Learn about fascinating HR trends that are emerging in the human resources space in 2019 and beyond.


We live in the age of disruption, guided by emerging technologies, public policy developments and shifting cultural values. While every industry, job and organization races to keep pace with rapid changes, the human resources industry is on the front line of responding to movements in how we live and work. HR professionals, armed by new technology amid a deluge of innovation, are charged with implementing solutions across all phases of talent management while also agilely accommodating the evolving expectations of employees and job seekers.


According to Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2019 report, a staggering 73% of HR leaders predict significant industry disruption in the next three years—up from just 26% in 2018. For example, more than half of the HR departments surveyed believe that artificial intelligence automation (AI) will replace one in five of their organization’s current jobs. However, AI and automation will also create 58 million net new jobs by 2022, according to estimates from theWorld Economic Forum, which will keep recruiters and hiring managers busy for years to come.

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While new HR technology trends and evolving values are disrupting talent management and changing how companies operate, the workforce is still people-centered.
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The unprecedented restructuring of the workplace—powered by smart technology—presents boundless opportunities for the HR industry, well into the future. But the shifting workplace and a widening skills gap also demand that a company’s HR team aptly respond to emerging trends to stay ahead of the curve. Organizations that fail to implement new workforce strategies will fall behind the competition when it comes to talent management and meeting human capital needs.


The following HR trends are impacting companies of all sizes across various industries and represent tremendous opportunities for HR leaders to adapt, plan and strategize for the future of work:

  1. Organizations are increasing their employee engagement spending to create experiential workplaces.


    Employee engagement—the level of emotional connection, involvement and commitment that an employee has with their organization—is a critical tool for maintaining a healthy bottom line. Dedication and enthusiasm grow when employees feel valued and empowered in the workplace. In turn, employee engagement also increases employee retention, enhances performance and maximizes productivity.


    Companies suffer when employee engagement is low and unfortunately many companies currently suffer from poor engagement. As Gallup reports, only 13% of over 31 million respondents worldwide are truly engaged at work. HR professionals are observing the problem with 43% reporting low or declining employee engagement as a top concern for their organization, according to Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2019 report.


    It is expected that organizations will respond to these concerns by ramping up efforts to boost employee engagement. More specifically, these efforts will be aimed at redesigning the employee experience. Organizations will strive to create a company culture that people want to contribute to and be an integral part of each workday—not just a place where they report to so they can receive a paycheck. Some examples of this effort might include regular pulse surveys and transparency reports, employee-centric events, experiential onboarding programs, rewards programs, thank you cards, employee-led teaching sessions, wellness programs, social media campaigns, personal coaching, and stay interviews to retain top talent.


    The added investment in employee engagement will likely pay off for companies, as experiential organizations have more than four times the average profit and more than two times the average revenue.


  2. Organizations are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) technology to eliminate unconscious bias.


    While many companies want to remove unconscious bias from the hiring process, it proves to be difficult because these predispositions operate automatically and act without our awareness. Furthermore, there are far too many biases to manually remove them from our decision-making processes.


    Unconscious bias is an ingrained human trait and some experts therefore suggest that the best way to overcome biases is via non-human solutions. A notable feature of AI is its potential to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias in the hiring process. With AI, candidates are sourced, screened and filtered through large quantities of data. The programs combine data points and use algorithms to identify who will likely be the best candidate. These data points are looked at objectively, completely removing the biases, assumptions and oversight that humans are susceptible to.


    AI for human resource systems can be also programmed to automatically disregard a candidate’s demographic information, such as gender, race, and age. It can take a step beyond protecting the basic demographic information and also ignore other details that may indicate racial or socioeconomic status, such as school names and zip codes.


    AI offers the opportunity for human resource professionals to cross-check results with the processes in place, identifying where unconscious bias may exist. Unlike traditional methods, the results of AI can be tested and validated by creating a profile based on actual credentials of successful employees, providing hard data that either validates or disputes beliefs about what qualifications to search for in candidates.


