Forecasting 2018's top three HR trends

With transformation still a key theme, we take a look at the three towering issues that could well reinvent HR practices this year.

In looking at the new year ahead, it only makes sense to also look back at the topics and issues that dominated HR conversations last year. In HRM Magazine’s 2017 retrospective series alone, a couple of commonly recurring themes emerged.

First among these was employee experience and engagement: one of the most clicked-on news stories of the year centred on a report that claimed Singaporean professionals were the least productive in the world. One also cannot reflect on 2017 without bringing up workplace culture. Uber’s seemingly never- ending woes put office culture in the spotlight, while the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal exploded into a global phenomenon centred on the #MeToo hashtag.

Another buzzword that came up time and again was “change”. Change is a basic fact of life, but technological advancements have completely transformed the way organisations do business at exponential, unpredictable rates. Some of HRM Magazine’s most popular articles from last year were about understanding and navigating the ever-shifting business landscape from an HR perspective.

These trends from last year look set to shape the HR agenda again in 2018 - as this forecast for HR practitioners in Asia and around the world reveals.

Technology over the long haul

With the Singaporean government’s continuing drive to strengthen technology infrastructure and build a “Smart Nation”, digital transformation is likely to remain a key priority for many in the coming year. Recruitment firm Robert Walters notes that e-commerce, insurance and logistics will be some of the key sectors driving this continuing digital transformation.

Additionally, as millennials become the most dominant segment of the workforce, it has become increasingly vital for organisations to address the workplace expectations of these “digital natives”.

On a day-to-day basis, this could mean any number of things. Employment agency Randstad says that in 2018, “more organisations will place data at the forefront of strategic workforce planning.” This will include the development of metrics that help HR leaders understand “how to build better teams, make more processes agile or lean, analyse the utilisation of resources across the company, and truly understand the output of cross-functional teams.”

Karen Cariss, CEO of PageUp, a cloud-based talent management technology provider, agrees. “HR analytics will expose gaps in employee productivity, highlight ways to improve engagement, uncover what motivates employees, and map the overall employment experience,” she says.

“Machine learning algorithms will (also) apply text and pattern recognition analytics to enrich the insights delivered via employee surveys,” she adds. This will help to give HR professionals an even more accurate reflection of employee sentiment, engagement and productivity in real time.

“HR professionals will have the tools to be able to better make data-driven workforce decisions,” Cariss predicts.

Improved data insights will also help organisations move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to talent management; instead enabling them to take on a customised, targeted perspective.

But the potential of technology in talent management isn’t just in data. Andrew Chamberlain, the chief economist of employment website Glassdoor, envisions new uses for Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technology in enhancing the employee experience.

“[This could be by] providing simulations of tasks and work challenges, better preparing workers for real-world situations before they have to face them,” he suggests.

Chamberlain expects such technology to also revolutionise recruitment. He says candidates can soon expect interactive job advertisements that allow them to take a VR tour of their future Australian workplace while sitting in Singapore, and they will also be able to complete virtual assessments during their recruitment process.

However, HR must be mindful of balancing the human touch with these technical advancements.

“As companies pace themselves in the bid to digitise, so too will the HR function in identifying the specific technologies that can be automated to increase our efficiency. For instance, we need to be mindful of how we can retain aspects that relate to human interactions,” notes Ian Jongho Im, Head of Talent at MoneySmart. 

Robot revolution

Technology that can think for itself was once only fantasised about in movies like Blade Runner, but with the rise of bots and automation, artificial intelligence (AI) is very much a key facet of 2018’s digital transformation promise.

The 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends survey found that 41% of respondents had already adopted AI technologies in their workplace, or were in the midst of doing so.

“Revolutionary new AI tools are complementing people’s skills in HR, upending many established and easy-to-automate roles,” notes Chamberlain.

