The direction within Human Resource (HR) management going into the next year maintains the focus on the employee that we’ve already established in my LMS predictions and Talent Management predictions. While technology has grabbed the attention of professionals tasked with optimizing their workforces, the employee has continued to gain relevance and utility in the workplace.
At first glance, this concept appears to be contradictory, but in fact, it isn’t. Technology has revolutionized the whole idea of work. Day-to-day tasks and even entire processes have been automated, lifting the burden of repetitive activities from employees, freeing them to engage in more meaningful and skillful ways.
So while many jobs are being eliminated by technology, it is technology itself that is creating a demand for a new class of skilled employees to fill fewer jobs that require a greater, more developed set of skills. Consequently, the next year will continue the aggressive search by corporations for new talent, with the goal of maintaining their existing pool of talent and working towards ensuring their employees remain sufficiently engaged and motivated. And this, no doubt, also reinforces the prediction that the next year will maintain a very employee-centric focus.
Continued Flexibility for Employees Working Remotely
The option to work remotely is a relatively new phenomenon, and it continues to rate very highly among many employees. It is actually one of the key areas of employee experience, and leaders will continue to accommodate the shift to working remotely. The need for companies to promote and achieve some measure of work/life balance is seen as one of the reasons alternative options like remote workplaces are encouraged and supported by management.
Working remotely means working virtually, whether at home or wherever there is WiFi. In the past couple of decades, the number of employees working remotely (at least in part) has increased to 37%, quadrupling over this time period. VPN technology is the driver that is making working remotely a reality. Significantly, this technology also makes recruiting remotely a reality, opening up the pool of candidates and boosting the work/life balance.
Reinforcing the Concept of Unbiased Hiring as a Necessary Goal for Achieving Business Success
Concepts like gender and race equality have circulated quite freely, both in society at large and in the boardrooms of work organizations. They were understood to be worthy ideals, and perhaps were even given space in the aspirational goals of many organizations. But it was similarly understood that attaining such goals would require a great deal of intentionality to change the many areas within company processes that tolerated and, in some instances, supported the inequality.
It is not yet fully clear how much progress, as a society, we have made on this front. But it is clear that the status quo is beginning to show cracks caused by many sources of outward pressure to act in good faith against this pernicious and unjust social issue. And this coming year may be the year that these issues are given the necessary attention and the necessary will to start making some progress towards this goal.
Companies are becoming more and more eager to bridge the gaps that have prevented them from attaining gender and cultural diversity — not only from a public relations perspective, but also from a sound financial one. Statistical studies on this topic have begun to reveal the correlation between higher financial performance and higher numbers of women board directors. And the numbers are impressive. Results in three critical areas of business measurement — return on equity (ROE), return on sales (ROS), and return on investment capital (ROIC) — have all shown significant increases.
Consequently, this next year will witness companies increasing their efforts to deal with issues such as unconscious bias in the hiring practices and promotions. As stated, this awareness of the need for change has been around for awhile, and technology is now providing many tools to help combat this issue.
Many of the tools that are becoming popular focus on the goal of attempting to make hiring a so-called “blind process.” If all demographic data is removed from a resume, then the first step of the screening process can be based on abilities and achievements. Recruiting software can automate screening and present candidates as anonymously as possible — a great step to diversifying the workplace and making merit one of the deciding factors.
Boosting Employee Engagement and Productivity
Both terms — employee engagement and employee productivity — are clearly related, but are not interchangeable. Employee engagement has an emotional component that productivity lacks. It goes beyond simply being satisfied with your job, and becomes more about a commitment of caring for your job and company. Employees who are engaged care about an organization’s goals, ultimately leading to better business outcomes. For this reason, the two terms are linked when companies talk about increasing productivity.
The strategies to achieving these goals are likewise linked. From an engagement perspective, the focus for companies remains on programs that emphasize wellness and general well-being. The workplace flexibility strategy that emphasizes working remotely is certainly a big part of this strategy. But in addition, more comprehensive strategies that directly address emotional and mental health, financial education, social connectedness and many other related aspects will figure very prominently.
The hope and expectation by businesses is that workplace health and general well-being programs will lead to a significant increase in an employee’s sense of engagement, belonging and, furthermore, productivity. There are a significant number of studies that would agree they are on the right track.
On the productivity front, the concept of “design thinking” has become the new term that replaces older, more conventional HR ideas, like building programs and processes. Design thinking is connected to the idea of creating meaningful employee experiences by finding solutions that begin with the employee and work outwards from there. The employee-centric solutions should embrace the principles of simplifying work, making it more compelling and enjoyable to accomplish, improving output as a result.
To achieve such ends, HR professionals have concluded that different personalities, backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses are all part of the mix in a single department and, therefore, a single, uniform approach is not the best way to achieve positive results.
Design thinking is the approach that helps HR classify people into those different groups, or “personas,” which in turn leads to a more individualized approach to inspiring employees. By definition, this process relies on a generous amount of flexibility and willingness to try many options and, if they do not achieve results, move on and try different techniques.
How well this approach is doing is confirmed by early surveys that show positive results. A relatively recent Deloitte survey suggests that the greater the emphasis on design thinking, the faster the rate of growth for the company.
But businesses should not lose sight of their company’s overall goals in setting in motion positive experiences for their employees. It is indeed a skillful balancing act that requires business leaders and HR professionals to work closely, while constantly observing and assessing the results of their initiatives. But it is beginning to provide evidence that a well-balanced and positive approach to employees can lead to positive and successful results for business.