  3. More companies will use virtual reality-based sexual harassment training.


    Though training programs are widely in place to address sexual harassment, it still remains a pervasive problem in the workplace. Historically, sexual harassment has been viewed by companies through a legal and risk mitigation lens. With many companies still drawing from content that focuses on how to avoid litigation, they are not being prescribed actual strategies to prevent harassment in the first place.


    But some companies are now employing virtual reality (VR) programs to prevent workplace incidents, placing employees directly in training scenarios that unfold depending on how the user reacts. By mimicking conversations, VR-based programs invoke a deeper sense of empathy and make employees more acutely aware of social cues beyond just what they’re saying to another employee—such as eye contact, body language and personal space.


    VR is an effective sexual harassment prevention tool—more so than the traditional videos, presentations or handouts—because it allows employees to learn under the same conditions they would be in if the situation were to actually occur in the workplace. As more personal stories of harassment are shared and society takes measures to address the epidemic of sexual harassment in the workplace, it is likely that more companies will update their approach and adopt immersive VR-based programs.


  4. Companies are implementing remote-friendly work arrangements that enhance engagement.


    To compete with the gig economy and respond to demands for work-life balance, more employers are taking a cue from startups to offer flexible work arrangements, including flextime and telecommuting options. As coworking spaces grow in popularity and millennials and Gen Z become more prominent in the workplace, organizations are pushed to recognize the value of hiring remote workers. Flextime arrangements are also seen as a means of accommodating rising demand for work-life balance.


    It is clear that the demand for flexible working is increasing year on year. Worker demand for remote working capability has reached 75%, up from 70% in 2017.


    The benefits of a remote workforce go beyond just higher employee satisfaction and well-being though. It has been found that remote workers can be more productive, healthier and help companies reduce costs. Furthermore, it allows companies to draw from a larger pool of prospective employees to attract the world’s best talent.


    Upcoming trends in remote work will find companies addressing some of the engagement and IT challenges that arise when your employees are logging in from locations around the globe. Companies will explore specialized technology regulations, onboarding, training, engagement, wellness initiatives, and events aimed at engaging the remote workforce.


  5. Learning and development (L&D) is becoming more personalized.


    The golden age of choice, flexibility and control is upon us. As consumers, we are accustomed to enjoying personalized experiences based on our unique needs. For example, we can customize our news feeds to show us the updates and specific topics we want to see. Netflix recommends programming we may be interested in, based on our previous activity.


    Historically, HR practices have focused on standardizing L&D for a company, offering “one-size-fits-all” solutions that put the company’s needs as the starting point. But, going hand in hand with the need for higher employee engagement, the traditional approaches to L&D are no longer cutting it in the new workplace. The expectations for training programs have advanced from simple content tutorials to adaptive machine learning experiences that are tailored to the unique needs, levels, functions, preferences, and interests of each individual employee.


    Companies that adopt personalized L&D tools will save money in the long run, turn out more productive employees and make processes more effective. This is because personalization detects behavior patterns and reveals correlations in such behavior among employees. As similarities and parts start to be identified, employees can then be segmented accordingly. Through this segmentation, HR leaders are able to effectively deliver relevant L&D content that meets the individual needs and goals of each team member.


  6. Companies are using people analytics to improve processes.

    For years, people analytics was considered just a small part of the HR function. But companies today are using people analytics as a critical business instrument that can be applied at every level of an organization, ranging from the recruiting process all the way to talent management.


    When it comes to performance management, people analytics helps remove the human bias that often comes with evaluations. It also allows for an evaluation of both the process and outcome, which can help HR teams separate variables (such as luck) from real skill. Overall, people analytics can help paint a more clear, structured and honest picture of an organization’s performance.


    When it comes to staffing, people analytics can increase the chances of finding the right people for the right jobs. It can also be useful for building employee engagement and satisfaction, as it cultivates data about employees’ attitudes and moods. It can also facilitate collaboration within an organization, providing insights about how well certain people and groups work together.


