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SHRM Survey Brief

Key Priorities for the HR


Profession Through 2015:
Are You Ready?
Data Highlights
The vast majority of HR
professionals believe
that HR serves as a
partner (has partial or
shared responsibility) in
managing change and
cultural transformation in
organizations.
Managing talent and
improving leadership
development are the most
critical HR challenges facing
organizations today and
projected for the future, yet
more than six out of 10 HR
professionals feel that their
organizations are doing an
average job in these areas.
Managing demographics
and managing globalization
will take on a higher priority

HR professionals have important roles and


responsibilities in addressing human capital
issues within their organizations. They are best
able to support their organizations business
goals related to human capital initiatives when
they are viewed as a strategic partner or owner
in decisions and are successful at aligning their
work with the organizations overall business
strategy. As will be discussed later, HR more
often serves as a partner than as an owner
in the areas of talent management, leadership development, managing demographics,
recruiting and staffing, and change and cultural
transformation at their organizationsthe five
areas projected as most critical for organizations
in 20102015. As shown in this research, more
than six out of 10 HR professionals agreed
that their head of HR was strongly involved
in business decisions at the board level (64%
gave a favorable response, 26% gave a neutral
response). Similarly, when asked if their HR
department was capable of aligning its work
with the organizations overall business strategy,
most respondents were in agreement (62%

for organizations in the


future compared with 2007.

Table 1

gave a favorable response, while 31% gave a


neutral response).1 HR departments/functions
are likely to be less effective in meeting human
capital challenges unless they have a presence
at the board level and align their work with
business strategy.
To gain a better understanding of the human
capital challenges that confront organizations,
HR professionals were asked to identify priorities for their organizations now (2007) and in
the future (20102015). As shown in Table
1, managing talent and improving leadership
development ranked as the most critical HR
issues facing organizations by approximately
one-half of respondents each. Managing demographics, delivering on recruiting and staffing,
and managing change and cultural transformation were the other leading HR challenges
facing organizations. In contrast, the least
critical issues reported were providing shared
services and outsourcing HR and managing
corporate social responsibility.

What Are the Priorities for the HR Profession?

Currently, most organizations

Today (n = 517)

Future (n = 504)

do not have staff dedicated

Managing talent

48% (2)

52% (1)

to managing demographics.

Improving leadership development

52% (1)

45% (2)

16%

34% (3)

Managing demographics

A Publication of the Society for


Human Resource Management

Delivering on recruiting and staffing

46% (3)

33% (4)

Managing change and cultural transformation

34% (4)

31% (5)

Enhancing employee commitment

28% (5)

26%

Transforming HR into a strategic partner

25%

25%

Improving performance management and rewards

21%

21%

Managing globalization

9%

20%

Managing work/life balance

23%

20%

Managing diversity

20%

19%

Becoming a learning organization

10%

15%

Measuring HR and employee performance

14%

15%

Mastering HR processes

15%

10%

Restructuring the organization

16%

9%

Providing shared services and outsourcing HR

7%

8%

Managing corporate social responsibility

5%

6%

Note: Table represents U.S. respondents. Percentages do not total to 100% as respondents were allowed multiple choices. Respondents were
asked to select the four most important topics in 2007 and in the future (2010-2015). Data sorted in descending order by the 2010-2015 data.
Source: Key Priorities for the HR Profession Through 2015 (BCG/WFPMA/SHRM, 2008)

2 SHRM Survey Brief

Although similar challenges were reported for 2007 and 20102015, there were some notable differences. For example, compared
with 2007, more than twice as many respondents believed that
managing demographics and managing globalization will be
key issues in 2010-2015. Delivering on recruiting and staffing is
expected to take on a lower priority for organizations in the future
than it does today (33% compared with 46%).
Based on their selections for key priorities in 2010-2015, respondents were then asked a series of follow-up questions. The top five
future HR challenges for organizations are outlined below.

