Employee engagement

7 HR Trends and Ideas to Implement This Year

Osasumwen Arigbe, PHR
January 14, 2020
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Every day we learn about innovations and trends that directly affect our lives, and the workplace isn’t exempt from those frequent changes that cause us to continually adapt the way we work. Those changes also have an impact on how employees interact with one another. So as HR professionals, we’re expected to stay current with the changing world of work and prepare for what those changes mean for our own workplaces.

In this article, we’ll review seven important HR trends for 2020 that you can leverage. We will also share quotes from HR influencers and experts along the way:

Focus on employer branding

An employer brand works in a way that is quite similar to the way a corporate brand works. A corporate brand describes a company as a whole, including its products and services, while an employer brand describes a company’s reputation as a place to work. So if a company has a positive employer brand, it means that employees feel like the company is a great place to work, and that’s what job candidates see, as well. In today’s competitive job market, a positive employer brand is necessary to attract and retain top talent.

Employer branding is particularly important to job seekers, employees, and stakeholders—it is how they truly view your company. An employer’s brand is created through the company’s employee value proposition (EVP), which includes factors like work environment, the company’s culture, mission, and values, compensation and benefits, training and development opportunities, and quality of work. 

These statistics show that:

  • 84% of job seekers say the reputation of a company as an employer is important when considering a job
  • 50% of job seekers say they wouldn’t work for a company with a bad reputation, even for a pay increase
  • 55% of job seekers abandon applications after reading negative reviews online

Today’s job seekers have more access to information than ever before. To attract and retain the best talent in 2020, smart organizations will focus on employer branding.

My company sells toilets. It's not very sexy, but everyone needs them!  And, since we are not just competing for talent with other companies that sell toilets, branding is absolutely critical for meeting our strategic goals. In 2020 and beyond, we'll see more companies—including smaller companies and companies that aren't considered magnets for talent—developing an employer branding strategy by embracing who they are—those unique qualities that make each individual company great.  
Tracie Sponenberg, Chief People Officer at The Granite Group

Many organizations think that employer branding is about what employees tell others about the workplace culture and environment, but it's more complex than this.

For example, how candidates are treated during the recruitment and selection process will impact an organization's reputation. If job candidates aren't treated in a respectful manner (this includes a timely and thorough process), then people will not view this organization as an employer of choice. If you don't treat people well while they are considering joining you, why would anyone believe that you will then be a good employer and provide a great place for them to work?
Dr. Melanie Peacock 

Upskill employees for the future of work


In July 2019, Amazon announced a new initiative called Upskilling 2025—a $700 million investment to train and equip their employees with critical skills before 2025. The aim is to have their employees move into highly skilled and better-paying roles within or outside of Amazon. Amazon’s announcement sparked conversations around investing in human capital and preparing for the future of work.  

According to Gartner, Inc., approximately 80% of employees do not have the skills needed for their current and future roles. Also, 67% of business leaders believe that their companies will no longer be competitive if they are not significantly digitized by 2020.

As more company processes are becoming increasingly automated, opportunities for upskilling and professional development are also increasing. Through upskilling, employees will be able to move into roles requiring higher skills when their current roles become obsolete. This way, organizations can motivate and retain their employees, especially those in blue-collar and administrative positions.

To remain competitive in 2020, more companies will need to focus on digitizing the workplace. This will also emphasize the need for HR to identify the skills gap, and for businesses to invest in their human capital and prepare them for the future of work.

A key consideration needs to be the timing of the development.  What does just in time training actually mean? Just in time for who?  Employees may be ready for, and want, further development long before it is offered to them. Focusing only on the organization's needs and timing for when and how employees should be upskilled is a recipe for trouble.  As such, clear and ongoing communication between managers and employees is critical. This will enable strategic and well thought out development strategies that meet the needs of both employers and employees.
Dr. Melanie Peacock 


Have a holistic approach to employee wellness

The concept of employee wellness is one that has evolved within the past few years. Traditional employee wellness programs have typically focused on employees’ physical wellness. Those programs focus on providing employees with access to exercise facilities, nutritional information, or other forms of preventative healthcare measures such as flu shots and annual health assessments.

