Changes Are Coming: How to Stay Ahead of Workplace Disruptions

Changes Are Coming: How to Stay Ahead of Workplace Disruptions

When we think about the future of work, we often picture robots taking our jobs and a permanent end to the decreasingly popular 9-to-5. While changes as extreme as these may be coming at some point in the future, ongoing technological innovations are changing the future of work today, while subsequent disruptions will continue to shape our working lives tomorrow. Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, machine learning, and other emerging technologies are already promising to fundamentally change how we work and what we need from our HR functions. The ongoing and upcoming waves of technological change will fundamentally disrupt the way work is done and who does it.

HR functions are starting to engage with these changes: Gartner research shows that one in four HR teams are already using or piloting AI in some form. However, only 10% of Chief HR Officers feel that they have an operational strategy to address the risks of automation. In order for HR to evolve, its leaders need to better understand the technology trends that affect the future of work. HR executives are now expected to evaluate the impact of these trends on their organization, both to leverage them in growing the business and to prepare the organization for the risks they pose.

So how do you proactively prepare for workplace disruptions instead of reactively lagging behind them? We reviewed how some of the most progressive organizations and HR leaders are tracking, assessing, and managing the implications of upcoming technology trends on their employees and the work they do. From our research, we determined that HR leaders must focus on two key areas: identifying and anticipating business disruptions, and preparing for workforce transformation.

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With Brexit Uncertainty Looming, UK Businesses and Employees Lose Confidence in Economy

With Brexit Uncertainty Looming, UK Businesses and Employees Lose Confidence in Economy

The deadline for the UK to withdraw from the European Union is coming up in just two weeks, on March 29. This week, the UK Parliament voted against a deal negotiated between Prime Minister Theresa May’s government and EU leaders, against a no-deal Brexit, and in favor of delaying the Brexit date in order to buy additional time to figure out a solution. Any delay will require the consent of the 27 remaining EU countries, which is not guaranteed, and even with more time, legislators will still face the same tough choices.

As the clock counts down to the deadline, Brexit has created a lot of uncertainty for UK organizations and their employees, especially workers from other EU countries whose future status is up in the air. This uncertainty has done significant damage to UK employees’ confidence in the business environment, Gartner’s latest Global Talent Monitor report indicates:

Employee confidence in the UK business environment has slumped, according to Gartner, Inc. The latest data in Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor report for 4Q18 shows employee confidence in near-term business conditions and long-term economic prospects reaching an index score of 55.6, a decline of 7.5 per cent from an index score of 60.09 in 3Q18. These results follow a worldwide trend that has seen global business confidence sink to its lowest point since the fourth quarter of 2017.

This lapse in confidence was paired with a sharp decline in employees’ active job seeking behavior, which fell by 7.2 per cent from 3Q18. Amid declining perceptions of the job market, coupled with the highly uncertain Brexit outlook, employees’ intent to stay in their current jobs in 4Q18 increased for the first time in 2018, as did their willingness to go above and beyond in their present roles.

UK employers are staring down the uncertainty of Brexit in the context of a tight talent market in which it has become exceptionally challenging to fill critical skills gaps. The Global Talent Monitor data from the final quarter of last year suggests that talent attraction will be a major challenge for employers this year, regardless of what happens with Brexit, as employees take a more pessimistic view of the job market and become more averse to the risks inherent in changing jobs. (Gartner for HR Leaders clients can see all the latest data from our Global Talent Monitor here.)

Uncertainty is a key factor — perhaps the key factor — driving the Brexit panic, as illustrated by the Decision Maker Panel, a survey of 7,500 UK business executives that researchers from the Bank of England, University of Nottingham, and Stanford University have been running regularly to gauge the impact of Brexit on companies. Writing at the Harvard Business Review, the researchers ascribe declines in investment, employment, and productivity to Brexit-related uncertainty:

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How Can We Design Flexibility to Meet Different Employees’ Work-Life Balance Needs?

How Can We Design Flexibility to Meet Different Employees’ Work-Life Balance Needs?

