Biggest challenges in HR today and how to sustain engagement

Remote Work & Culture
August 23, 2021

Business landscapes are changing rapidly. Due to uncertainty in the business world, many human resources management challenges will continue to evolve. Changes in the business realm are driving the businesses to realign the role of HR to manage and grow cost-effectively. Human resources is a business-driven function. The growth and effectiveness of HR depend on a thorough understanding of the well-defined corporate direction. HR should effectively be able to influence key policies and decisions. The challenges of HR management must be defined and solutions determined to succeed and grow.  

HR deals with multiple issues. However, today the biggest challenge that HR faces are recruitment, retention & motivation. Leadership development is a critical function that needs continual attention. All these processes consume time.

Before we see the challenges that HR faces today and methods to sustain engagement, let us first see the other aspects of human resources for better understanding. 

What is People department?

People Department or human resources is the department that deals with employees and employee related problems. In other words, HR is the entire workforce of the organization.

Employees are the most important asset of a company, and HR takes care of this valuable asset. The HR or People department ensures that the employees and their concerns are taken care of so that they perform their duties uninterruptedly. HR is also responsible for maintaining a healthy environment to attract and retain valuable talent.

HR Responsibilities

The primary objective of HR is to develop and administer programs that increase the effectiveness of a company. It includes the entire gamut of developing, managing, and cultivating the employer-employee relationship.

For most organizations and businesses, the HR department is responsible for:

  • Managing recruitment and promotions.
  • Developing and implementing employee wellness programs.
  • Developing and enforcing personnel policies.
  • Conducting employee career development and job training.
  • Providing orientation programs for new hires.
  • Providing guidance on disciplinary actions.
  • Acting as primary contact for work-site (or work related) injuries or accidents.

HR also ensures the following important functions:

To address employee concerns: The HR department deals with employee welfare schemes such as pay, employee investments, pension plans, and training. It also facilitates the settling of conflicts between employees or between employees and their managers.

Hiring new employees: The HR team recruits qualified talent and performs background checks, CV reviews, etc. HR also provides new employee orientation and onboarding.

Implementation of employee off-boarding process: The HR department is also responsible for completing a specific set of tasks if an employee quits, is fired, or is laid off. The department completes the paperwork process in accordance with local labour laws, and it ensures all the employee benefits are settled. Any company assets the employee might hold are collected as per set norms.

Current scenario of Human Resources management

Three women sitting in an office, and around a table, looking at their computers, working.
Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

HR management applies different strategic approaches to manage the workforce. It is also responsible to establish and maintain the workplace culture and environment. 

HR professionals have to ensure that the people of the company are nurtured properly. To achieve this, the People team has to create and manage different programs, policies, and procedures. It has to foster a positive work environment through effective employee-employer relations.

The whole concept behind HR management is to ensure that employees effectively and productively contribute to a company’s overall direction, so that the goals and objectives of the organization are accomplished successfully. 

Today, HR management is involved in much more important tasks than traditional personnel or administrative work. In fact, those admin tasks make up a smaller chunk of the HR work, compared to other new areas of focus within HR.

Nowadays, HR professionals are much more focused on adding value to the company's strategy. They ensure that the employee programs undertaken are positively impacting the organization.

In today’s competitive environment, People managers need to understand the ever-evolving intricacies of conducting businesses, so that they too know what company objectives they need to help meet.

New agendas for HR

Today’s HR management professionals must focus their efforts on the following critical areas:

  1. Define and align organizational objectives:  HR teams must make the employee understand clearly what they are for working for. How their efforts align with the goals of the company. Each employee should know why the company exists. 
  1. Recruit the best talent: Sometimes employer-employee relationships fail because expectations and outcomes were not set correctly from the get-go. This happens due to wrong company marketing and misconceptions about the company. To avoid such cases, the HR department must market the company, correctly, via Employer Branding programs, and be clear about the employee's value and purpose at a company. No employee should be misled.
  1. Target employee strengths: HR managers should make efforts to understand their employees' strengths. I.e., roles should be assigned based on people's strengths and abilities. This develops the employees' confidence and ultimately builds trust. 

HR challenges 

Humans are complex, so managing people has always been tricky. The apparent transparency of social media and the remoteness of international teams have added more complexity to People management in this digital age. The fluctuating economy and global advancements are causing rapid changes that are affecting HR in many ways. 

The global health crisis, social unrest, and layoffs are other major issues that are keeping HR professionals on their toes. Due to economic downturns and disruptive periods at the workplace, companies have to carefully consider the implications and find solutions to the new challenges. Identifying and overcoming human resources challenges is a critical area to safeguard employees, the greatest asset a business can ever have.

Some of the biggest challenges faced by HR professionals are:

1. Attracting top talent

Attracting and retaining the best talent requires time, and a whole lot of work. Even more now with companies hiring remotely. With an even larger talent pool available, Recruitment managers need to make sure their job descriptions are clear, detailed, and built to find the best person for the job. In doing so, they make sure that the company doesn't become subject of undesirable and unforeseen costs due to bad hiring decisions.

