5 key HR trends as we enter 2020

December 12, 2019 Eric Mosley

10-minute read

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The global technology revolution, specifically the emergence and adoption of artificial intelligence, continues to change the world. While technology dominates the headlines, let’s not forget that the driving force behind every single innovation has been human(s) – employees who believed in their organization’s vision, and were empowered to do the best work of their lives.

Today, with unemployment at 3.6%, organizations recognize the competitive differentiator of a talented and highly engaged workforce. So where do they find committed employees? How do they retain, engage, and inspire them to reach their fullest potential?

The answer is simple – in their own organization.

As we head into a new decade, the onus to provide a positive employee experience is on the organization. To be successful, companies need to win the hearts and minds of employees. They need to create experiences – moments that matter – where employees feel appreciated and energized to invest their entire selves into the workplace. If employees experience higher levels of humanity at work, they tend to perform better, are more likely to exert extra effort at their jobs, are less likely to quit, and are more likely to be vested in an organization’s success.

Forward-thinking organizations are looking past the old way of thinking and building new ways to empower and inspire today’s global, modern workforce.

It’s not about asking how to get more from employees. Rather, it’s how to give more – to provide a more human employee experience that strengthens connections between people and teams, and, ultimately, drives stronger employee and company performance.

According to Gartner, only 9% of CHROs agree that their organization is prepared for the future of work. And the future of work is complex. As we look to 2020, these are the five trends I see defining the future of work. Companies that embrace these concepts will position themselves well for the start of this new decade.

The convergence of AI and humans

AI will augment jobs, not replace them. Instead of artificial intelligence, let’s consider it augmented intelligence. The conversation is shifting to how AI and humans are working together, and human skills will always be a premium. AI is creating jobs of the future, not destroying jobs.

Previous industries were driven by steam, coal, and electricity. This one is driven by data. Data has become the new oil, but you need humans to articulate the value and make it actionable.

AI will enable more human interactions in the workplace. AI will continue to play a large role in HR departments, as it shines a spotlight on moments of authenticity that cannot be extracted from other data. It helps companies better understand their employees at points throughout their time with the company, starting from the moment they’re hired. AI helps leaders discover how work is being done, where biases exist, who the mentors are, and when employees might leave.

AI has accelerated the need for a more human workplace.

At the heart of the modern business enterprise lies a seeming paradox: The more our machines and computers take over tasks once performed by humans, the more attention needs to be paid to the most human characteristics. Rather than diminishing humans in the workplace, technology is steadily increasing the value of our most human qualities.

We are not passive observers of these changes. If you are a leader today, you are right in the middle of it, making and adapting to change within your own domains. Building a more effective workplace means creating cultures that best express our values as much as our value propositions. The future of work will be determined by the choices we make about how humans live alongside their technological creations, and also how humans choose to interact in the new environment. That means using AI, robotics, and networks as tools to further each organization’s mission and beliefs.

For the business of managing humans, it’s helpful to think of AI in the same way people thought of computing 65 years ago, about the time IBM mainframes became affordable for large businesses: It is a tool that enhances logical human processes to an almost infinite degree, but it is not a replica of a human mind. Like any tool, it replaces or amplifies human effort and frees the human to turn their attention to higher tasks. That's why the future of work is human.

The business imperative of corporate social responsibility

The workplace is also becoming a driving force for progress and change around the world. Once, most people looked outside of business to answer big problems – to government, church, or national culture. Now, the power of businesses to make change has increased relative to other institutions because businesses have to adapt faster than governments or other institutions. Whether inspired by social pressure or self-interest, leading companies are adopting a moral case for their role in the betterment of society. They have listened to the arguments, often made by employees, that their responsibilities go beyond the bottom line.

Employees are increasingly looking for opportunities to conduct meaningful work.

According to “The Future of Work is Human,” a 2019 Workhuman® Analytics & Research Institute report, workers ranked meaningful work as the most important aspect of their career, beating out positive company culture, compensation and perks, a supportive manager, and a fun team. Because of this, companies are changing their people strategies and shifting from the traditional approach. This new approach will be much more focused on employee recognition and effectively uniting their employees with one culture and one direction. Business models and world point of view are becoming intrinsically entwined.

Employees don’t want to work for a socially irresponsible entity. Employees have deep concern and passion to make the world a better place for themselves, their children, and for future generations. Activism is incredibly important to employees and is now very much part of the conversation.

The value of a diverse and inclusive workplace

As our understanding of diversity and inclusion expands, it's clear that what began as a moral good has grown into a business necessity. What matters is that people of all kinds bring different capabilities to the organization. Diversity of life experience, opinion, point of view, cultural reference, understanding, talent, knowledge, and temperament magnifies and multiplies your resources. The creative collisions that spark innovation are fed by differences in your workforce, not just similarities. And in a fast-changing, fully connected global market, it's one of the few ways to ensure continuous growth and innovation.

People want to be seen for who they are and all that they are, but, unfortunately, conscious and unconscious biases exist. If we raise awareness of these biases in the moment and accept that they exist, we might be able to disrupt their propagation and act to end them. Maybe we have a hope, over time, of changing those behaviors. In the past, identifying them was a matter of opinion or stupendous self-awareness. But now, there are tools that can help do the job.

In 2020, employers will look to take their diversity and inclusion strategies beyond recruitment and minimum legal compliance, and implement policies and programs that foster real inclusion in the workplace. To become more inclusive, staff need to feel valued and accepted, without having to conform to previously defined norms.

Companies that celebrate positive practices and give all staff a voice to recognize and reward employee contributions can value differences and break down barriers to inclusion.

Companies will continue to close the gender gap. In 2020, we’ll see more women promoted into the C-suite and companies will continue to prioritize seating women on corporate boards. By having more women in power, companies can achieve greater trust between employees and employers and help promote change in the workplace.

Companies will also pay greater attention toward LGBTQ workplace rights. As human beings, employees want to contribute to a workplace that’s positive, joyous, and inclusive. Companies will continue to elevate diversity, inclusion, and belonging to be a cultural imperative through constant vigilance, education, and re-education.

And the neurodiversity population – members of your workforce who could be autistic, dyslexic, or perhaps have attention deficit hyperactive disorder or social anxiety – demands inclusion. Oftentimes these are incredibly talented individuals.

Moving from data collection to human connection

The most competitive companies are evolving in the direction of the most human qualities: inspiration, social connection, diversity, individual empowerment, emotional intelligence, an aptitude for learning, and adaptation. The least competitive companies cling to top-down, slow-moving hierarchies. They are in a race to the bottom, unwilling or unable to adapt their practices to an agile and empowered world. They are caught in a doom cycle, unable to attract the best talent and becoming steadily less competitive.

Administrative applications make old routines more efficient, but they don’t change the way people interact, collaborate, innovate, and create in the new agile way of working.

Instead, they make sure people are conforming to the way they are set up. In many places, they become tools of bureaucracy, the sworn enemy of innovation, creativity, and individuality.

While administrative applications focus on process, human applications focus on people. Forward-thinking companies are investing in HR software that is moving beyond processes to experiences. There’s a place for applicant tracking systems, learning management systems, and talent management systems, but the shift to employee-centered moments and interactions is upon us. The business value of relationship data is at the forefront, and there’s data science to validate these connections.

Human applications are designed to build and support relationships among people, increase alignment among employees in terms of shared values, shared goals, and shared culture.

They work to instill a feeling of inclusion and belonging among diverse individuals, whose common ground is the “village” of their workplace. They bring people together through feedback and support, recognizing effort, and celebrating achievement. Above all, they promote connectivity, engagement, and well-being in each individual employee in a way that is natural, because they are built on informal, moment-by-moment communication. They give employees, leaders, and managers the ability to express their thoughts and ideas, to support one another, and to bring people together as they pursue goals and get results.

Ensuring workplace rights for all

Forward-thinking companies will increasingly become stewards of what is fair and just for their people. Companies will become more attuned to employee expectations – delivering on an aspirational vision of what a workplace can be: a place where people deserve to grow to their greatest potential through training, feedback, and rewards. A place where people feel secure to express their views and ideas, with respect for themselves and others. A place where people can use their talents and voice for good. A place that supports environmental, social, and economic sustainability.

An authentic workplace promise shows next-level commitment to delivering what employees want and demand in a great workplace: cultures that authentically deliver meaningful work, gratitude, growth, a sense of belonging, work-life balance, opportunities to be heard, and the twin expectations of accountability and equality on behalf of every employee.

There is reason to believe that the time is now for workplace rights to become commonly accepted. In August 2019, the Business Roundtable, for the first time in 41 years, redefined the purpose of a corporation. Instead of insisting that public corporations exist primarily to serve shareholders, 181 CEOs joined the Roundtable's statement that corporations exist to benefit all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders. It's fair to view such declarations with both optimism and skepticism, but they are another step in the right direction for workplace rights. The test will come when short-term benefits to shareholders conflict with long-term progress for employees.

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About the Author

Eric Mosley

Eric Mosley is CEO at Workhuman.

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