In a meta-analysis of recent studies on flexible work policies, professors Ellen Ernst Kossek and Brenda A. Lautsch looked at whether these programs had consistent benefits for all types of workers: e.g., hourly or salaried, managerial or professional, and high- or low-income. Discussing their findings at the Harvard Business Review, Kossek and Lautsch register their dismay that in most of these studies, these distinctions weren’t even explored. “Despite the many studies on the topic,” they write, “it is rare for scholars to consider occupational differences across workers in the need for, and experience of, work-life flexibility.”

That’s a problem, the authors underscore, because employees in different roles and circumstances diverge significantly in terms of access to flexibility and other work-life balance programs, with varying consequences for their quality of life and work:

What exactly do we know about how kinds of work-life flexibility benefit employees in different jobs the most? First, not every employee faces the same work-life challenges, has access to the same types of flexibility, or experiences outcomes from them in the same way. For example, retail, food, and other workers in hourly jobs that pay at or close to the minimum wage often struggle to get sufficient predictable (and sometimes enough) work hours to care for their families. They would benefit from being able to control their work hours through flex time and having greater control over schedules and time off, as well as the ramping up of hours when it fits their lives. Yet these are the workers who rarely have access to control over when they work.

In addition, access to other work-life flexibility practices that affect the ability to take time off and the continuity of work, like paid sick and parental leaves, is critical to these hourly workers. It is also largely unavailable to them.

These authors’ point about how employees differ in their work-life challenges and the kinds of benefits they need resonates with something we’ve observed in our research at CEB, now Gartner, over the past several years and that is coming into ever greater focus in our ongoing work: Work-life balance is a broad category of need, for which no HR department can possibly design a one-size-fits-all solution.

Last week, we hosted Genentech’s Head of People Analytics Chase Rowbotham for a webinar. One of the projects he described was an analysis his team did to understand the effects of commute times on employees’ likelihood of leaving. Based on those findings, Genentech is rolling out a new “Working Flexibly” philosophy and toolkit, among a series of initiatives geared toward improving the employee experience. It’s intentionally a philosophy, not a policy, precisely because of this variation in what working flexibly can and should look like for different segments of the workforce. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members who missed the webinar can watch a replay of it on our member site.)

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Sexual Harassment Scandals at Tech Giants Bring Silicon Valley’s HR Problems to Light

Sexual Harassment Scandals at Tech Giants Bring Silicon Valley’s HR Problems to Light

Sexual harassment and sexism are well known problems in the US tech sector, as a survey of Silicon Valley women found last year, but a series of recent allegations involving three major companies has thrust those problems into the spotlight and is forcing the industry and the public to confront what last year’s survey called “the elephant in the Valley.”

After former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post last Sunday about her experience at the company, alleging a pattern of sexual harassment, HR misconduct, and management retaliation, the ridesharing startup launched an internal investigation and is hearing strong criticism from investors and employees. Uber’s critics are urging an overhaul of what they describe as a toxic and self-destructive culture that enables sexual harassment and misconduct toward women.

In a development that could compound the scandal, Recode’s Kara Swisher broke the news on Monday that Uber’s SVP of engineering, Amit Singhal, had been asked to resign after she reported that he had not disclosed to Uber that he had left Google last year amidst “credible” allegations of sexual harassment from an employee. Sources at Uber told Swisher that they had done extensive background checks on Singhal but uncovered nothing related to the allegations at Google (which Singhal still denies). Swisher also couldn’t find any outward indication that anything was amiss for Singhal at Google at the time, even though the company was, according to her sources, “prepared to fire Singhal over the allegations after looking into the incident,” but such action was preempted by Singhal’s decision to resign:

Sources said the female employee who filed the formal complaint against Singhal did not work for him directly, but worked closely with the search team. She also did not want to go public with the charges, which is apparently why Google decided to allow Singhal to leave quietly. He was also a well-regarded executive there, who was well liked by many I have spoken to at Google. He rose to a top job as SVP of search and has had a distinguished career as a technologist in Silicon Valley. …

You could not tell that there were any problems, though, from the outward behavior of both sides [at the time of Singhal’s departure]. When Singhal left, said sources, Google settled major outstanding grants he had, and his own goodbye letter read more like a retirement missive. More to the point, it gave no hint of acrimony between himself and his longtime employer.