1. Managing Talent
For the purposes of the study, managing talent was defined as the
means used to attract, recruit, retain, identify and develop highpotential people. This topic ranked as the most critical HR topic
facing organizations in the future. Laura Lea Clinton, GPHR,
director of human resources management for CARE USA and a
member of SHRMs Employee Relations Special Expertise Panel
concurs: A major issue for organizations, as they continue to
evolve, is retentionthe whole concept of talent management
identifying who the talent is within the organization and focusing
effort and energy on developing, engaging and retaining them.
In her opinion, the focus of these efforts in the past has been on
rehabilitating poor performersthe trend will reverse to a focus on
the continued engagement and retention of the top performers.
Figure 1

Although talent management topped the list, it is not a particular


area of strength for many organizations. When asked how good
their organization was at talent management, the vast majority of
responses were neutral (64%), while 30% of the responses were
unfavorable and 6% were favorable. More than four out of 10
respondents said that their organization did not have a designated
person, people or unit(s) for managing talent. HR most often had
a shared or partial responsibility (partner) (55%) than a primary
responsibility (owner) (33%) in this effort. These data are illustrated
in Figure 1 and Table 2.
Talent management is clearly at the forefront of HR professionals
minds; however, this matter is complex due to a number of internal
and external forces that are at play. When developing talent
management strategies and with workforce planning in general,
it is important for HR professionals to be aware of the needs and
composition of their workforce, as well as environmental factors
and trends. The strategies that are successful in attracting and
retaining employees, for example, can vary widely depending on
individual characteristics (gender, age, years in the workforce, etc.)
and organizational demographics (organization staff size, industry,
sector, etc.). External forces such as emerging marketplaces,
advances in technology, increased global competition, changing
demographics and economic conditions not only affect the success
of talent management initiatives but also influence the overall
success of the organization.

How Good is your Organization in the Areas of?


Managing talent
(n = 261)

30%

Improving leadership development


(n = 225)

27%

Managing demographics
(n = 172)
Delivering on recruiting and staffing
(n = 166)

Managing change and cultural


transformation
(n = 158)

64%

6%

64%

23%

9%

70%

12%

69%

21%

18%

70%

Unfavorable

Neutral

8%

8%

Favorable

Note: Figure represents the top five most important topics for 2010-2015, U.S. respondents only. For the purposes of the analysis, the following ratings were recorded: unfavorable = 1 significant need for improvement
and 2; neutral = 3 and 4; favorable = 5 and 6 best practice company. Percentages may not total to 100% due to rounding. Data sorted in descending order by the most important topics for 2010-2015.
Source: Key Priorities for the HR Profession Through 2015 (BCG/WFPMA/SHRM, 2008)

Key Priorities for the HR Profession Through 2015 3

Table 2

Who Are the Individuals Responsible for?


Designated Person,
People or Unit(s)

HRs Role

Yes

No

None

Partial or Shared
Responsibility (Partner)

Primary Responsibility
(Owner)

Managing talent

58%

42%

12%

55%

33%

Improving leadership
development

64%

36%

9%

53%

38%

Managing demographics

25%

75%

23%

46%

30%

Delivering on recruiting and


staffing

81%

19%

4%

52%

44%

Managing change and cultural


transformation

34%

66%

13%

69%

18%

Note: Table represents the top five most important topics for 2010-2015, U.S. respondents only. Percentages may not total to 100% due to rounding. Data sorted in descending order by the most important topics for
2010-2015.
Source: Key Priorities for the HR Profession Through 2015 (BCG/WFPMA/SHRM, 2008)

With an increasingly diverse, competitive and shrinking labor


market, organizations will need to maximize and invest in the
available labor pool, make the best use of the contributions of
employees, and find creative ways to recruit, retain and develop
talent. In response to talent management challenges, respondents
frequently reported that HR is currently sourcing talented
employees locally and hiring talented employees from competitors.
To meet future challenges, HR professionals most often said that
their organizations have plans to develop tailored career tracks and
specific compensation schemes for talented people (see Tables 3
and 4).

