“Trend” usually implies that the popularity of something is fleeting, but that’s not the case with the HR trends in the workplace today. Paying attention to new technologies, strategies, and approaches isn’t just a PR ploy. Employee-centric companies are here to stay, and employee-focused trends will continue to grow as younger employees enter the workforce.
We’ll discuss why HR trends like improved diversity and inclusion practices, flexibility and remote work, and AI in the workplace are taking hold in organizations across the globe. HR professionals must constantly be ahead of the curve in order to attract, engage, and retain top talent. Staying on top of these HR trends will distinguish your company as a progressive, empathetic, and employee-driven organization.
1. Diversity and inclusion takes center stage
With the Me Too, Black Lives Matter, and LGBT movements, it’s impossible to ignore the importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) any longer. Studies have shown that women make only $0.81 for every dollar a man makes, and black men have the largest uncontrolled pay gap relative to white men. D&I needs to be a top priority for any organization.
While many companies think they have effective D&I programs in place, almost half of workers say leadership is “minimally” or “not at all” committed to improving company culture. Many companies don’t take into account that D&I takes active, persistent work. Developing employee resource groups, building ethnically diverse teams, and teaching employees about unconscious bias all take substantial time and effort.
Measuring the results of D&I initiatives and continuously improving is key to establishing and sustaining connection and belonging throughout your organization. Companies that truly embrace all aspects of D&I reap the benefits in spades. McKinsey and Company found that for every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior executive team, earnings before interest and taxes rose 0.8%. Harvard Business Review found that diverse teams are able to solve problems faster and are more likely to make good decisions.
Not only that, D&I is vital from a recruitment perspective. A diverse workforce shows candidates that their voice will be heard and they will have agency in decision-making. Neglecting to create a diverse workforce and build an inclusive environment can lead to losing top talent.
In fact, PwC discovered that 80% of millennial workers state that a company’s D&I programs are an important factor in considering a job offer. If you want to secure top talent, make sure you have a well-thought-out and engaging D&I program in place that every employee actively contributes to. When searching new tools to add to your HR tech stack, consider the D&I aspects: over 75% of large enterprises will include diversity and inclusion criteria when selecting new human capital management software.
2. Employees get a voice
Employee voice is still a new concept for some and has grown into a major HR trend as of late. With a recent drastic shift to remote work due to COVID-19, gathering employee feedback is the first step toward making more informed decisions to better support your people . In times of uncertainty and change, listening and hearing your employees should be emphasized even more. Promoting and encouraging employee voice can help team members feel supported and safe, especially in a remote culture. Traditionally, organizations used annual surveys to keep tabs on their employee experience. Although annual surveys can be useful, Gartner reports that nearly 80% of employers are considering adopting other employee monitoring tools that allow them to collect employee feedback more frequently.
"While some companies conduct yearly surveys to understand sentiment, annual data collection fails to provide an accurate story regarding what matters most to employees. Instead, employers must find ways to actively listen and conduct regular pulse checks to gather continuous employee feedback, an important building block in creating a positive culture of trust and respect." - Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers
Employee voice is becoming even more important as companies start focusing on collecting employee feedback more frequently, utilizing new technology that helps capture that feedback, and taking action based on results. Traditional annual engagement surveys aren’t effective alone because employers take too long to act on the results. And the longer HR and managers wait, the more dissatisfied employees get. Pulse surveys should be used as a strategic complement to a main employee engagement survey—this is important to creating a culture of respect and trust. Doing so matters一as many as 90% of workers are more likely to stay at a company that acts on feedback.
Tools like pulse surveys make continuous feedback and monitoring easier in a new digital world. Employee listening software is becoming a popular way to enable leaders, managers, and executives to gather employee feedback anytime and make immediate changes.
For example, Bayhealth, Delaware’s largest nonprofit healthcare system, has leveraged employee listening to dynamically adjust their employee training curriculum. After deploying a dynamic employee voice solution, Bayhealth found that incredibly difficult patients were causing employees extreme stress, anxiety, and unhappiness. Employees expressed their concerns through Check-Ins, prompting leaders to plan for swift action, or else risk losing valuable staff. To address the feedback, leaders set up de-escalation training to help employees understand signs of patient anxiety, and to guide them in how best to handle these sensitive situations. By advocating for the voice of employees and leveraging pulse surveys, Bayhealth has been able to identify not only how employees feel about their work, but also why they are feeling that way.
