The Hottest Topics for HR Leaders in 2020

The Hottest Topics for HR Leaders in 2020

Can you believe we’re in 2020? Even my 8-year old son is overwhelmed by the notion; “We’re living in the future”, he told me excitedly. As thrilling as it sounds, this future world feels turbulent and unsettled. These challenging times make it all-the-more interesting to see that the topics dominating HR leaders’ agendas are shifting towards a softer approach.

Less cut-throat. Less fake. More inclusive. More authentic.

The harder-faster-spare-no-effort attitude is rapidly losing favour as we see a decisive shift towards a more balanced workplace.

The hard-nosed approach makes its workers sick and with that, more likely to leave. Indeed, Gallup found that employees with burnout are 2.6 times more likely to leave their jobs. What’s more, millennials, now accounting for 50% of the workforce, are demanding a more flexible and conscientious working environment.

HR leaders have to-do lists as long as their multi-taking arms, and the topics occupying them vary by industry and organisation. But we’ve seen commonalities in the themes affecting businesses. Employee experience, diversity and inclusiveness, flexible working and socio-economic impact are four topics bigger and more unwieldy than a simple “tick box” exercise.

Employee Experience

Employee experience is a big deal. It’s a buzzword, there’s no doubt, but we shouldn’t let that undermine its importance. 84% of employees surveyed by Deloitte rated their employee experience as “important”, and a peek at Glassdoor tells you tout de suite why employee experience is so valuable when employee retention and attraction are at stake.

I chatted to Paul Matthews, an author, consultant and CEO of software company People Alchemy to get his input on strengthening employee experience.

His advice is one of practicality – ask your employees for their input.

“You won’t know what makes your employees happy unless you ask them directly. There’s seldom a direct match between the things that management give their employees on an unsolicited basis and the things that employees say would make their lives easier.”

He goes on to caution that “employees don’t ask for the things they don’t consider”.

It’s something borne out by the Deloitte report into Human Capital Trends.

They tell us that “organizations should move beyond thinking about experience at work in terms of perks, rewards, or support, and focus on job fit, job design, and meaning—for all workers across the enterprise.”

We concur. As do many successful organisations. Instead of separating their customer and employee experiences, they see them as the same thing.

This mindset – coined as ‘Inbound’ by Hubspot – insists that the culture and goals of your organisation should permeate everything from website copy through to HR policies.

What’s more, organisations who put their vision, purpose and values at the centre of their business will hire employees who identify with those values. Which leads to a better employee experience. Everyone’s a winner with this approach.

Diversity & Inclusiveness

Will 2020 be the year that Diversity & Inclusiveness ceases to be a problem?

Every large business has a D&I statement, yet we continue to see insufficient representation of women and BAME employees in senior roles.

The gender pay gap is still wider than we’d hope for and big names continue to be pulled across hot coals for D&I-related transgressions.

A recent report published by Marketing Week is typical of the problems faced by many sectors and organisations.

Russell Parsons writes “It has always been anecdotally thought that marketing was predominantly made up of white, middle class and, at the senior end, male marketers. And that opportunity centred in London. Our survey… confirms this assumption”.

Board-level changes in creating a D&I policy and hiring targets will only take a business so far. That’s because diversity and inclusiveness is so strongly related to a business’s culture.

An evolution in a business’s purpose or vision is surely the best way to move the needle on D&I.

Take for instance the vision of The Bush Theatre in London’s Shepherd’s Bush.

Their vision – “we want audiences and theatre makers to reflect the world around us” – is a simple statement.

Simple but effective; it sets the scene for everything they do and implicitly encompasses the need for a diverse and inclusive approach.

Beyond this, it’s up to us as individuals to create meaningful change in our own circle of influence. I fell a little bit more in love with Simon Sinek when I watched him sum up the challenge – and solution – eloquently.

“Be the leader you wish you had. If enough of us do that, then we get the world that we imagine…”. Indeed.

Each of us – HR leader or otherwise – can make a conscious choice to embrace diversity and inclusiveness. This behaviour will affect others and influence them too.

Stop and think to yourself “is this a workplace where gender x y or z/people of colour/those with physical or mental health challenges/the young, old and mid-life would want to work? And if not, what can I / we do to fix that?”

Businesses need to get to grips with flexibility

Flexible working has increased enormously, but there’s still room for improvement. The facts make for curious reading:

★ 91% of female full-time workers either work flexibly or want to

★ 84% of male full-time employees either work flexibly or want to

★ 92% of Millennials state that flexibility is a top priority when job seeking

★ Remote workers are more productive – one study showed the increase in productivity was equal to a full day’s work

★ Given the choice between a higher salary or more flexibility, employees favour flexibility over money

★ Only 9.8% of jobs are advertised as “flexible” during the hiring stage.

