A Mid-Year Check-In: 2020 HR Industry Trends and Insights

Ben Travis
July 22, 2020
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A lot has happened in 2020!

It’s in the nature of HR to change and adapt to the current events that impact our employees. So, what are HR professionals thinking about? What are the top HR trends in 2020? How have things changed since the global pandemic started?

We conducted an industry study in the middle of 2020 to answer those questions! We wanted to understand who HR leaders are, what’s changed about their interests, challenges, and responsibilities, and where they find trustworthy information.

That’s what you’ll find in this summary! 👇

We’ll also compare this information with past findings. Let’s get started!

HR Interests, Responsibilities, and Challenges in 2020

In an effort to understand HR community focus, we asked HR leaders what topics and trends (out of 26 total) they were interested in, what responsibilities they held, and what challenges they faced in their roles. Did these topics change from our previous survey? 🤔


When it came to interests, out of more than two dozen choices, there were three clear standouts: employee engagement, company culture, and employee recognition. Those same three topics topped the list when we administered the same survey two years ago, and we’ve continued to hear the same thing from our audience of HR professionals.

When it comes to topics growing in popularity, we found the following topics made the most significant gains: remote work, leadership, teamwork, and diversity/inclusion.

2020 has been a watershed year for many reasons, but the COVID-19 pandemic and George Floyd protests in particular have made a strong impact on society, including the workplace. The impact of those current events have definitely made its mark on how HR leaders approach and think about their work.

As far as slowing interests since our last survey, retention and turnover was by far the topic with the largest decrease (-32%). Looking at recent unemployment numbers, especially in Q2 2020, might indicate a sense of helplessness as companies slim their workforces. 


When it comes to responsibilities, employee engagement tops the list, similar to what we saw in interests. As workplaces face many new changes this year, engaging employees is still the main responsibility of HR leaders.

Not far behind, though, was onboarding. 67% of respondents were responsible for getting new employees up to speed, something that’s become more difficult for organizations that are moving to remote-only or remote-first workforces. Other top responsibilities across the group were company culture, employee recognition, and employee experience.

It’s worth noting that remote work was a stated responsibility of 50% of HR leaders, and diversity/inclusion was a stated responsibility of just 48% of HR leaders—it’ll be interesting to see whether these numbers grow as we move further into distributed and equitable workplaces.


So what are HR leaders struggling with? When we asked about challenges in their roles, HR leaders responded with a wide range. Some challenges were similar to their interests and responsibilities, namely employee engagement, company culture, and employee recognition.

However, “retention and turnover was the most common challenge of HR leaders. In many cases, organizations who’ve faced layoffs have moved more responsibilities and expectations on a smaller team, meaning work has become more stressful for many workers.

Performance management is another important challenge for HR leaders as they work to support their existing team—followed by recruiting as a way to expand.

Remote work clocked in as a challenge of 21% of respondents, and diversity/inclusion right behind at 19%.

HR Community Learning Trends

How do HR leaders continue to develop professionally? What resources do they look for and trust? We wanted to know how HR leaders keep up with the industry, and how that’s changed since we last conducted our study.


The most significant change wasn’t entirely unexpected. 😷

In-person conferences have become far less important than before, and webinars have taken their place (at least for now). Digital learning and virtual networking might not be the preference for everyone, but it’s become the norm for most HR leaders.

Along the same lines, HR professionals are looking for new ways of keeping in touch with their peers and the latest industry best practices. We found that online communities are on the rise, with PeopleGeeks and Resources for Humans are two highly popular online HR communities.

Many channels remained similar to previous levels—newsletters, for example, are still very important—though social media slipped, and books have become more important. There’s only so much time we can spend staring at screens! 😅


We were also curious about the influence of industry associations. Unsurprisingly, SHRM was the clear winner! 🏆

Industry associations like SHRM provide networking to members through events, important updates through their publications, and advocate for the HR industry around workplace law and labor management.

Another important component is the value of continued education and certification—within HR, 34% of professionals have at least one HR credential (e.g. PHR, SHRM-CP).

HR Software Tools

When it comes to HR tools, there are plenty to choose from! 🛠

So, we asked HR leaders what kind of tools were used by their teams. Not surprisingly, Payroll software was most common, followed by HRIS (human resource information system) software.

As organizations grow larger, their need for a robust HRIS increases. Out of our respondents, roughly a third had an employee recognition program in place.

We also looked at many factors HR leaders considered when choosing software for their organizations. By asking respondents to rank factors against each other, we saw a clear preference for ease of use, customer service, and integrations.

It’s clear that HR teams are managing many different areas, and having the right tool to save time through automation is more important than other factors, like experience with similar organizations.


Our survey was administered to 192 respondents from more than 40 industries across 28 countries. We received those responses throughout Q2 2020. Of respondents, 25% were either Bonusly customers or trial users.

What’s next?

2020 has been a turbulent year so far, and the HR industry is no exception.

While organizations continue to face monumental challenges, we’re also excited for positive trends in the field, from a growing focus on employee engagement to more flexible working schedules and evolving digital professional development.

Many of our survey results mirror what we’ve heard from our own audience and customers. As team that creates tools to help people feel a sense of purpose and progress at work, we’re fortunate to be a part of building a better Future of Work, and we love the insights we gain in the process.

We hope you’ll also reflect on these results and what it means for your own team!

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