HR trends to look out for in 2019

At no other time in history have people teams had such a big impact on the bottom line of businesses. Advances in tech have evolved HR’s role beyond administration, and HR professionals are expected to be more strategic.

As an HR tech company, we’re lucky to be able to regularly swap ideas with HR leaders, visit conferences, and read up on industry experts’ findings. Based on all these impressions, here are six HR trends to watch in 2019.

Back to human

It’s no secret that machines are taking on many manual, repetitive, and even problem-solving tasks. But capabilities like empathy, autonomous creativity, moral judgment, and the creation of meaning remain exclusive to humans.

Focusing on the human in human resources is becoming a competitive advantage for organizations. Company culture, team dynamics, individual strengths, career journeys, health, wellbeing – these are all things people teams are expected to look after.

We’ll also have to safeguard basic human needs in a world with technology all around us. Dan Schwabel writes in his new book Back to Human: “Technology has created an illusion that today’s workers are highly connected to one another, when in reality most feel isolated from their colleagues.” Who, if not HR, will be there to restore people’s sense of social belonging in the workplace?

In 2019, HR departments will continue helping people build meaningful relationships through ongoing conversations with their peers, managers, and team members. Technology will merely be a means to an end, not the solution itself.

Continuous re-skilling

The shift from fixed job titles and detailed job descriptions to skill-based, ever-evolving roles is reflected in how the learning space evolves.

HR industry analyst Josh Bersin said in his opening keynote at UNLEASH Amsterdam: “The skills gaps are bigger than ever. We now have a complete disruption of the ways careers work. Vertical, traditional careers are less and less popular, less and less important. So we need better tools for people to continuously re-skill themselves.”

Microlearning, that is completing bite-sized learning units as opposed to time-consuming courses, fits the bill perfectly and is quickly gaining popularity in the eLearning sector.

Helping employees acquire new skills is a top priority for modern HR departments. According to Josh, unsurprisingly, “the learning space is one of the fastest-growing areas in HR technology.”

Data ethics in people analytics

The amount of data organizations can collect about employees grows exponentially each year. Distilling the data down to something useful is a great challenge. But it’s not the only one.

According to people analytics leader David Green, staying ethical and maintaining employees’ trust is the most important and difficult part about people analytics.

Legislation struggles to keep up with the pace of technological innovation. So for the most part, it’s up to organizations to use employee data in a fair way that respects the individual’s privacy. Employers that neglect ethics while using people analytics have to expect employee backlash. And even bad press, as in the recent case of Amazon.

People analytics is on the rise and here to stay. It’s only by getting data ethics right early on that it will bring lasting value to organizations.

The double-edged sword of AI

AI is currently very, very stupid. At least according to Google’s AI chief Andrew Moore. But it is creeping into our workflows and advancing at breakneck speed. How we deal with AI will change the workplace for better or worse.

2019 might be the year where the yawning gap between hype and substance will start to get closer. More importantly, the necessary discussions about the limitations and pitfalls of AI in HR will go on.

AI has great potential for creating a better experience at every stage of the employee lifecycle. But it also has a dark side. Cathy O’Neil, mathematician and author of Weapons of Math Destruction, told CNBC: “When we blithely train algorithms on historical data, to a large extent we are setting ourselves up to merely repeat the past. We’ll need to do more, which means examining the bias embedded in the data.”

If done right, AI will make our working lives a lot easier and free up time to focus on the human side of business.

HR in the flow of work

Let’s face it: HR is often best-known as the department behind cumbersome tools and processes that prevent people from getting their work done. Luckily, many HR folks polish the profession’s reputation by creating environments that foster productivity and wellbeing.

On their way to becoming workplace productivity enablers, HR departments will have to become somewhat invisible. They’ll start to support areas like learning and performance as a natural part of people’s work, not separate from it. The role of HR will be more about creating an empowering culture, nudging employees, training managers, and being where people need you.

David Mallon, Chief Analyst at Bersin by Deloitte, said in his session at UNLEASH Amsterdam: “HR and technology have to be work-centric, not HR-centric. Productivity in the flow of work is about not getting distracted by interfaces.” People get more productive when “you’re focused on the data model and the decisions that this tool helps you to solve.”

Embedding HR activities in people’s workflows takes time and dedication, but work-centric HR will come sooner than later.

Overcoming HR tool overload

There are thousands of HR vendors out there and new ones popping up all the time. Staying on top of things gets increasingly difficult for HR professionals. You really need to know what you want before implementing technology blindly.

Once you’ve discovered what problems you want to solve, it’s not unusual to end up with more than ten HR systems. If these systems are difficult to use and don’t speak to each other, productivity loss is sure to follow.

As a result, we’ll see more HR software vendors in 2019 that focus on building intuitive user interfaces and guided workflows. Another way to tackle HR tool overload is to avoid double work by keeping your data in sync. Integrations between HR, communication, and productivity tools will become more important than ever. Software that focuses on aggregating data from different specialized HR tools will clearly benefit from this trend.

Finally, HR tools need to facilitate real interactions and meaningful experiences. At Small Improvements, for instance, it was never our goal to keep users in our performance management tool as long as possible. Instead, we encourage people to use it as a starting point for face-to-face conversations.