What Challenges Face Human Resources Departments in the 21st Century?

by Nina DuBois; Updated September 26, 2017
A focus on technological innovation and mentoring will be markers of HR in the 21st century.

With the 21st century underway, nonprofit, government, and private organizations seek to adapt to an ever-changing professional environment. Within these organizations, human resources, HR, departments face particular challenges. Their role, human resources management, includes the hiring of new employees, the administration of benefits, and the monitoring of regulation compliance. To best prepare themselves for the changing face of human resources management, HR departments must rise to the challenges of retaining and building a talented workforce.

Multi-Generational Workforce

One major challenge human resources departments face is serving multiple generations within a single workforce. Today, Baby Boomers, Baby Busters, Generation X, and Generation Y staff members may work in the same organization, often with differing needs, expectations, and strengths. While approximately 76 million Baby Boomers are currently employed in the United States, as they retire, the 21st century will see extreme changes in workplace expectations and environment. For the incoming workforce, the “hired for life” mentality of the past will be obsolete as workers increasingly change employers after 3 to 5 years of work. Placing more emphasis on proper work-life balance, they will be motivated by learning opportunities and positive feedback. To retain these employees, human resources departments must be ready to respond to these needs.

Changing Role

As they prepare themselves for the 21st century, human resources departments must adapt to their changing role within an organization. Moving from a traditional to a strategic approach, human resources management in the 21st century will be much more dynamic than in the past. The basic personal functions that characterized traditional human resource management, such as maintenance of personal files and records and the processing of documents, will be replaced by a focus on promoting the abilities, skills, and knowledge of employees. HR departments can best prepare for their changing role by adopting a “human investment perspective” that is more active than reactive and that no longer relies on the hierarchical organizational structures of the past. Instead, the focus will be on catering to the needs of consumers and employees and using business strategies in human resources policies and practices.

Recruitment Challenges

Recruiting a workforce that reflects today's reality is another challenge for human resources departments. To address the challenge of attracting a new generation of employees, HR professionals can tap into the popularity of the Internet. With online job postings and company websites, human resources departments are now able to conduct around-the-clock recruiting. With this wider scope, recruitment efforts can no longer be limited to the HR department and will increasingly involve numerous departments and actors within an organization.

To develop a workforce that reflects the diversity of consumers and clients, HR departments should reach out to minority groups that were discriminated against and excluded in the past. Recruitment strategies can include the use of minority recruiters, targeting universities with high minority enrollment, and forging relationships with minority organizations such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus or the United Negro College Fund.

About the Author

Nina Dubois has been a published writer since 2004. She has written features for the global anti-poverty agency ActionAid International, Stanford University's "The Real News" and a host of other publications. She received a Bachelor of Arts from Stanford University where she majored in anthropology and political science.

Photo Credits

  • technology computer image by Andrey Kiselev from Fotolia.com