2. Improving Leadership Development


The phrase improving leadership development encompassed
influencing, motivating and enabling others to contribute to the
achievement of specific goals. Leadership development emerged
as the second greatest challenge likely to confront organizations
in the future. Similar to talent management, leadership development was an area in which most of the respondents felt that their
organization was doing neither well nor poorly (Figure 1). Building
leadership capability will be important for organizations as they
prepare the next generation of leaders to succeed those who will
soon be moving into retirement. As organizations compete with
and expand into emerging markets, global leadership capabilities
will also need to be cultivated.
Lewis Benavides, SPHR, associate vice president for human
resources at Texas Womans University and a member of SHRMs
Workplace Diversity Special Expertise Panel, was not surprised by
these findings. According to Benavides, so few organizations do

[Leadership development is]


costly and time consuming, thus
there is a tendency to just go out
and find leadership that has already
been developed.
Lewis Benavides, SPHR, associate vice president for
human resources, Texas Womans University

it [leadership development] well. Its costly and time consuming,


thus there is a tendency to just go out and find leadership that has
already been developedthis is bad long-term strategy Additionally, so few U.S. organizations have their executives exposed in
global or emerging market countries, thus they lack that international perspective in leadership development.
In order for leadership practices to be successful, there needs to
be a strategic business and senior-level commitment to leadership
development. As reflected in Table 2, more than six out of 10
HR professionals said that there was a person designated (64%)
to improving leadership development within their organization,
and again, HR typically serves as a partner (53%) than as an owner
(38%) in this area. As the importance of leadership grows, HR
professionals are likely to become even more involved in integrating
leadership development into every aspect of the business.

4 SHRM Survey Brief

Given the recent economic


downturn that has decimated most
retirement plans, organizations need
not worry about a mass exodus of
Baby Boomers from their workforce
as many will opt to continue working
out of financial necessity.
Fernn R. Cepero, PHR, vice president of human
resources, The YMCA of Greater Rochester

The largest proportion of HR professionals reported that their


organizations were using or planning to use internal coaching from
top management in an effort to strengthen employees leadership
skills. Coaching is a training method that organizations can use
to retain the knowledge of more experienced or skilled workers,
particularly Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964),
so that younger employees can benefit from their knowledge and
experience. Organizations are also currently measuring or planning
to measure leadership skills through 360 feedback, a method
for collecting perceptions about an individuals job performance
and the impact of that behavior in the workplace from a variety of
sources. By increasing the number of evaluations, a more balanced
and comprehensive view of an individuals overall job performance
is possible (see Tables 3 and 4).

3. Managing Demographics (Aging Workforce)


Managing demographics was defined as adapting to a shifting
age structure and the resulting loss in productivity and capacity.
This was the third greatest future challenge for organizations, as
reported by more than one-third of HR professionals (34%). By
2008, it has been projected that more than 62 million workers
(over 40% of the labor force) will be 45 and older, and 37 million
of these will be between the ages of 45 and 54. The number of
young workers, 16 to 24 years old, is also projected to increase
by 15%, but the number of those in the 35-44 year old range will
actually decline by about 7%.2 According to the Bureau of Labor
Statistics (BLS), once the Baby Boomers exit the last years of the
prime age group (ages of 25 to 54) and enter the 55 and older

age group, with participation rates roughly half that of the prime
age group, the overall labor force participation rate will decline
significantly.3
Coupled with lower participation rates among older groups are
concerns that new workforce entrants lack a number of skills necessary to job success4 and that Generation X (those born between
1965 and 1980) and Y (those born after 1981) workers are not
(or have not been) prepared to assume leadership roles. As such,
organizations have become increasingly concerned with preserving
the critical knowledge of older workers and boosting skill levels of
younger workers.
As Fernn R. Cepero, PHR, vice president of human resources
at The YMCA of Greater Rochester, points out, Given the
recent economic downturn that has decimated most retirement
plans, organizations need not worry about a mass exodus of
Baby Boomers from their workforce as many will opt to continue
working out of financial necessity.

Table 3

What Actions Have Organizations Taken in Response to


Current HR Challenges?
%

Challenges

Actions

Managing talent

Source talented employees


locally

75%

Hire talented employees from


competitors

58%

Use internal coaching from top


management

58%

Measure leadership skills


through 360 feedback

49%

Managing demographics:
managing future capacity
loss due to aging
workforce

Implement health management


and wellness programs

64%

Use external recruiting

57%

Managing demographics:
managing an aging
workforce

Invest in training to enhance


employee skill levels

80%

Manage pension liabilities

47%

Delivering on recruiting
and staffing

Create an Internet presence/


home page

62%

Identify recruiting needs


precisely

59%

Ensure visible leadership

79%

Communicate a vision for


action

74%

Improving leadership
development

Managing change and


cultural transformation

Note: Table represents the top two actions HR took in 2007 in response to managing talent,
improving leadership development, managing demographics, delivering on recruiting and
staffing, and managing change and cultural transformation (top five most important topics for
2010-2015), U.S. respondents only.
Source: Key Priorities for the HR Profession Through 2015 (BCG/WFPMA/SHRM, 2008)