“What really improves low employee engagement scores is having leaders measure, listen, identify, act, and repeat.” - Lauren Brittingham, Director, Organizational Development, Bayhealth
3. Trust must be established
Trust is the foundation of any good relationship, including between employer and employee, and it’s growing in importance. A recent Edelman Trust Barometer study concluded that, “trust has changed profoundly in the past year—people have shifted their trust to the relationships within their control, most notably their employers.” Employees also said they wanted their employers to lead in time of change. Seventy-one percent of employees said it was “critically important for my CEO to respond to challenging times,” and 76% said they wanted CEOs to take the lead on change.
This HR trend isn’t slowing down anytime soon. This study also found that employees who trust their employers are much more likely to advocate for the organization, be engaged, and remain loyal. Employees who trust leadership are more likely to provide honest feedback, work towards the company mission, and treat other employees with respect. That said, psychological safety needs to start at the team level. Employees need to feel comfortable voicing their opinions and asking questions without fear of judgment or backlash.
Managers must invite this type of behavior by modeling it themselves. They should encourage direct reports to participate in big meetings and cheer on colleagues for a job well-done. Trust is becoming more and more important because of people’s growing feelings of disconnection in the workplace.
4. Connection and belonging are key
The shift to a remote workforce is exacerbating worker loneliness. No one likes to feel lonely, but it’s even more detrimental than we may have realized. According to Psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad from Brigham Young University, her research shows that loneliness is tied to premature death, as well as mental health and cardiovascular issues.
Harvard Business Review reports that over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely一specifically, many employees (including half of CEOs) report feeling lonely in their roles. Establishing and creating a supportive community cultivates a sense of connection and belonging in your workplace.
Not only does providing employees with a sense of connection and belonging boost company morale and community, it increases a company’s per share nearly 150% when compared to companies that don’t. Employees who feel more connected at work tend to work harder and smarter, which translates into higher quality work. Creating a sense of connection and belonging is especially critical for remote workforces.
5. Employee burnout rates gain speed
Burnout is on the rise—nearly two-thirds of full-time workers are dealing with burnout at some point while at work. And burnout is literally making employees sick. Scholars at Harvard Business School estimate that burned out employees cost between $125 to $190 billion in healthcare spending in the U.S. Job insecurity and heavy workloads lead to low morale and motivation that are extremely destructive to an organization’s productivity. Within an organization, burned out employees incite negativity and high turnover. Clearly burnout is a serious, alarming issue for both employers and employees that cannot be ignored.
Excessive collaboration is a large contributor to burnout. With remote work becoming the new normal, constantly sitting on conference calls and replying to never-ending email chains has become even more of a grind - even causing Zoom fatigue. Technology is also leading to fading boundaries between work and personal time. Consequently, the most capable employees become severely overworked.
The issue is that most companies don’t realize how dissatisfied and frustrated employees are until they’ve already left the company. It’s HR’s responsibility to address burnout and keep employees motivated and inspired. Employees won’t always feel comfortable telling their superiors that they need some time off. Use employee listening tools to gauge how your workforce is reacting to constant changes. Be proactive in preventing burnout before it happens.
The Society for Human Resource Management suggests that finding ways to relieve employee stress, adjust their workload, and build relationships are all proactive measures to reducing employee burnout. Enable your employees to take mental health days, encourage managers to live out a balanced lifestyle, and create fair workloads. Sometimes it’s as simple as encouraging employees to relax, recharge, and unplug—if employees see managers and the c-suite taking time off, they’ll be more inclined to take some much needed time off to recharge, as well.
6. Soft skills are invaluable
Soft skills are becoming more valuable. Additionally, many Americans lack the time and money to earn bachelor’s degrees. Tech behemoths like Apple and Google have picked up on this HR trend and started hiring candidates without college degrees.
Although academic qualifications are still a major point of consideration, strong work ethic, grit, and talent are equally as important. Wiley Education Services and Future Workplace found that 53% of companies would hire someone with some college coursework but no degree, and 52% would hire someone without any college experience but with industry certification. Companies are turning to bootcamps, internships, and apprenticeships to find non-traditional candidates, and so should you.
A LinkedIn Trends report found that 91% of companies cited soft skills as an issue and 80% of companies are struggling to find better soft skills in the market. Atop of being open to non-traditional candidates, start training your managers on how to enhance their soft skills. They can pass down this knowledge to their direct reports, who can eventually become leaders as well. Soft skills are the future, and companies should adjust their training programs accordingly.
7. Recognition is embedded into culture
The way organizations offer recognition has changed tremendously over the past 10 years. Rather than giving away traditional “years of service” awards, employers have seen the power in employee recognition software that goes beyond just an annual work anniversary mug. Recognition can take multiple forms, including social recognition, points-based recognition (that enables employees to redeem points for rewards of their choosing), digital team-signed celebration cards, and much more. Peer-to-peer recognition is a must-have given almost two-thirds of organizations include it in their current recognition program.
