Human resources case study

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HBR CASE STUDY

The HR manager at Medignostics sees a disaster on the horizon:The company's workforce is aging, and it can't attract young talent. But his bosses are more concerned with cutting costs here and now. How can he persuade them to take the long view?

The Cane Mutiny
Managing a Graying Workforce
by Cornelia Geissler
UMAN RESOURCES MANAGERFrank

Heberer frowned. Theinternalmail envelope he'd just torn open with great expectations contained the report he'd labored over for months. It outlined the long-terin human resources strategy he believed Medignostics needed to adopt in order to remain competitive in the next 20 years. On the title page was affixed a yellow Post-it, with the words "Not a priority" penned in the ornate handwriting of Erwin Baum, the vice presidentof HR. Noting the crispness of the binder, Heberer doubted that anyone had read beyond his cover sheet.

project. He'd done all the research, and everything he'd read pointed to a rocky road ahead. The average age ofthe German population was steadily rising, and that had real implications for the midsize pharmaceutical company's personnel. He flipped open his report to look once again at theshocking statistic: Without immigration, the country's population would fall from 82 million to 24 million by 2100. "Granted, that's a long way off," he thought, "but what could be a bigger priority than a disaster you clearly see coming?"

Heberer had timed his proposal carefully. While the executive team might He felt completely deflated. For the not have been reading many demopast six months,this had been his pet graphic studies, he trusted they'd heard
HBR's cases, which are fictional, present common managerial dilemmas and offer concrete solutions from experts.
OCTOBER 2005

H B R CASE S T U D Y • Managing a Graying Workforce

of the wildly popular bestseller Das Methusatem-Komplott (The Methuselah Conspiracy). Written by Frank Schirrmacher, an editor of the FrankfurterAllgemeine Zeitung newspaper, the book chronicled the demographic transformation occurring in Germany and seemed to be the hot topic of conversation everywhere Heberer went. The picture it painted of the future was anything but rosy. Tn just 25 years, more than a quarter of the country's population would be over age 65. That was 6% more than in America. In his report, Heberer went further to predict theeffect this

take so long to find qualified candidates and wondered if he should contact a recruiting agency. A knock on the door interrupted his train of thought "Frank, can I speak to you for a moment?" His HR colleague Rita Wachten sounded troubled. "It's about Matthias Hausmann."The 58-year old Hausmann had been with Medignostics for more than 20 years; he'd started as a bookkeeper and workedhis way up through the accounting ranks before being moved into account management."! just spoke with his manager. Matthias's tjme away

'First the company insists on my being here full-time, and then it finds a pasture to put me out to....Tell me, Frank, when it gets to be ten years from now, will you know less about how to do your job-or more?"
from the office is becoming problematic. Hecan't always be found when decisions have to be made or when his clients call. Apparently, there's been more than one complaint." "That doesn't sound like Matthias. When did the problem start?" "In the last few months, he's taken an unusually high number of sick days." "is there something seriously the matter, do you think? He's not as young as he once was, but his energy couldn't He dropped thereport on his desk have dwindled so suddenly." and combed through the rest of his "I don't know any details," Wachten mail. Only two more applications - a said. She hesitated, then added: "But it meager yield for a job that had been might have to do with the part-time posted for three weeks on online boards statute. I've been hearing through the and in the daily press. Heberer was try- grapevine...
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