As the shape of business shifts rapidly, it’s crucial to optimize HR for the task of attracting, retaining, and motivating top talent in an evolving landscape. Many human resource practices that were effective in 2009 are now outdated. Here are the top trends in HR today, as outlined by Linda Villalobos at Insperity, along with my recommendations for how business leaders can respond with focus and agility.

10 ways the workplace is changing, and how to optimize HR to keep up

Economic volatility
While older employees have experienced the ups and downs of the economy, employees who entered the workforce after 2009 have not experienced a recession. To help them cope, I recommend that you:

  1. Provide financial education to help employee understand economic cycles and their implications for your business (and their pocketbooks).
  2. Adjust your HR recruitment and retention policies as job markets become tighter or competition for talent becomes fiercer.

Advances in HR technology
Many of the tasks that HR specialists handled can now be managed by the employees themselves. This self-service model gives your employees more control and gives staff time to think about strategic human resources optimization. To take advantage:

  1. Provide your HR department with up-to-date technology for efficiency, employee empowerment, and HR cost optimization.
  2. Hire HR specialists who have the skills to handle more complex tasks, such as data analytics and HR business strategy.

Exploding social media
Many companies have shifted from prohibiting social media during work hours to encouraging employees to share the company’s messages on their personal accounts. This approach has the potential for both great benefits and great risks. To achieve more of the former:

  1. Create a very clear policy about social media content and use.
  2. Be prepared for infractions and potential crises and have a communications plan in place to deal with them.

Focused online recruiting
Specialized job sites and new scanning tools enable recruiters to rapidly identify potential employees with desired experience and skill sets. These advances can optimize HR efficiency, as long as you:

  1. Be sure your company is utilizing up-to-date recruitment technology, especially if you are competing for hard-to-find talent.
  2. Be careful about relying too much on online screening. Many highly-talented potential employees may not pass through a tightly-woven screen because their résumés don’t contain the exact wording you have specified. Especially for more senior roles, human contact is still essential.

Remote work
People aren’t just working from home now — they’re working from anywhere there’s a WiFi connection. Some people travel the globe, living in different countries for months on end while continuing to work full-time. To optimize HR benefits for a remote-working culture:

  1. Develop strategies for building cooperation and a sense of community among employees who spend little or no time in physical proximity.
  2. Be thoughtful about the kinds of jobs that are not appropriate for remote work. There is evidence in the work-from-home vs. office debate that creative teams are more productive when they are co-located.

Interactive on-line training and development
I remember the bad old days of “programmed learning” — incredibly tedious, clunky computerized training programs. New technology and design have enabled training programs to be customized, engaging, interactive, and timely, allowing you to:

  1. Create a training and development strategy focused on the specific knowledge and skills your company needs. What are the key competencies that will carry your company forward for the next 3 to 5 years?
  2. Find or build training programs that are focused on those strategic competencies. You’ll never be satisfied with a one-size-fits-all solution. And don’t forget that good old-fashioned classroom teaching is sometimes still the best option.

Generational diversity
For the first time in recent history, many companies have four to five generations working together. Effectively managing a 75-year-old and a 25-year-old requires flexibility! To achieve HR optimization for all groups:

  1. Beware the myths around generational differences in the workplace, many of which are unsupported by data. Often, individual members of different generations resemble each other more than they do the stereotype of their own generation.
  2. Encourage a culture of mutual respect and openness across generations. Most elders can benefit from the tech expertise of their juniors, and most young people can learn from the wisdom and experience of their seniors.

Disaster response
Most companies have long had policies for dealing with a fire or other disasters. In recent years, unfortunately, the frequency of incidents of workplace violence has increased. These tragedies require a different kind of response, and force HR to:  

  1. Develop and practice emergency procedures for dealing with violence in the workplace.
  2. Create employee assistance programs and other supports to provide help to employees in the aftermath of a violent incident.

Contract and temporary workers
The use of contingent workers continues to expand. Using these workers provides workforce flexibility and can reduce staffing costs. To win those benefits, however, HR must:

  1. Design contracts that are mutually beneficial and respectful. I have seen contracts that are practically indentured servitude. If you want to attract top talent, you must treat your contract workers as valued contributors.
  2. Think about how to build a sense of loyalty and community with your contingent workers.

Changing government regulations
Over the past decade the extent and pace of change in government intervention has increased. Healthcare benefits and harassment policies are two areas of significant change. To avoid being caught out, HR teams must devote substantial energy just to staying up-to-date. Non-compliance can carry severe penalties for your company.

Since I started working as a management psychologist, the role of HR professionals has changed dramatically, from being primarily order-takers to being strategic partners with senior management. The shape-shifting business environment will require continued optimization by HR leaders. Perhaps even more important, however, is the need for all business leaders to get involved in responding to these business-critical trends in talent management.

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