Key Priorities for the HR Profession Through 2015 5

Table 4

What Actions Are Organizations Planning to Take in


Response to Future HR Challenges?
%

Challenges

Actions

Managing talent

Develop tailored career tracks

73%

Develop specific compensation


schemes for talented people

65%

Use internal coaching from top


management

70%

Measure leadership skills through


360 feedback

64%

Managing
demographics:
managing future
capacity loss due to
aging workforce

Conduct internal training and


qualify people for other job
groups than their own (cross-job
qualification)

66%

Offer employment options to


attract or retain semi-retired or
retired workers

66%

Managing
demographics:
managing an aging
workforce

Invest in training to enhance


employee skill levels

79%

Train employees to respond to


generational differences

60%

Delivering on recruiting
and staffing

Identify recruiting needs precisely

67%

Control recruiting and staffing


processes more closely

67%

Managing change and


cultural transformation

Communicate a vision for action

83%

Close gaps in capabilities


through assessment, training and
staffing

83%

Improving leadership
development

Note: Table represents the top two actions HR is planning to take for 2010-2015 in response
to managing talent, improving leadership development, managing demographics, delivering
on recruiting and staffing, and managing change and cultural transformation (top five most
important topics for 2010-2015), U.S. respondents only.
Source: Key Priorities for the HR Profession Through 2015 (BCG/WFPMA/SHRM, 2008)

As mentioned earlier, this area was deemed less important in 2007


than in 20102015, which may partially explain why a number of
organizations do not currently have resources allocated to this issue.
This does raise some concern that organizations are not prepared
or have not taken the necessary steps to prepare for a future loss in
productivity and capacity due an aging workforce. Although nearly
one-fourth of respondents reported that HR did not have a role in
this area (23%), more than three-fourths said that HR was either a
partner or an owner (76%). These data are illustrated in Table 2.
As Baby Boomers prepare to exit the workforce and the next
generation enters the workforce, organizations will need to
leverage and incorporate the demographics into their strategies.
Strategies will need to take into account the different values, needs,
preferences, and work and learning styles of Baby Boomer and
Generation X and Y workers.
To manage future capacity loss due to an aging workforce, most
HR professionals indicated that their organizations have already
implemented health management and wellness programs. In
the future, however, the focus will be on conducting internal
training and qualifying people for other job groups than their own
(cross-job qualification) and offering employment options to attract
or retain semi-retired or retired workers. Investing in training
to enhance employee skill levels in an effort to manage an aging
workforce was the top action reported for 2007 and 2010-2015 by
nearly eight out of 10 respondents each (see Tables 3 and 4).

4. Delivering on Recruiting and Staffing


Cepero calls for a pragmatic approach to both knowledge management and mentoring. It is imperative that the critical knowledge
of older workers be preserved by human resources who will now
have a new rolethat of competency steward for their companies.
Aligned with formal mentoring programs, human resources will
be responsible for managing knowledge transfer processes in their
respective organizations. This knowledge transfer will seek to
organize, create, capture and distribute knowledge and ensure its
availability for a new generation of workers.
Although managing demographics ranked among the top future
challenges, organizations are doing mediocre in this area. Seven
out of 10 respondents believed that their organization was doing
an average job at managing demographics (Figure 1). Among the
five topics, managing demographics was the one area in which
organizations most often did not have a designated person (75%).

