Ask a roomful of HR leaders to name their biggest stressors and some interesting answers float up – sometimes literally. A new social experiment by Impact Group suggests that, as the economy recovers, these practitioners are engaging in some big-picture thinking, and their worries may only be ballooning.

At a trio of national trade shows this year, they were told to pen their pain points, those itchy issues that keep them up at night, using nothing more threatening than a Sharpie and a six-foot balloon. “Pop Your Problems,” as Impact calls it, took a light approach to heavy issues.

“It brings you back to your childhood,” says Melanie Winograd, a marketing specialist with Impact, a global resources services company. “We thought people would feel free to express themselves.”

More than 100 responses were thus expressed, and some might find their content surprising. Impact divided them into four categories: Development and Performance, Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Engagement and Other. Taken together, the first two constitute more than 70% of answers given. The general picture that emerges is one in which HR directors and managers take a much wider view than one of just health care and hiring.

Within Development and Performance, the main focus points were employee and leadership development, building global leaders and uncovering or developing skills. For those concerned most with Talent Acquisition and Retention, succession strategies, retaining talent and matching the right individual and role were seen the most.

Lauren Herring, Impact CEO, says this illustrates a workforce in which far more than senior management has its eye on the horizon.

“Once a business function of personnel and payroll, today’s modern HR department is truly an integration of talent strategies,” Herring says. “This experiment allowed us to expose the most common challenges in HR today and empower practitioners with the knowledge that they are not alone.”

Winograd notes that in an ever more competitive market, HR directors have to be actively involved in business strategies.

“The whole idea that people are hanging onto jobs even when they’re not happy, even when they’re miserable … is going away,” she says. “As we see this silver lining, people feel more comfortable, people are leaving … and [HR] has to plan: How are they going to fill that pipeline? How are they going to plan for succession?”

And, literally and figuratively, these problems will not just disappear. Winograd says the trade shows requested that giant balloons not get loudly destroyed at their functions, adding: “We still have them, and they can be blown up.”

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