With stats like this it’s clear that flexi-work is something most of the workforce would embrace. Yet flexible working is as rare as hen’s teeth if you’re in the market for a new job.

Why the reticence? The world of work has changed! We have Skype, Slack and Monday. Most of us have amazing internet connections and cloud-based software that lets us work and collaborate from anywhere in the world. Yet, flexible working is still a challenge. For some organisations – such as those with a 24/7 operation – it’s easy to understand why implementing flexible work is difficult.

But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. I found the example of the NHS especially exciting. They’ve created the role of “Head of Flexible Working” in response to a report by Timewise. The report investigated retention and stress issues suffered by NHS staff.

Part of the study investigated how changes to shift allocation could help improve work-life balance. Giving nurses more input in choosing their shifts, meant that over half (51%) of nurses felt their worklife balance needs were being met ‘a lot’ or ‘fully’ compared to a starting point of 39%.

Ruth Galloway, who holds the role of “Head of Flexible Working” admits it’s a long haul but commented via Tweet that “It takes (ironically) flexibility, brave leadership and a huge amount of trust and goodwill but it can work.

It’s important to remember that flexible working does more than address the needs of working parents. It can also help older workers with phased retirement. Not wanting to leave the game yet, but unwilling or unable to work full-time hours, both employers and employees can benefit from an older part-time workforce.

Karen Mattison MBE, co-founder of Timewise has sage words, “It’s time for businesses to get smarter and use flexibility as a tool to attract and keep the best people. Those who lag behind in adapting how they hire, will risk losing out on millions of skilled workers”.

And as if to lead nicely onto the next point, flexible working can help organisations deliver against another hot topic for HR leaders – social enterprise.

Social Enterprise

You can give it any number of labels. Social enterprise. Corporate activism. Sociopreneurship. We’re becoming increasingly aware of the world around us and a social enterprise model gives businesses the opportunity to give back. But – and here’s the rub – does anyone actually know how to do it well?

I spoke at length to David Lett, a social entrepreneur who set up social enterprises New Meaning and The Toolshed.

He told me that ultimately there’s nothing to stop any business from becoming a social enterprise.

“If you make an ethical (or legal) commercial profit you can be a social enterprise” he told me.

“A social enterprise is any business that actively supports their employees to find fulfilment and their own definition of success”.

This was a fresh angle for me. Until my call with David I’d assumed you had to either have a big social mission – for example Toms with their “One for One®” promise – or directly fund social change through a platform such as B1G1 in the same way as Career Matters do.

But David’s point is even easier. Individuals can find fulfilment through organisation-sponsored activities (such as with Toms) or by being supported by their employers to achieve their own definition of success and fulfilment.

Step back briefly; central to the idea of a social enterprise is how an organisation chooses to invest its profit. I found David’s perspective refreshing;

“Money is worthless unless you exchange it for something”.

His take is that an organisation can invest a portion of their profit into something that will help employees achieve a greater sense of fulfilment and success. And that, is certainly not worthless.

There’s a natural fit here with the Japanese concept of Ikigai, and that of The Career Equation® – where someone is fulfilled in all aspects of their employment and life – you’ll see a happier and more flourishing individual. It’s not just employees who benefit. Employers get better retention and improved productivity.

Society gets happier, mentally healthier individuals.

How could this translate in action? Organisations could support employees to learn a new skill with a grant or sabbatical or they could give employees the flexibility to run a club or society. Scouting and Girl Guiding are two excellent not-for-profits that benefit society as a whole. They can only survive with the input of willing volunteers – and these volunteers can only give their time if their employers give them that flexibility. An employer can help their teams craft a fulfilling life. In doing so, that employer contributes towards a better and more well-rounded society.

David isn’t alone in this thinking. One of the best comments I read lately was from the recently deceased Bernard Tyson.

“You need to think about the return on investment. But the difference is, the return isn’t to make shareholders richer, the return is to put the money back to use.”

And that’s something we can all ponder upon.

There are subjects I haven’t touched on. Employee wellbeing and the way it permeates every aspect of business life. Environmentalism and the consequences over the next decade as businesses and governments cut carbon emissions. Brexit and the effect on the way Britain negotiates business over the short, mid and long term. What’s important to you in your business? Is there a burning topic that you want to hear more about? Let us know!

Want to join our annual One for Three breakfast event? We have space for just 20 guests to experience The Career Equation® at a secret location in London on the 11th of June. Write to us now at team@ericasosna.com to get an EARLY, EARLY, EARLY BIRD TICKET!

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