HR’s Voice is Needed Now More Than Ever: What SHRM is Doing and How You Can Help

By J. Robert Carr, J.D., SHRM-SCP

There is an old but true saying in Washington, D.C: You are either at the table or on the menu. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the world’s largest HR professional society, is at the table—from state houses to Washington’s halls of power to global gatherings such as the Business 20.

Advancing the interests of the HR profession and advocating for effective workplace public policy is one of SHRM’s most enduring missions. Now that work has never been more important.

The HR Group that Government Calls First

More than 30 years ago, SHRM picked up its Ohio roots and settled in Alexandria, Va., just nine miles from Capitol Hill. The reason was simple, according to SHRM former president and chief operating officer Ron Pilenzo, who ushered the move: “We wanted to be near think tanks and government,” he said. “We wanted to be the group that the federal government would call first on HR issues.”

Today, SHRM is that undisputed group.

In 2016, the U.S. Congress and federal agencies reached out to SHRM more than 130 times on workplace issues, including employment and labor, civil rights, health care, tax and benefits, workplace flexibility and more.

Over the same period, SHRM participated in 19 public policy forums, including congressional and regulatory hearings and agency roundtable discussions.

More than 1,000 individual SHRM members advocated on behalf of the HR profession, conducting face-to face meetings with their legislators on Capitol Hill, in state capitols and in district offices across the nation. And Members of Congress received nearly 20,000 letters from SHRM members on workplace issues.

This is only the start. Our SHRM Government Affairs team of 12 staffers, including 6 registered lobbyists, works full-time and often around-the-clock to stay on top of the issues that affect you and your organizations. On any given day, you can find the SHRM team advocating public policy positions in the halls of Congress, in state legislatures and before federal regulatory agencies and federal courts.

We can attest that HR’s voice is heard—in Washington and beyond. That voice is more critical now than ever before.

Today’s Issues are HR Issues

In our current social, political and economic climate, some of the greatest debates and biggest news headlines affect the workforce and workplace. Health care and paid leave. The digital economy. Global skill shortages and the movement of employees at a time of lingering un- and under-employment.

These are just a handful of “issues of the day” that are our issues.

What’s happening? Why are we seeing HR issues emerge as part of national conversations? And when did the intricacies of traditional HR matters like health care, pay, leave and benefits go mainstream?

The short answer is that the world of work is changing, and the basic employee-employer compact that was built for business in the 1960s is starting to show its age.

More people are turning to new employment models like freelancing and the sharing economy and to the use of technology to disrupt traditional industries and organizations. We see companies forced to quickly adapt to shifting demographics, automation and other trends—or failing to do so and suffering. In the midst of this, governments are trying to get ahead of—or at least catch up to—all of this change.

The proposed changes to the FLSA overtime rule is only one example of how policymakers have tried to grapple with larger social and economic trends through regulation and legislation. You can be assured that with a new U.S. Presidential Administration and the 115th Congress there will be more to come.

HR Public Policy in a New Washington

From the earliest days of the Trump Administration and the new Congress, HR issues came to the fore. The President has issued Executive Orders focused on reducing regulations, curtailing immigration and revisiting controversial regulations issued during the Obama administration. Congress promises action this year on health care, immigration and other workplace issues.

Take health care. At press time, President Trump had issued an Executive Order directing federal agencies to take administrative action to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Congress is moving forward to replace or reform the ACA, and on the table will be the employer and individual mandate, the excise tax on high-value health care plans and insurance market reform. More than half of all Americans get coverage through their employers, and SHRM members and HR professionals are the ones who design and implement these benefit plans for employees and their families. So healthcare is our issue.

SHRM believes that health care reform should expand access to coverage, including strengthening and improving the employer-based health care system, and supports reforms that lower health care costs and improve access to high-quality and affordable coverage.

Immigration is another perennial issue in the spotlight. We live in an increasingly complex, interconnected, global world, and employers need access to the best talent worldwide. This makes immigration an HR issue. SHRM and our strategic affiliate, the Council for Global Immigration, support an immigration system that allows employers to recruit, hire, transfer and retain global employees and ensure America remains competitive.

Don’t forget paid leave. Over the past several years, states and localities have created a confusing and conflicting patchwork of mandated paid sick leave laws and, most recently, mandated paid parental and maternity leave. Meanwhile, President Trump proposed a paid maternity leave proposal during his campaign.

SHRM believes that the United States must have a 21st Century workplace flexibility policy that meets the needs of both employers and employees. Rather than a one-size-fits-all government mandate, policy proposals should accommodate varying work environments, employee representation, industry type and organizational size, and they should encourage, not force, employers to offer paid leave to their employees. SHRM will be working with Members of Congress and others to advance this type of proposal in 2017.

SHRM Principles for the 21st Century Workplace

As SHRM President and CEO Hank Jackson has said, “It’s time for a candid conversation about our evolving workplace—and no one is better qualified to lead that discussion than HR professionals.”

This is why SHRM is calling on elected representatives, the new Administration and government officials to embrace three core principles when creating policies for the 21st Century workplace:

  • BE INNOVATIVE: The 21st Century workplace provides employers and employees the flexibility to address how, when and where work is accomplished and allows for the design of employee benefit programs that attract and retain employees while managing the fiscal realities of modern business.
  • BE FAIR: The 21st Century workplace provides fair employment practices in hiring, training and compensation, regardless of non-job-related characteristics, and encourages practices that meet the goals of the organization and the needs of its employees.
  • BE COMPETITIVE: The 21st Century workplace gives employers the ability to attract, recruit, hire and train talent, as needed, to remain competitive in a global economy.

As a nonpartisan organization, SHRM works with Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We do not have a Political Action Committee and do not financially contribute to political campaigns or endorse candidates for political office.

SHRM is for effective workplace policy, and we urge you to join us.

We Need Your Help

As an HR professional doing your best to comply with various federal and state laws and regulations, how many times have you thought, “What were the policymakers thinking when they enacted this law?” Or you may have wondered if they had any input at all from those who would be affected most.

You can make a difference by giving policymakers your advice on what makes the workplace work.

Join the more than 9,000 SHRM Advocacy Team members who advance our profession in their home states and on Capitol Hill. And connect to our online HR Policy Action Center to get alerts, easily connect to your Members of Congress, submit feedback on breaking issues and more. Visit

SHRM’s strength—and the power of our voice—lives in our community. I invite you to join us.



Bob Carr March 2017 Headshot
J. Robert Carr is Senior Vice President, Membership and External Affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.