2. Change management

Due to cutthroat competition in the open era of the digital economy, organizations are embracing innovative measures and processes. The foremost responsibility of HR continues to help businesses move forward. And to meet the ever-growing competition, companies often need changes—to the processes, job roles, organizational structures, and others.

That said, change management opens a new challenge to the HR department. It guides how HR prepares, equips, and supports employees to successfully adopt change.

3. Leadership development

Leaders steer the ship towards the company's vision. Therefore, leadership development programs are a strategic initiative and a big challenge to HR, and a critical role that HR has to undertake. 

HR professionals are entrusted with the challenge to develop future leaders of an organization. HR needs to provide the platform, structures, processes, and tools to shape great leaders. And in order to do so, HR needs to retain the right talent. 

Investing and training current employees to take on leadership positions will not be fruitful when current practices aren't making those soon-to-be-leaders want to stay in the company. In an era of a Millennial-heavy workforce, changing jobs is frequent, which makes leadership development one of the most common HR challenges today. That's why it's so important to create and actively maintain a culture of development within a company.

4. HR effectiveness measurement

The use of the right tools for measuring HR effectiveness is necessary to ensure improvement. Like other areas, HR also needs to effectively measure its results to determine positive (and negative) impact on the business, especially now that the HR role shifted from a traditional administrative role to a strategic partner in the organization.

5. Encouraging a culture of continuous learning

Lack of development opportunities is one of the key reasons why employees leave their jobs. Regular training is one of many great initiatives built to keep employees engaged and loyal. However, it's important to encourage training that not only fits employees' current roles but that also meets their career expectations, including transitions to different departments in the company.

Training, when done regularly, helps the business remain competitive. Even though it's one of the easiest challenges for HR to address, it still remains a big challenge for the People team.

6. Managing diversity

Globalization is affecting every business around the world. The reach of businesses is expanding across seas and borders, often meaning a flow of diversity of employee experiences, ideas, and perspectives coming into the company.

The challenge here, is that HR needs to manage diverse cultures in one single company and team. So it's important for HR to create a workplace environment that is comfortable, welcoming, and free of conflict.

7. Health and safety

Adhering to health and safety standards is probably one of the more obvious human resources challenges. These are governed by labor laws and they are of great importance to the well-being of employees, in general.

Health in the workplace isn’t just about hygiene and safety. The psychological well-being at the workplace may tend to deteriorate due to high demand, limited time, and general burnout. Periods of stress are normal, however, high levels of stress cannot be sustained.

Therefore, HR professionals need to ensure manageable workloads, design and implement an open-door policy to discuss anxiety, working hours, and unfair expectations, and others. It is critical to a successful work environment that they do so.

8. To make remote work, well, work

Remote work will probably become the standard for many businesses. Many organizations have prepared and invested in technology that enabled employees to work and collaborate remotely. But challenges remain and HR leaders need to foster social cohesion and continually update remote working policies.

Ways to sustain employee engagement

Top-view photo of three hands joining three cups of coffee in the middle of the shot
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

After having seen the challenges that HR faces in today’s competitive environment, let us now see how to sustain employee engagement.

Organizations rely on the engagement of their workforce to survive and thrive. The current business environment is moving faster than it ever has before and organizations are faced with more change than most can handle.

Companies are required to grow faster, often giving themselves less time to manage all of their financial goals, and managers need to learn how to manage themselves. 

It's been proven that employee engagement has a direct impact on productivity and profitability. However, sometimes, managers struggle to define, measure, and improve engagement in their teams.

Some of the powerful steps to improve employee engagement are:

Right role for each employee

Defining an employee's role is critical for attracting and engaging employees, but it's also important to define a role that fits an employee's competencies and skills. This is meant to take the best advantage of an employee's talent which will later positively impact the company's growth.

Regular training

Proper training and development are important to build a culture of trust and accountability, and it helps increase employee engagement. 

Assign meaningful work

Engage employees by letting them do meaningful work. They should have a clear understanding of their contribution to the growth and accomplishment of the company’s mission, purpose, and strategic objectives. However, they first have to be placed in the right role. In absence of a clear support and care for their career advancement or role improvement at a company, they will likely leave.

Frequently discuss engagement

Managers need to be transparent in their approach to improving engagement. Regular communication about engagement is important. Engagement meetings should be held regularly and outputs should be measured.  

Recognize your employees' accomplishments

Employee recognition goes beyond gifts and certificates. Managers should know what makes the team feel validated and then create a system for recognizing employees accordingly. Appreciation is the best and the easiest way to keep people engaged. 

Maintain consistent communication

Communication is a strong driver of engagement. Open, honest, and two-way communication gives the employee a sense of belonging and respect, so always look for ways to clearly and consistently communicate with your employees.


It is evident now that HR plays a key role in developing, reinforcing and changing the culture of an organization. However, getting culture right isn’t easy. That's why nurturing a dedicated HR or People team isn’t a luxury but a necessity if companies want to stick around for the long haul. Human resources has become indispensable in developing, strategizing, and implementing critical tools responsible for sustaining growth of an organization.


About the author: Joan Alavedra is the co-founder of Onsite.fun—an end-to-end platform to book, manage and organize team experiences at scale. He is constantly writing about team culture and remote work on his blog.