According to Gartner research, the adoption of AI is poised to grow rapidly in the coming years. This and other emerging technologies like robotics are bound to fundamentally change the way we work, largely or completely automating many of today’s jobs. While this technological upheaval is generally expected to create more jobs than it destroys, the transition will be disruptive and challenging for many professionals accustomed to working in a pre-AI world. The most dire projections anticipate widespread displacement or the radical transformation of current jobs due to AI and robotics, potentially affecting tens of millions of workers in developed countries.
The effects of automation will be challenging for the clients of many HR business partners, and HRBPs will be called to provide increasing support for those impacted, such as ensuring they have access to retraining opportunities. In addition, HRBPs see themselves as part of the population affected by automation: Ten years from now, HRBPs expect nearly half of their current day-to-day responsibilities to be automated. HRBPs are optimistic, however, about the impacts that technology and automation will have on their role. Our research at Gartner finds 68 percent of HRBPs agree that automation is an opportunity to prioritize strategic responsibilities. To capitalize on this opportunity, however, HRBPs need to anticipate what work will be automated and what work will be augmented.
At a recent meeting with 70 HRBPs in New York City, we discussed predictions for the future of their role and asked them how technology has changed or will change it. Several attendees mentioned employee data collection: Previously, this was an onerous monthly or quarterly process of manually pulling together data from various sources to populate dashboards for stakeholders. Technology has made this process easier and quicker, with the use of pulse surveys and other tools. It also creates opportunities to collect data in larger quantities or more precisely, and to use it in new ways, though HR still has a lot of work to do in convincing the C-suite of the value of talent analytics.
Shari Buck, co-founder of the physicians’ social networking platform Doximity, made the case in a Quartz post last week for “work-from-home Wednesdays,” a policy her company adopted a few years ago that, in her opinion, strikes the right balance between the flexibility and work-life balance benefits of a work-from-home policy and the need for consistency and accountability among employees:
There are two reasons that scheduling our WFH day in the middle of the week has turned out so well. The first is that it breaks up the week nicely: two days in the office, one day working remote, and then two more days back in the office. This leads to a consistent workflow that balances a number of planning meetings early in the week, a productive Wednesday working from home, and two equally productive and collaborative days on the tail end of the week.
Additionally, scheduling WFH days on Wednesdays rather than on Mondays or Fridays prevents employees from thinking of them as faux three-day weekends. WFH Wednesday is still a work day after all, and the fact that employees are required to be back in the office on Thursday reinforces accountability. WFH Wednesdays have boosted work-life balance for all of our employees. At the same time, they have kept our business productive and on a path of positive growth for nearly a decade.
For companies that have already determined that remote work policies can work at their organization, this is an interesting idea. Designating Wednesdays as the day for remote work companywide—and shutting down the office to boot—could have some downsides, however.
Using its vast trove of user data, LinkedIn compared the US talent landscape in 2012 and 2017 to see what roles had grown the most in demand in that time. At the top of the professional networking site’s list of the top 20 fastest-growing jobs is “machine learning engineer,” the ranks of which have expanded nearly tenfold in the past five years, followed by “data scientist,” “sales development representative,” “customer success manager,” “big data developer,” and “full stack engineer.”
The proliferation of digital roles such as data scientist is unsurprising, given that these jobs are no longer limited to “tech companies” but are now needed in all sorts of organizations. However, Maria Ignatova notes at LinkedIn’s Talent Blog, there are two other key takeaways from the list that employers can learn from:
Hiring for outstanding soft skills is a high priority: Many of the roles on the list are customer-facing and underscore the importance of being able to screen candidates for soft skills. Traditionally, that has been one of the most challenging parts of the hiring process, with standard interviews just not cutting it. Many companies now are starting to use soft skills assessments or job auditions to see candidates in a more authentic light.
Some roles are so new, that the current talent pool is minimal: A few of the jobs on this list didn’t even exist five years ago, or if they did, they were niche with very few professionals in these roles. This means that you have to get creative when it comes to sourcing talent and be willing to approach people from different fields and consider non-standard skillsets. Reskilling the workforce due to shortage of talent is one of the top trends that will impact you if you are hiring for these roles.
LinkedIn’s findings also point to something we’ve found in our research at CEB, now Gartner: The convergence of demand around a smaller number of critical roles. Among S&P 100 companies, we found, 39 percent of job postings last year were for just 29 roles.
Among the HR leaders we surveyed for our latest company culture research at CEB, now Gartner, only 31 percent said their organizations had the culture they needed to accomplish their strategic goals. What’s holding organizations back from getting the culture they need to drive performance? We identified three key reasons:
- Employees aren’t aware of the desired culture (knowledge gap).