The entire recognition experience has become digital with company-wide news feeds, photo attachments, like and comment features, and mobile capabilities. To stay ahead of the curve and grow your employer brand, you want to upgrade your workforce’s recognition experience so that every employee feels appreciated on a frequent basis in a modern and engaging way. After all, the desire for appreciation is larger than ever. When employees were asked how organizations could better support them through the COVID-19 pandemic, one-third (35%) said they wanted more recognition.
One way to engage both online and offline employees is through recognition. Frequent and inclusive recognition is a huge employee motivator. As a result, many organizations have started to incorporate recognition programs into their HR strategy. One in five employers have implemented programs in the last 12 months, indicating that recognition is becoming less of a nice-to-have and more of a must-have.
If you’re not already on board with this HR trend, consider the following perks:
- Employees who use recognition and rewards technology are 72% more likely to rate their culture of recognition highly than non-users.
- Companies that advocate for frequent recognition are 41% more likely to see increased employee retention and 34% more likely to see increased employee engagement.
Cecilia McKenney, SVP and CHRO of Quest Diagnostics, says their recognition platform brought “phlebotomists together to get peer-to-peer recognition going, but also just to celebrate across offices and feel connected.” Remember to practice frequent recognition and make it inclusive so that every employee feels valued on a regular basis.
8. Wellness flourishes
Employees are your most valuable asset. And yet, employees’ emotional, physical, and mental health has declined and requires more attention than ever given recent months. Wellable’s Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report found that mental health, stress management, mindfulness, and meditation have all surged in popularity. This comes as no surprise given a nationwide survey assessing the effects of the pandemic on the emotional well-being of U.S. adults showed that 90% of respondents were experiencing related emotional distress. Eighty percent of employers expect to invest more in mental health in the future, and many employers have found that keeping employees healthy and happy enhances performance and makes employees want to show up as their best selves at work.
Plus, failure to do so can have incredibly negative impacts—health conditions cost employers a whopping $225 billion in productivity losses every year and the World Health Organization estimated that the total cost of depression and anxiety to the world’s economy was $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. Teaching your employees about mindfulness and emotional intelligence can help them maintain better work-life balance. Moreover, the Journal of the American Medical Association has linked meditation programs to decreased depression, anxiety, and pain. Employee wellness isn’t just about keeping your employees healthy, it’s also about turning them into great leaders. The Institute for Health and Human Potential purports that emotional intelligence qualities account for 80% of what makes a leader exceptional, and the need for soft skills will grow in every industry between now and 2030.
Prioritizing mental and emotional health at work can empower employees to be their best selves. Train managers on how to listen to their direct reports and be mindful of the way they speak to their staff. Think about implementing a wellness program to guide employees to mental well-being. Start peer support groups, employee assistance programs, and a centralized reward marketplace that encourages the adoption of healthy habits at both work and home.
9. Remote work becomes mainstream
When it comes to remote workers, finding new ways to engage a new digital workforce is top of mind. Even before COVID-19, there were 7 million people working remotely in the U.S., and many more people work in the field. While it can be difficult to engage a remote workforce, working remotely is an ongoing HR trend that employers need to address; particularly employers who are just now moving to remote work. With a major shift to remote work, there is less focus on time spent working and more on getting work done.
Luckily, technology can bring us together. Technology brings speed, collaboration, and innovation to the workplace, and can help organizations foster engagement virtually. HR tech has introduced big data, wearable devices, collaborative devices, the Internet of Things, and cloud computing that allow employees to work in new ways with increased productivity. With innumerable communication platforms at your disposal, it’s relatively simple to set up internal social networking sites, virtual meetings, or even online work happy hours. Planning these events and facilitating communication helps employees connect and bond. Plus, the mobility and familiarity of being remote allows people to stay in touch with people and information 24/7.
10. Virtual reality flourishes in the corporate world
While it may seem like virtual reality is primarily used for fun outside of work, there’s growing VR adoption in the corporate world. There are countless applications for VR: safety training, customer service training, leadership development, you name it. The best part is VR learning works—it’s an immersive form of learning that boosts behavior change, knowledge retention, and engagement.
Verizon managers underwent VR training for a burglary attempt. Afterwards, 95% of store managers better understood the factors they would need to consider during an actual robbery compared to using traditional types of training.