Delivering on recruiting and staffing entails sourcing and attracting


sufficient human resources. This includes all processes and systems
designed to find, recruit, integrate, develop and retain the right
employees for the right positions. Overall, one-third of respondents
believed that delivering on recruiting and staffing will be a key issue
for their organizations in the future, placing it fourth on the list.
When asked how successful their organization was in this particular
area, the vast majority of responses were neither favorable nor
unfavorable (Figure 1).
Recruiting and staffing was the one area, out of the five most
critical HR issues, in which the vast majority of organizations have a
designated person (81%). As this is an area traditionally within HRs
domain, approximately one-half of respondents each cited HR
as the partner (52%) or owner (44%). These data are depicted in
Table 2. Developing a recruiting strategy that includes identifying
recruiting needs is an essential HR initiative to ensure that orga-

6 SHRM Survey Brief

nizations have the right complement of people in order to meet


business needs. For example, this can include anticipating human
capital needs, conducting a gap analysis between the current and
future staff, and determining how to best meet these needs. Most
HR professionals indicated that their organizations have identified
(59%) and will continue to identify recruiting needs in the future
(67%) as part of their response to recruiting and staffing challenges.
Another popular action in response to current recruiting and
staffing challenges was creating an Internet presence/home page.
Recruiting has changed dramatically over the past decade. As the
data indicate and other studies5 have shown, organizations are
increasingly relying on various e-recruitment technologies to bring
greater efficiency and productivity to the recruitment process.
Creating an Internet presence/home page allows the organization
to share information about the organization and job openings with
a wide audience. Ideally, it would also simplify the job application
process for job-seekers.
In addition to identifying recruiting needs precisely, there will be
an emphasis on controlling recruiting and staffing processes more
closely in the future. These data are reflected in Tables 3 and 4. To
help control these processes, organizations have employed applicant
tracking systems, which have been shown to improve the efficiency
of tracking candidates, managing resumes and managing the
organizations recruiting efforts in general.6

5. Managing Change and Cultural


Transformation
Rounding off the list was managing change and cultural transformation: more than three out of 10 respondents (31%) predicted
that this topic will be important in the future. Change management
is the systematic approach and application of knowledge, tools and
resources to deal with change. It means defining and adopting
corporate strategies, structures, procedures and technologies to deal
with changes in external conditions and the business environment.7
Operational changes in response to new legislation, changing
economic conditions or national/international events are examples
of organizational changes. Under the leadership of the new U.S.
President and Congress in January 2009, we are likely to see
some changes in employment laws and regulations with which
employers would have to comply. Similarly, Melanie Young, vice
president of corporate HR and services at Arrow Electronics,
expressed concerned with government regulations as they relate

to localizationsuch as taxes and labor lawsand their impact on


HR. Having a global standard or policy and clear direction on
localization is hard. A lot of energy and inefficiency takes place as
there is not always a clear description of how to handle localization, and it will happen more and more with the competitive labor
market for skilled resources.

Having a global standard or policy


and clear direction on localization
is hard. A lot of energy and
inefficiency takes place as there
is not always a clear description of
how to handle localization.
Melanie Young, vice president of corporate HR and
services, Arrow Electronics

Similar to the other top challenges, most organizations were doing


an average job of managing change and cultural transformation
(Figure 1). Among the top five challenges, managing change and
cultural transformation was the one area in which HR was most
likely to be the partner (69%), yet most organizations did not have
a designated person (66%). Rather than one person/group being
in charge of this area, it is likely that its an informal arrangement
where many individuals share this responsibility. These data are
illustrated in Table 2. Change management leaders must promote
awareness and understanding of the change initiative to influence employees willingness to embrace the change. HRs role
during major organizational changes most often includes assisting
employees in the transition through the process and coordinating
meetings and communications about the change and related
initiatives.8
As shown in Table 3, nearly three-fourths or more of the respondents each indicated that their organizations had taken steps to
ensure visible leadership and to communicate a vision for action in
response to current change and cultural transformation challenges.
Change initiatives always require the buy-in of managers at all
levels, beginning with senior management, who sets the business
strategy, down through the entire organization. Likewise, the most

Key Priorities for the HR Profession Through 2015 7

popular actions that organizations plan to take in the future are


communicating a vision for action and closing gaps in capabilities
through assessment, training and staffing. These data are illustrated
in Table 4.

Endnotes

1 These data are not depicted in a table or figure.


2 U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration. (n.d.) Aging baby
boomers in a new workforce development system. Retrieved from www.doleta.gov
/Seniors/other_docs/AgingBoomers.pdf
3 Toossi, M. (2007, November). Labor force projections to 2016: More workers in their
golden years. Monthly Labor Review. Retrieved from www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2007/11
/art3full.pdf.