- Employees don’t believe in the desired culture (mindset gap).
- Employee behaviors don’t align with the designed culture (behavior gap).
The more than 70 HRBPs, HR generalists, and other strategic HR professionals who attended our recent staff briefing in Chicago shared how these gaps affected their own culture change initiatives—and they drove home another key finding of our research: employees need to be empowered to help facilitate the change, and in a systemic way.
One of our members at the meeting said that despite promoting a culture of open and honest communication, employees at their organization could still end up getting reprimanded for speaking candidly.
Another attendee talked about what they called the “plumbing and wiring” of processes that underlie what culture really is and can lead to misalignments between what they communicate and the reality of how work actually gets done. (An organization where managers talk up a culture of efficiency but employees are regularly going through 100 steps to complete tasks or processes may not have the culture its leaders think it does.)
A third member pointed to the struggle of employees who, after multiple culture-change campaigns, have been inundated with so much messaging that they don’t know what to believe or how to behave. “How,” this attendee asked, “will they know what ‘true north’ is?”
It’s well established by now that employees need to take breaks throughout the day to remain productive at their work and mitigate stress and the risk of burnout. The question these days is how individuals (or organizations) to structure work and break times to maximize productivity. Fast Company’s Stephanie Vozza takes a brief look at some of the techniques out there for dividing up ones workday:
Robert Pozen, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, … suggests taking a break every 75 and 90 minutes. “That’s the period of time where you can concentrate and get a lot of work done, he says. “We know that because we have studied professional musicians, who are most productive when they practice for this amount of time. It’s also the amount of time of most college classes.” …
Sometimes you don’t have an hour and a half to work, and the good news is you can work in shorter spurts and reap the benefits of breaks. An experiment by the software startup Draugiem Group using time-tracking app DeskTime found that the most productive workers took regular and frequent breaks, working in 52-minute sprints with 17-minute breaks. The employees got more done without working longer hours, and regular breaks made them more efficient.
The conclusion of the Draugiem Group experiment was that break structures actually had a greater impact on employees’ output than how many hours they worked: In other words, a ten-hour day of unstructured, unfocused work with no breaks is less productive than a shorter day that follows the sprint-and-break cycle.
On the latest CEB Talent Angle Podcast, Scott Hafford, CEO of Complete Intelligence and author of Activate Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Success highlights another reason why breaks are important: for reducing stress. “In the afternoon, when your cortisol levels rise to a state where you’re feeling a little bit stressed out, a little bit tired, that’s a really bad time to make a decision,” Hafford says, “unless you’ve [taken a break or refreshed your brain].”
Furthermore, if you have constantly high levels of cortisol, associated with high stress, Hafford warns that this can have negative implications for your long-term health, and has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other health problems. He also recommends making sure, when stressed, to take a break instead of responding immediately to annoying or upsetting emails. Walking away allows stressor hormones to come down and have less influence on your response.
The Ascend Foundation, a non-profit Pan-Asian career lifecycle organization, published a report this week on racial inequality in the US tech sector. Analyzing EEO-1 data for 2015-2017 from hundreds of San Francisco Bay Area tech companies, the study concluded that “diversity in technology leadership roles has generally stagnated over the last decade,” while race is “an increasingly more significant impediment than gender to climbing the management ladder, with Asian women and Hispanic women most affected.” Other key findings include:
- Asians are the least likely to be promoted to managerial or executive positions, in spite of being the largest minority group of professionals and the most likely to be hired. In particular, Asian women are the least represented group as executives, at 66% underrepresentation.
- White men and women are twice as likely as Asians to become executives and hold almost three times the number of executive jobs.
- Even though white women are now substantially more successful in reaching the executive level than ALL minority men or women, white men are still 47% more likely than white women to be executives.
- Both Blacks and Hispanics have declined in their percentage share of the professional workforce despite efforts to hire more underrepresented minorities.
“When we used the Executive Parity Index to compare the numbers of minorities as executives to their numbers in the workforce, it was clear that that efforts to promote more Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics have made no meaningful impact to the minority glass ceiling,” said Buck Gee, a former vice president and general manager at Cisco Systems who is an Ascend executive advisor and a study co-author. “That said, we saw progress made by white women, so we know tech companies can change. Now it’s time to do the same for minority men and women.”
This report represents a major contribution to the literature on racial diversity and discrimination in the tech sector, particularly in dismantling the myth that Asian-Americans are unaffected by bias or even unfairly advantaged. What Ascend found was that while Asian employees are not overtly discriminated against in policies or practices, they observed “a pattern of cultural traits among some Asians that did not align with leadership expectations in Western corporate culture, such as risk-taking and being confrontational,” Gee tells Wired’s Nitasha Tiku: