Here Come the Roaring 20’s: 5 HR Trends for 2020

By Tom Connolly, GattiHR

One of the challenges with our annual Global Leadership Survey is the balancing of similar questions year-over-year with the fact that work is changing so rapidly. With the 2020 Global Leadership Survey in full swing, we pulled the team together to brainstorm the trends we believe clients will be wrestling with over the next 10 years.  Here’s the short list:

HR is shifting from admin to strategic and the candidate experience, but what does that look like?

1. Focus on the whole workforce.

Before there was a legitimate gig economy, there was a very simple division of labor.  HR looked after the “regular” or statutory employees – the ones that got W-2’s, and Accounts Payable looked after everybody else (sort of).  The gig economy has blurred that line between “inside” and “outside,” and lots of companies now have more contractors than employees.  Unfortunately, this has established a caste system at some companies that’s just not productive.  Looking after the entire workforce has to be a priority.  There’s an employee/non-employee talent mix that can optimize business operations, but it requires a nurturing respect and value recognition of every contributor. Getting the most out of that mix (regardless of whether they are “inside” and “outside”) takes purposeful, intentional, data-driven policy and practice.  This will require a re-think (or first think) of talent value propositions.

2. Organizational biometrics.

Better customer service, safer workplaces, more effective learning environments, nurturing innovation, building inclusion, creating moments that drive positive employee experience and creating access are all fundamental competitive challenges every company needs to find solutions for.   There’s an entirely new toolkit available for managing talent, but too often, our workforce analytical view is limited to HRIS-land.  Organizational network analysis, continuous surveys, wearable computing, IoT, geo-tracking, geo-fencing and facial recognition are just a few of the tools with huge potential for building better workforces and better places to work.  These tools are diffusing slowly into the talent ecosystem, often on some pretty thin privacy arguments.  There are powerful ways to deploy these tools and still protect individual privacy.

3. Transformative supply chains and talent pools.

Workforce availability is going to be the biggest challenge of all.  Not just enough people but enough people with the right skill.  Conventional wisdom used to be when skillsets change, simply swap out the people.  That’s simply not going to be possible. One biotech firm we worked with found that skills and duties had a 90-day shelf life.  Skills instability, the retirement tsunami, a 4-generation workforce and geographic preferences all contribute to a very large talent availability problem.  New learning models, organizations creating (not just assembling) their own workforces and embracing diversity in serious, competitively driven ways (not just right-thing-to-do or regulatory-necessity ways) will be organizational necessities.  Flexible work cultures, re-tooling and not replacing and supporting constant personal development will be essential characteristics of successful workplaces.  We won’t be able to get away with “same” equaling “fair.”  We’ll have to redefine fairness, navigating toward “what individuals need” and away from “what everyone’s entitled to.”

More employees are demanding transparency and blowing the top off major companies such as Google, Away and NBC by forcing companies to be more open.

4. Battling disinformation.

Transparency requires truth, and the same issues plaguing our political system can get in the way here as well. Deploying blockchain to ensure integrity of resumes, professional credentials and payments is just the start.  Virtual reality sculpting is a now a thing.  When Facebook bought Oculus in 2015, everybody understood the connection between gaming, social media and those things that look like your grandfather’s sunglasses.  Now with Adobe buying the reality-sculpting company Oculus Medium from Facebook, the VR applications for recruiting, training and collaboration are coming fast. There’s no such thing as a neutral platform. Slack has been at the center of a toxic workplace scandal at Away.  Snapchat is launching a new feature that allows selfies to be super-imposed on videos of other people – a bargain-basement way of creating deep fakes.

If the education system isn’t producing a critically-thinking, inquisitive, fact-dependent workforce, what will employers do to fill the breach?  There was a time when schools aimed to produce a critically thinking, liberal arts-educated, civically minded workforce and employer-taught skills.  We now seem to be in the middle of a role reversal: as schools focus on STEM and eliminate civics and the arts, will employers find themselves with a techno-savvy workforce that can’t collaborate, problem-solve or build ideas into innovations?  Will the workplace polarize the same way every day life seems to be?  Employees want companies to be flat, agile, open, direct and radically transparent, but they also expect them to be supportive, understanding, politically correct, discrete, gracious and respectful.  Can organizations manage to be both?

What will be the biggest trends and how can companies and HR prepare/be ahead of the curve?

5. Integrating career well-being.

The talent war is over, and talent won (see #3 above). Employees (and contractors) will expect companies to have a perspective on how to integrate Artificial Intelligence into job design in ways that are additive and complementary, not exclusionary and job-destroying.  How will jobs be re-designed and what will happen to people who are displaced.  Relatedly, environmental sustainability will finally be recognized as the existential threat that it is.  What companies are doing to proactively manage their own carbon footprint and to influence environmental policy will be clear differentiators.  This will have to move way beyond the window-dressing phase that many employers embrace today.

What do you see the biggest challenges being with companies/HR getting onboard?

In summary, the landscape building better workforces over the next 10 years will be a target-rich environment.  Companies will have trouble agreeing on what to tackle first.  One of the first things they’ll need to recognize is that transformation is forever.   With change velocities always increasing, it’s a process, not a project.  Companies are used to cycles with beginnings and endings.  This shift is never going to be done.  After big transformation projects, leadership teams too often conclude, “Ok, that’s enough for now.  Let’s let those changes sink in before we start again.”  Those days are over.