into a tizzy. Not only have affected stocks slipped, but investor confidence has taken a hit, depriving the market of needed cash injections.

So for all those employees looking for leaders they can trust and respect, and all those CFOs and HR leaders worrying about pension stability, here’s a wish for a few years of honest bookkeeping from on high. Just a couple of years of ethical accounting so we can get back on our feet, please.

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