SHRM members can download the survey brief and executive


summary of the worldwide study, titled Creating People AdvantageHow to Address HR Challenges Worldwide Through 2015, free
of charge at www.shrm.org/surveys.

Methodology
In October 2007, the World Federation of Personnel Management Associations (WFPMA) and Boston Consulting Group
(BCG) conducted a worldwide study to identify and address key
HR priorities. SHRM partnered with WFPMA and BCG in the
collection of the data for the U.S. portion of the 83 countries and
markets represented in the study. This survey brief presents the key
U.S. findings from the study. An e-mail that included a link to the
online survey was sent to 4,000 randomly selected SHRM members
(directors and above) from organizations with 1,000 or more
employees. Members who were students, consultants, academics,
located internationally or had no e-mail address on file were
excluded from the sampling frame. Participants were also asked
to forward the survey link to non-HR professionals to obtain the
perspectives of this group. Of these, 3,595 e-mails were successfully
delivered, and 526 individuals responded, yielding a response rate
of 15%. Of the 526 individuals who responded to the survey, 28
responses were submitted by non-HR professionals. The survey was
online for a period of three weeks, and several e-mail reminders, a
fax and a phone call reminder were sent to nonrespondents in an
effort to increase response rates.

4 Casner-Lotto, J., & Barrington, L. (2006). Are they really ready to work? United States:
The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, Partnership for 21st
Century Skills and Society for Human Resource Management.
5 Society for Human Resource Management. (2007). 2007 advances in e-recruiting:
Leveraging the .jobs domain: A survey report by SHRM. Alexandria, VA: Author.
6 Ibid.
7 Society for Human Resource Management. (n.d.). SHRM HR glossary of terms.
Retrieved October 3, 2008, from www.shrm.org/hrresources/hrglossary%5Fpublished/.
8 Benedict, A. (2007). SHRM 2007 change management survey report. Alexandria, VA:
Society for Human Resource Management.

SHRM Survey Brief

About SHRM
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the worlds largest association
devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 250,000 members in over
140 countries, the Society serves the needs of HR professionals and advances the interests of
the HR profession. Founded in 1948, SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the
United States and subsidiary offices in China and India. Visit SHRM Online at www.shrm.org.

Media Contact
Julie Malveaux
julie.malveaux@shrm.org
(703) 535-6273
USA
SHRM
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Phone: (800) 283-7476
Email: shrm@shrm.org
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Fax: +91.22.67078711

Project Team
Project leader: Jessica Frincke, survey research analyst
Project contributors: Evren Esen, manager, survey program
Jennifer Schramm, manager, workplace trends and forecasting
Steve Williams, Ph.D., SPHR, director, research
External contributors: Kristi Acuff, SPHR, VP and chief HR officer, Alyeska Pipeline Services Company
Thomas Belker, SPHR, GPHR, managing director, human resources, OBI Group,
and member of SHRMs Global Special Expertise Panel
Lewis Benavides, SPHR, associate vice president for human resources, Texas
Womans University, and member of SHRMs Workplace Diversity Special
Expertise Panel
Jeff Chambers, former VP, HR, SAS
Fernn R. Cepero, PHR, vice president, human resources, The YMCA of Greater
Rochester
Laura Lea Clinton, GPHR, director, human resources management, CARE
USA, and a member of SHRMs Employee Relations Special Expertise Panel
Libby Sartain, former executive vice president of HR and chief people officer,
Yahoo!
Melanie Young, VP, corporate HR and services, Arrow Electronics
Editor: Katya Scanlan, copy editor
Design: Scott Harris, senior graphic designer

This survey brief is published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
All content is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as a guaranteed
outcome. The Society for Human Resource Management cannot accept responsibility
for any errors or omissions or any liability resulting from the use or misuse of any such
information.
December 2008 Society for Human Resource Management. All rights reserved.
This publication may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in
whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the Society for Human
Resource Management.
SHRM Online: www.shrm.org
SHRM Research: www.shrm.org/research
SHRM Survey Findings: www.shrm.org/surveys

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