While those benefits are useful for maintaining employees’ physical health, they do not acknowledge every aspect of employees’ lives. According to research conducted by Aetna, 70% of employers believe that they provide good health and wellness benefits, but only 23% of employees agree. So what could be missing? A more holistic approach to wellness benefits.

A holistic employee wellness program recognizes every aspect of an employee’s life—physical, emotional, financial, or social. For example, the 2019 “Stress in America” survey conducted by the American Psychological Association shows that 60% of adults say money is a top source of stress. If a company introduces a financial wellness program, they will be reducing employees’ financial stress as a direct result of the education and guidance offered. Similarly, access to mental health counselors and resources will support employees’ emotional well-being in the workplace. 

For 2020 and beyond, employers need to focus on holistic wellness benefits for their employees. Otherwise, employers run the risk of dealing with increased absenteeism and reduced productivity when employees’ personal challenges creep into the workplace.

A few years ago, when our healthcare premiums were skyrocketing, we revisited our wellness program and completely overhauled it, focusing on all aspects of our team members lives, including physical, emotional, financial and social. Plus, we tied it to our strategic plan—which resulted in significant cost savings in healthcare premiums, and more engaged team members.

In 2020, we will see many more companies go beyond the "physical" part of wellness, and encourage their entire team to bring their whole selves to work. That will mean talking about things that were previously considered taboo in the HR world, like mental health. To truly succeed as a business, we must support our team. And we've neglected areas like mental health and financial wellness for too long.
Tracie Sponenberg, Chief People Officer at The Granite Group

Encourage inclusive leadership development


Employees want to feel like they matter and have a sense of belonging to an organization. We need more leaders who can make that happen, and this is known as Inclusive Leadership. According to a Harvard Business Review article, “inclusive leadership assures that all team members feel they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and sense that they belong, and are confident and inspired.” 

Inclusive leaders are known to help employees feel more engaged and drive high performing teams. Deloitte’s research shows that inclusive leaders drive a 70% increase in employees’ feelings of inclusion, which in turn leads to a 17% increase in team performance, a 20% increase in decision-making quality, and a 29% increase in team collaboration.

Inclusive leadership development programs transform business leaders into inclusive leaders who can demonstrate these six traits: (1) commitment to diversity and inclusion, (2) courage to speak up and challenge the status quo (3) awareness of personal or organizational blind spots and biases (4) curiosity about others (5) cultural intelligence and (6) ability to empower others and leverage the thinking of diverse groups.

As more companies continue to focus on creating diverse teams, we will need more inclusive leaders to manage those teams. 

As we enter a new decade, no skill is more important to cultivate now than inclusive leadership, especially as the line between work lives and personal lives continue to be blurred. When I say inclusive leadership, I don’t just mean re-wording company mission statements to include the words diversity and inclusion. I mean creating spaces for open dialogue, making concerted efforts to encourage multiple perspectives to be heard and, more importantly, soliciting input from representatives of every stakeholder in your company when making decisions.
Tayo Rockson, CEO of UYD Management and Author of Use Your Difference To Make A Difference

Diversity and inclusion has been an ever present ideology in the workplace. Inclusion will continue to be an important trend in 2020. In order for diversity programs and initiatives to be successful, organizations have to be inclusive. Diversity does not exist without inclusion. When employees feel included, they feel a sense of belonging which in turn, drives increased positive performance results, and creates collaborative teams who are innovative and engaging. When employees feel included, they are more likely to be positively engaged within the organization. Higher employee engagement drives higher levels of productivity, retention, and a company’s overall success.
–Anthony Paradiso, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, Owner and founder of AllThingzAP, LLC


Organize continuous performance reviews

If you can recall going through the annual (sometimes, distressful) performance reviews, which typically determine your pay raise or whether you get to keep your job, then you might appreciate this new trend. Discussion around the topic has recently increased within the HR profession.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), more companies are giving up the annual and formal performance reviews. Many employees find them untimely, disrespectful, inaccurate, and full of managers' biases. Besides, 25% of employees feel that the reviews do not help to improve their performance. In other words, annual performance reviews are a less effective way to assess performance.

