Too often, the human resource professional is so caught up in putting out daily fires that it can be difficult to take a big picture, 365-degree view of the industry. Taking the time to plan and prepare for the future is essential to a successful HR strategy long-term, and that’s why we sat down with two HR leaders to discuss their thoughts on the industry and the biggest opportunities for success and failure in 2018.

With the U.S. reaching nearly full employment, recruitment is front and center for many companies this year. Recruiters are finding that highly qualified candidates have multiple offers and that the job market is almost entirely candidate-driven.

We chatted with Jim Cichanski, the president and CEO at Flex HR, Inc., for his insights. He told us recruiting talent was one of the top reasons clients call his company for help.

“We are under 4.5%, which technically means we are at full employment, and in some locations, we are under 1% unemployment. With that trend in mind, companies have to be really proactive. We need to retrain hiring managers to make recruiting their number one task, not the 10th. The candidate only lives in the open market for a few days. You need to have an offer letter drafted and ready to go at the interview, and be prepared to make an offer to a qualified candidate immediately,” Cichanski said.

Debra Franklin, Esq., SPHR, a Reading, Pennsylvania-based attorney, said recruitment is the most immediate challenge for her clients.

“Big employers are evaluating the skills gaps and working locally and regionally to develop talent,” Franklin explained. “If you are a large employer, you should be partnering with high schools, trade schools, and universities. That means going to job fairs, engaging with students, talking about your work environment and offering extensive paid internships. These future employees need to be taking courses this semester to fill jobs in two, five and ten years for your company, so invest now,” she said.

In light of the #MeToo movement, we asked what companies should be doing and what trends consultants see around workplace training.

“We’re seeing a lot of activity in the area of employee training, especially around sexual harassment. This is an opportunity to make major cultural shifts, and in many companies, the light is finally being shined on this issue,” Franklin said. “Employers and employees are seeing this in a different light and understanding how gender bias and discrimination impacts the whole company.” Cichanski added, “We also need to take salary history questions out of job applications and interview questions. This can lead to discrimination and Equal Pay Act violations.”

Franklin explained that leadership must be trained first, so they lead the commitment to cultural change. “To really achieve change, you have to start at the most senior level. Leadership must demonstrate their support. They should go through training first and then make time and financial commitments to continue the efforts. It can’t be a one-time session,” she said. “There is an opportunity to change workplace cultures, and it’s the biggest opportunity I see for 2018.”

Cichanski said he would like to see small and mid-sized companies be more proactive. “They think it can’t happen to them, but now is when they need to be evaluating the workplace and making changes.”

He cited a specific trend that he has seen over and over again in the last year that impacts women in the workplace: managers failing to understand accommodations for pregnancy, which causes problems for pregnant employees and puts the company at risk.

“As HR professionals, we need to better educate and train managers about what it means to provide workplace accommodations for pregnancy. I’m seeing an upswing in leadership trying to do too much for the pregnant employee. They basically have her stop doing her job. That’s not appropriate; it robs the employee of opportunity and work satisfaction. Accommodation needs to be made based on physician advice and safety. Talk through what accommodations are needed and if they are reasonable. Many times, very little accommodation is needed at all, and managers shouldn’t be telling women what they can and cannot do because they are pregnant unless there is a real safety issue, like exposure to chemicals in the workplace. HR needs to have policies in place for these types of concerns.”

Another outside force impacting everything in HR from recruitment to policies to safety is the opioid crisis and evolving marijuana laws and cultural shifts. First, consider the fact that the  Department of Health and Human Services estimates 11.5 million people misused prescription opioids in 2016 (the most recent numbers available), and 116 people died every day due to overdose. This impacts the ability of companies to maintain a drug-free workplace and find candidates for jobs, and it can even negatively impact employees who may not be addicted but have a family member that is suffering. Both our experts agreed that companies that are addressing issues proactively are the best positioned to succeed.

This includes taking steps to support, treat, and prevent addiction. Companies should include:

  • Addiction programs covered by insurance for employees who ask for help
  • Employee assistance programs that offer a predefined number of free counseling sessions annually to help employees deal with stress, depression, and family issues
  • Comprehensive drug testing
  • Clear guidelines and policies about a drug-free workplace

Medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states, Guam, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. In 2018, companies must understand their local and state regulation and how it impacts the workplace.

“Now is the time to write policies about medical and recreational marijuana use, not after an employee discloses they have an approved medical condition and a prescription,” Franklin said. “This puts employers in a tough spot. It’s illegal under federal law, but if a person has a prescription, there is also a duty to reasonably accommodate. HR teams need to be working with local counsel to determine what their policies are now.”

Cichanski says his company has assisted HR teams to update more than 150 employee handbooks in the last 12 months, and that much of these policy updates are around marijuana use.

Another expected trend in 2018 is more states requiring paid family leave or a minimum amount of sick time that is paid. New York is implementing a guaranteed family plan on a rapid timeline, and many companies aren’t aware that they are impacted. Another 12 states are considering similar rules, and it’s a hot topic at the federal level, as well.

“Another huge movement this year is that more and more states are putting in some kind of paid sick leave laws, and some local cities are creating even better policies for their employees. Companies must be ready to follow these requirements, and, in a best-case scenario, get out in front of it by offering paid family leave,” Cichanski said.

From training to policies, HR professionals have an amazing opportunity right now to be an invaluable resource to their leadership teams while they navigate through these challenges and opportunities.

About Debra Franklin, Esq., SPHR: Ms. Franklin is the managing partner of Franklin Law Firm, LLC, which offers legal services and counseling to clients in the area of labor and employment law, as well as customized training and preventative practice and policy development to businesses of all sizes.

About Jim Cichanski: Jim is the founder, president, and CEO of Flex HR, Inc. He has 30+ years experience in human resources, holding senior-level positions in companies that were privately held, pre-IPO, foreign-owned, joint venture, Fortune 50 and one labeled the “fastest growing F1000 in America.” He has a solid background in high tech, manufacturing, services, and management. Learn more at


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