Gamification and virtual reality are becoming more important as companies recruit generation Y candidates. In a TalentLMS survey, 78% of employees revealed they would eagerly work for a company whose recruiting practices are gamified. Many companies are jumping on this train. Over the past few years, Marriott Hotel designed a Facebook game to attract new talent, PwC launched “Multipoly Next” a fully gamified hiring experience, and Google and IBM run hackathons to get their new employees up to speed. Start thinking outside the box一leverage new interactive experiences like VR or gamification when thinking of the employee experience.
11. AI enters the workforce
If you can believe it, AI is actually making the workplace more human, not less. As HR influencer and futurist, Brian David Johnson says, “these HR technologies, although they help us get work done like no machine has helped us in the past, they are still just tools. Its purpose is to be a tool for humans to leverage.”
AI technology allows employees to spend more time on creativity and collaboration. Nearly 25% of workers use a virtual employee assistant (VEA) and 54% of executives say AI solutions implemented in their businesses have already increased productivity. AI can also detect issues in the workplace that humans overlook, like unequal outcomes across gender, ethnicity, and age. For example, 61% of business executives say they are using AI to identify opportunities in data that would otherwise be missed, and nearly 40% of companies are using some form of AI in HR alone. You need AI to stay ahead of your competition.
Workplace chatbots and products like Amazon Alexa for Business have started to pick up steam as a way to quickly answer employee questions. Workplace chatbots also serve as a way to check in on employees in particular departments. These check-ins give employees the opportunity to easily and anonymously report misconduct in the workplace.
Additionally, AI is now popping up in the HR recruitment process and beyond. For example, AI can help with sourcing, virtual interviewing, onboarding, and employee coaching. According to McKinsey, automation could accelerate the productivity of the global economy by between 0.8 and 1.4% of the global GDP annually, so why not start implementing best practices now?
12. Adaptive platforms offer a personalized experience
The workplace is changing with employees expecting a frequent, meaningful, and consistent employee experience. To get employees to really excel, they must feel supported and understood. When employers get this right, they are 4 times more likely to retain top talent, 2 times more likely to have employees achieve first year performance goals, and two times more likely to hit revenue goals.
Part of creating a personalized experience is implementing adaptive HR platforms. Your platforms should easily integrate with other systems that track recruiting referrals, sales incentives, recognition, D&I initiatives, rewards, and other HR-related functions. With everything in one place, employees can monitor progress toward their specific goals and visualize the impact they have on the organization. Stop creating separate disconnected standalone programs and create an easy workflow for employees. Continuously find new ways to integrate your platforms for ease of use and management for everyone involved.
If you're not thinking about the mobile employee experience you're already behind. There are 3.5 billion smartphone users worldwide, and U.S. adults spend an average of 2 hours and 55 minutes on their smartphones every day. Your HR platform should be accessible from any device, making it easy for employees to use anywhere, anytime. By encouraging connection among employees, you ensure that everyone has a more positive experience amidst digital change一the key to improving productivity.
13. Resilience meets empowerment
As our world becomes more complex, developing employee resilience is imperative. There are always opportunities for growth and change, and preparing your employees to welcome challenges will ultimately make them better workers and better people. Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers, says, “the foundation of what enables a culture to thrive is the extent to which employees are empowered to be engaged, feel valued, and be heard. This is where leadership comes in.” Building employee resilience stems from having genuine core values. These core values center employees around common goals and are especially useful guidance in tough situations.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Change is not easy for people to accept, no matter what your mission statement is. In fact, 30% of crisis professionals believe that employees are the most overlooked stakeholders when an organization is dealing with a crisis. In times of unrest, be prepared to face a mix of employee emotions and mindsets and encourage them to be patient with themselves and others. In addition, be transparent about how your organization is handling external or internal pressures and set expectations for what will happen in the near future.
Incorporate these HR trends into your workplace today
Significant shifts are happening in the workplace, and simply keeping an eye on them isn’t enough. Without taking action like implementing adaptive HR platforms, leveraging AI and VR, reducing burnout, and prioritizing employee health, your company’s performance and reputation will suffer. Building out D&I initiatives that welcome employees and foster a sense of connection and belonging will help you establish trust in your current employees and future candidates. Although it may seem impossible to keep up, each of the 13 trends above must be added to your HR strategic plan.
Engaging your employees matters—not only to your organizational health, but to your business success. This is why Achievers and its Workforce Institute base their thought leadership and products on science, data, and research. In this way, Achievers can stay on the cutting edge of new HR trends and keep employees engaged in ways rooted in workforce science. The award-winning Achievers platform is comprehensive, with built-in recognition and voice of the employee software designed to be an adaptive platform, keeping companies one step ahead of their competition and engaging employees all-year round.
Learn how you can incorporate leading HR trends into your employee engagement program by taking a test drive of the Achievers platform.
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