In early December, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., took the reins of the Society for Human Resource Management as its new CEO. As the HR and benefits landscape has already seen some dramatic changes in recent years, Taylor says the industry should expect to make some changes going forward.

“As we look at the next decade and beyond, it’s going to be different,” says Taylor, who replaces former CEO Henry G. (Hank) Jackson, who last January announced his retirement. “The old school HR approach to what the norms are is quickly changing and we’re going to have to retool for it.”

Healthcare, immigration and workforce flexibility are some of the key initiatives topping the list Taylor hopes to tackle in the coming years.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

“Top of the mind is healthcare cost,” Taylor says. “With all of the uncertainty that continues to persist with whether or not the ACA, or some replacement of it, what will it be? What will it do? How will it impact companies and what they offer?”

It’s easy to say the ACA is for people generally uninsured so it isn’t HR’s problem, he says, but it directly impacts the insurance market. “There is a direct tie to our bottom lines, particularly if you’re an organization that is employee intensive.”

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There is the “perfect storm” of a great stock market and a dropping unemployment rate which really puts pressure on the cost of business for employers to remain competitive, he says. “It’s not just enough to offer money, but now job candidates are looking at the overall package which will include healthcare benefits.”

Secondly, he says, another big question is how tax reform will affect employers. “People aren’t fully talking about it yet since we haven’t gotten our first paycheck under this tax code, but what happens in states that have a high personal tax rate?” he says.

But with limitations reaching a $10,000 cap, Taylor questions what the new law means for employers looking for competitive talent and employee migration.

“If I were opening a worksite right now, I might be more inclined to open it in Florida, Texas, Nevada … places that don’t have state income taxes,” he says. “In many ways, I could offer less salary because the bring-home could be the same for the employee.”

Wellness is all the buzz

Lastly, he notes of the hot items to keep an eye on are wellness programs. To the extent that employers are looking toward self-insurance, they have a vested interest in employees being more well than not, he says.

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“When you do smoking cessation programs, you actually have a vested interest in your employees not becoming ill or suffering from a chronic condition,” he says.

“We’re looking at this theme for the future,” he adds, on the importance of wellness programs. Looking at the employee compensation as a whole where it’s not just base salary, or bonuses, we’re looking at the full package. “What does it cost for me to employ this person — to the extent where you hire less-well people, it’s going to cost you a lot more.”

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This trend in the importance of wellness is only going to get hotter. “Preventing health problems is the number one issue because you, the employer, can control costs,” he says. Employers don’t see it as just a perk anymore, he adds, wellness is all the buzz right now.

The big challenge is going to better tailor these programs. “It’s innovation broadly — the idea of not just offering stuff but looking at it and figuring out how to make it most useful. You want it to work for employees, but you also want to ask why it’s good for employers,” he notes.

And in addition to physical wealth, financial wellness is worth talking about. It’s not just about offering a financial literacy class anymore, Taylor says. “Living to 90 is a nonevent,” he says. “As you have a significant portion of your population coming through who are living longer, even if the federal government doesn’t statutorily move the age up, the reality is you’re able to retire, that money has to last.”

When you add 10 more years of life, and take what $10 means today and what it means 10 years from now, it really begins to put a stress on that person’s post-work experience, he adds.

Moving a legislative agenda

A big move in 2017 was the SHRM-developed workflex bill, the Workflex in the 21st Century Act (H.R. 4219), introduced in the House of Representatives in November by Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA).

“I love the title because that’s it. It reflects that we’re in the 21st century and many of the models we manage: people’s work, their schedules, leave — paid or unpaid — it’s just changed and we’re in a very different world,” Taylor said.

Growing up as an employment lawyer, Taylor noted for much of his career, the industry supported passage of the FMLA in the early 90s. ”To be fair, he says, passage of the FMLA was just one step."

“The first step was to offer it to people who could afford it. It was technically an offering, but practically not for a lot of Americans,” he says. As we develop this legislation, we think it’s now time to move to that next step.”

“We are being very careful in making sure we don’t advocate for something that is not practical,” he notes. “You mandate that employers do something they essentially can’t afford, then they push back,” but the devil will be in the details and “we need to get there,” he adds.

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In addition to advocating on healthcare and work flexibility, Taylor says immigration will be another key legislative conversation SHRM will take a role in.

“It’s thorny,” he says of the current debate on the topic. “We represent a non-partisan perspective on how do you take a really complicated issue and come up with an appropriately nuanced solution.”

We think at the end of the day, we’re not going to come up with solutions that make everyone happy,” he adds. “What we’re going to try to do is come up something that’s good for America and tries to balance all the competing interests.”

Two other items of note he says employers should keep in the back of their minds will be the discussion of hiring formerly incarcerated people and compensation equality in the workplace.

Talking tech

HR technology is also having a profound transformation on HR and benefits management. “All the craze is AI,” Taylor says. “We’re all trying to figure it out.”

But, he adds, there is a little bit of an overdramatizing that AI and robots are taking over the workplace.

There is a human experience to everything, he says and in the end people still need to build, maintain and control the robotic functions. “Ultimately, what AI is going to do, is make us a more productive and efficient workplace,” he says. “And it’s going to allow mundane, repetitive work to go away.”

Some of these concerns about eliminating half the workforce through automation and technology is overblown, he says. “But I do think it’s going to change and the result will be a different set of skills workers will need rather than just eliminating workers,” he adds.

“This only frees HR up to do strategic and culture-impacting things,” he continues. “That’s been one of our challenges, getting out of the administrative personnel function. And to the extent we can use technology to do less of that and more of that stuff that really matters, then we’re going to be a much better profession for it. I’m excited about it.”

Taylor recently was CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and holds a Juris Doctor degree with honors and a Master of Arts with honors from Drake University.

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