    As staffing, collaboration and performance processes are improved, people analytics can then be leveraged to help the HR team uncover employee behavior patterns, track employee development within the company and monitor employee engagement.


  7. The employer brand is becoming a critical recruitment and retention tool.


    In today’s competitive hiring landscape, the HR department is being tasked with marketing the company to recruits and employees. People are increasingly wanting to work for a company whose values align with their own. In an international Glassdoor study, 77% of workers said they would consider a company's culture before applying and millennials reported that they care more about work culture than salary. Meanwhile, applicants and employees also have access to more information than ever before. For example, numerous websites allow for employees to write about the company culture and social media can allow for partners and customers to share experiences.


    The employer brand is therefore becoming an important tool for HR, often deciding if an applicant will say yes to a job offer or whether a current employee will stay long term. Applicants are coming to interviews not just aware of an employer’s advertising campaigns and brand communications. They also readily read up on the company’s charitable giving and the way it treats employees. Meanwhile, current employees are more conscious of the company’s corporate social responsibility activities and the way it treats partners and contractors. If values don’t align, a company could miss out on prospective talent and lose valuable employees.


  8. Robotics and autonomous (HR technology) agents are saving valuable time.


    Within the realm of AI, many companies are incorporating chatbots and apps into their HR systems. This can provide immediate and consistent answers to common questions related to holiday leave, compensation, benefits, company policies and legal rights.


    As self-service platforms, the bots and apps free up time for both employees and employers while still delivering the right information at the right time. This HR technology also allows the team to focus on more urgent questions and complex issues that require special attention.


  9. Nudge-based technologies are facilitating work flow.

    HR technology is being implemented to suggest behaviors for employees and improve workflow. For example, a software program can monitor employee activity at a computer workstation and, after a certain amount of time, send a message to the employee that it might be time to take a break. Technology can also analyze data from e-mail, calendars and internal collaboration systems to measure a manager’s productivity and provide suggestions for how they might be able to improve their team’s performance. It can also let them know how much time they spent with each of their direct reports or how many emails were exchanged ahead of a project.


    Nudge-based technologies can also be used in lieu of repetitive communication from the HR department. For example, automatic reminders can be sent to managers to fill out performance evaluations.


  10. The skills gap can only be closed by hiring lifelong learners and offering constant reskilling.


    Gone are the days of vertical careers, fixed titles and detailed job descriptions. The workforce is shifting from fixed job titles and detailed job descriptions to ever-revolving roles. It doesn’t matter how talented or motivated new hires fresh out of university are—nor what stellar technology training they’ve received. At the current pace of technology growth, chances are that many of these technical skills will be obsolete within a few short years.


    It is therefore no longer enough to hire for the skills in demand today. Companies need to focus on hiring lifelong learners who have the ability to constantly learn new skills and navigate technology that might not even yet exist. This often requires a deeper assessment of a candidate’s soft skills and personality, not just their past history. To help delve into these traits—which do not often appear on a candidate’s resume—some organizations are implementing virtual reality, automated simulations and gaming tools in their recruiting. These HR technologies can help them observe how a candidate handles unfamiliar situations in real-time and how effectively they absorb new information to troubleshoot nebulous problems.


    Because many of the skills of tomorrow don’t even exist yet, employers won’t be able to always adequately recruit for them. Some companies are looking inward to develop these skills within their current workforce, providing current employees with constant access to training and offering them meaningful incentives to continuously reskill.


    While technology demands new skills and experiences from workers, the hiring landscape is also becoming more competitive for employers. These compound trends can make it difficult for HR teams to keep up with hiring needs. Instead of constantly hiring for new skills and restructuring staff, HR departments can help fill the widening skills by ensuring that lifelong learning becomes an embedded part of company culture.


    The future of HR innovation presents both challenges and opportunities for companies around the globe as they compete for top talent. While new HR technology trends and evolving values are disrupting talent management and profoundly changing how companies operate, the workforce is still people-centered. As companies look to adopt new workforce strategies, the successful ones will look at these bourgeoning trends through the lens of the human experience to identify what will best inspire and innovate.


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