Going into 2020, the focus will be on making performance feedback an ongoing discussion, not an annual or semi-annual event. Instead of having one person determine an employee’s performance at the end of the year, employees will receive more accurate and real-time feedback. Continuous feedback will be a more practical approach, especially with millennial or Gen Z workers who prefer immediate feedback.

Companies are shifting from traditional annual processes to a cadence that matches the speed of their organization. We’re seeing this in many facets of the HR strategy. For example, we're getting more frequent in hearing the voice of employee beyond the annual survey to add accountability and real-time feedback to better the employee experience.

At the end of the day, one of the biggest trends I see with what I do at WorkTango is that companies are moving away from the annual engagement survey, getting more frequent and real-time insights to add accountability and serving that insight to leaders as opposed to keeping the data within HR.
–Rob Catalano, Chief Engagement Officer at WorkTango

Create meaningful work


A big misconception among employers is that all it takes to attract, motivate, and retain talent are monetary rewards, benefits, and trendy perks. However, research shows that employees are looking for more—they want to engage in meaningful work. Employees no longer wish to earn good money while doing something that has no purpose.

In 2017, BetterUp Labs surveyed 2,285 American professionals across 26 industries to understand the value of meaningful work. They found that “more than 9 out of 10 employees are willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work.” In a similar survey of 2,000 U.S. workers conducted by ServiceNow (see findings captured in this infographic), respondents said that they spend 40% of their time doing mundane tasks, and 58% of those respondents wish they could do more meaningful work.   

The big question is, “what is meaningful work?” Employees will consider their work to be meaningful if it contributes to a greater purpose and helps them find meaning in life. So instead of doing routine tasks that make them feel underutilized, employees want to do work that allows them to live up to their potential and connect to a bigger purpose.  

As more workers continue to gain control over their career paths in 2020 and beyond, companies will have to do better at creating meaningful work to attract employees who can commit to organizational goals.  

HR needs to treat all employees as talent, because each person is talented in some form or fashion. When you treat your people as talented, you establish the base of making their work meaningful. That has to be the first step. We tend to only treat certain roles or levels as "talent." But it's everybody, and we should change our approach.
Steve Browne, Vice President of Human Resources at LaRosa's, Inc.



Even if you can’t offer an opportunity for an employee to use their unique skills and passions in their day-to-day work, you can still create an opportunity for them to share with the organization. Consider internal lunch and learns, webinars and networking events where employees are given the opportunity to share their skills and passions with others. More opportunities to connect and share with others also leads to better engagement.
Claire Petrie, Sr. Manager, Talent Acquisition at Unifrax 

Drive employee engagement

Employee engagement remains a relevant topic for today’s organizations and HR professionals because most employees are disengaged. Gallup’s data shows that only 15% of employees worldwide and 34% of employees in the U.S. are engaged. 

Engaged employees show a strong commitment to where they work and what they do—they understand the impact of their work, pursue organizational interests, and are less likely to leave their organizations. Research shows that engaged employees produce high-quality results and contribute to organizational success. Engaged employees feel a sense of pride in where they work, feel recognized, supported, and treated fairly.

Engagement must take front seat on HR's agenda, and fast. It's no longer an option whether to make it a priority. HR must stop looking at engagement as a series of tactics—instead, look at it as the core purpose to everything they do, and as a strategy to improve productivity, increase retention, boost performance, and therefore propel customer experience.

Employee engagement has a business case. HR has to master understanding and, more importantly, articulating it to the business. 
Hanadi El Sayyed, Founder and CEO of &humans Consulting



Overall, to be successful in 2020, business leaders and HR professionals must foster work environments that encourage employee engagement. Employee engagement should be a priority for every company because the cost of turnover can be expensive. The good news, however, is that there are data-driven ways to improve employee engagement, and it starts with collecting data to know your company’s engagement status.

What are your employee engagement plans for 2020? If you need more ideas, check out this resource: 

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