But even as AI increasingly automates various tasks – especially the tedious administrative ones – HR need not worry about being left behind.  For instance, if AI-enabled chatbots increasingly overtake candidate-to-job matching, recruiters will then have more time to actually talk to candidates and run negotiations – making for a more positive talent acquisition experience for everyone.

Employee experience

Last year, talent outsourcing firm KellyOCG found that a new talent shortage was looming in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific – and that 75% of C-suite leaders in Singapore, and 61% in the Asia-Pacific, expected this lack of talent to disrupt their business prospects over the coming three years.

In such a talent drought, companies must consider if their compensation packages still reflect market realities.

“Wage growth, while still rather anaemic, will gain momentum in 2018 due to the intense hunt for talent,” says Jim Link, Randstad’s chief HR officer. “Those wishing to hire will need to offer strong pay packages to attract the best talent.”

It is also perhaps an opportunity to stand out by offering less traditional perks, such as wellness benefits, and competitive parental leave opportunities. HR leaders will also be looking to further develop the talent that already exists within their organisations. When change is the only constant, it is imperative for an organisation’s workforce to be continually levelling up.

“Employers will need to become more focused on training their existing or future hires. The talent that exists doesn’t have the depth of skills needed in many cases,” says Jodi Chavez, president of Randstad Professionals and Life Sciences.

But Cariss says this shouldn’t mean organisations rely on traditional learning models alone – many of these have already hit their use-by dates. Self-directed micro-learning is the way of the future, she says.

“Expect to see more businesses move away from traditional, structured programmes, toward self-directed, social, informal learning platforms,” she says. “HR and businesses will play a crucial role in delivering learning that is continuous, consumable, relevant, and available on-demand.”

Workplace equality and diversity

It would be remiss to talk about the workplace in 2018 without acknowledging equality and diversity, especially given how the #MeToo phenomenon dominated headlines at the end of 2017. Even since then, December and January have been packed with developments and announcements that speak for themselves in setting a clear workplace equality agenda for 2018.

Iceland, for instance, kicked off the year by legislating for equal pay – the first country in the world to make it illegal for men to be paid more than women for the same work. Meanwhile, Facebook published its sexual harassment policy with every intention of beginning what might be a difficult dialogue for its own organisation and community.

“There’s no question that it is complicated and challenging to get this right,” admitted Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer and Lori Goler, Vice-President of People, in a joint statement.  “What we can do is be as transparent as possible, share best practices, and learn from one another — recognising that policies will evolve as we gain experience.”

As 2017 closed, Microsoft became one of the first major companies to get rid of ‘forced arbitration clauses’ that require employees to settle workplace disputes through a private process. This is cheaper and faster than having claims dealt with through a court, but also opaque. Victims of workplace harassment have complained that these processes have allowed poor behaviour to continue unchecked.

In the entertainment industry – where the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal originated – women leaders also launched a new workplace equality campaign called “Time’s Up”, whose first initiative was the formation of a Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace. The Commission intends to push for safer, fairer, and more accountable workplaces.

As noted by Kathleen Kennedy, the President of Lucasfilm who helped to form the Commission, “[safe and] inclusive work environments result in stronger and more successful businesses.”

2017 made the business case for positive workplace environments, and 2018 looks to be the year when employers walk the talk, or face the long-term consequences to their employer brands.

What does it mean for 2018?

Undoubtedly, 2018 will see the launch of more campaigns, policies, and initiatives aimed at making the workplace a fairer and more inclusive environment. Meanwhile, the continued rise of technology – and all the disruptions that brings – will necessitate the development of a change-agile leadership and workforce.

Unsurprisingly, then, “there will still be a high demand for HR experts who are business-savvy and have change management experience,” as per a recent report by Robert Walters. Learning and development, particularly leadership development and organisational design, are likely to come into focus in this tech-driven, constantly changing landscape.

HR leaders must step up and leverage their seat at the table in preparing the workplace and workforce for the sea of change ahead. They need to ride the wave – or risk drowning instead.  

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