Both Uber and Google are facing a backlash over these revelations: the former for hiring Singhal without uncovering what led to his departure from his last job, and the latter for allowing him to leave the company inconspicuously. On Twitter, ex-Googler Kelly Ellis, who allegedly witnessed and experienced sexual harassment while working there several years ago, took to Twitter to highlight how the “boy’s club” of tech executives hurts leadership diversity and makes it easier for male tech execs to get away with serial sexual harassment. Among her complaints related to this latest example: that tech executives often hire their friends outside of the usual hiring process, and after already lacking the necessary diversity to pick up on risks of misconduct.

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Is HR Being Too Passive About Brexit?

Is HR Being Too Passive About Brexit?

This morning, I attended a panel discussion organized by the Financial Times on the talent management implications of Brexit. The panelists—Tom Gosling, Partner and Leader of PwC’s UK Reward Practice; Stephan Thoma, former Global L&D Director at Google and now an independent consultant; and Gareth Jones, former HR director at the BBC and a fellow at the London Business School’s Centre for Management Development—all pointed to the lack of action that HR functions are taking.

Given that it is unclear what Brexit means, and what kind of Brexit we want or will end up with (hard, soft, medium… scrambled, poached?), HR could be forgiven for sitting on its hands. The panelists, however, were firm in their assertion that this inaction is damaging us today. Gosling reported that about 15 percent of organizations have had candidates withdraw from the hiring process at the offer stage, citing Brexit. Thoma spoke of a London-based startup with whom he has been working, where despite being well-funded, their head of software engineering, a Lithuanian national, has just quit because he is uncomfortable with the shift in the mood in the UK.

Why is HR being so passive? One reason may be a perceived lack of demand for information coming from employees. Gosling explained that in his experience, HR functions have not been overrun with questions or concerns from employees, but when his team created a Brexit drop-in session for a client, they had people queuing out the door. The implication here is that the very personal nature, and the complexity, of the Brexit scenario (particularly for non-British EU nationals) means that employees may not feel comfortable going to HR, or believe that HR can’t help them. Jones cautioned that the consequence of lack of action and limited communication can have a creeping effect on workforce engagement and trust, which Jones asserted is particularly worrying given that throughout the Western world, we already have very low trust in institutions and stubbornly low engagement scores.

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Talent Management Can’t Be Siloed—but Is There a Role for HR?

Talent Management Can’t Be Siloed—but Is There a Role for HR?

At the Harvard Business Review, Ron Ashkenas makes the case against centralizing dedicated talent management teams within the HR function, pointing to two factors that he sees as reasons why these teams often don’t get the desired results:

The first is that the advent of talent management as a stand-alone specialty has led to overly complicated talent processes that are difficult to understand, at best, and confusing to managers, at worst. Anytime a function becomes a “profession,” with an association, conferences, certification, and the like, it starts formalizing its own language, which only insiders really understand. Just last year, for example, the Association for Talent Development, a professional society for talent development people, published a research study that proposed 15 core functions for talent development and 24 secondary functions that might be important for some organizations. Even if talent management professionals themselves could remember and implement all of these functions, it’s almost certain that managers would find them more confusing than useful.

The second problem is that the rise of a central function makes it too easy for managers to forgo their personal accountability for acquiring and developing the right talent for their business. In all too many companies, how managers handle talent has no impact on their personal rating or compensation. All they need to do is fill out review forms, go to meetings, and assume that HR will make sure that the people issues are addressed. And then, if things don’t work out, they blame HR — despite the fact that they’re in a much better position to assess and develop their own people.

A third problem is the potential for discord within the HR function itself.

Within HR, each sub-function becomes siloed, and handoffs across the sub-functions become inefficient and hard to manage. So this isn’t just a problem for managers (like the first one mentioned above), but for HR as well. Mylestone found a solution to this problem by having its HR department conduct “HR Responsibility Negotiation Forums” that improve communication and coordination across the function by allowing everyone to negotiate responsibilities. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can read our full case study on Mylestone’s approach.)

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It’s Time for the CHRO to Get to Know the CIO

It’s Time for the CHRO to Get to Know the CIO

Paul King argues in Workforce that HR needs to adopt a new mindset when it comes to cybersecurity:

Despite the increased vulnerability of HR systems, many HR professionals still view themselves in the traditional role of workforce management, choosing to leave cyber risk management to other departments, notably IT.

According to a recent IBM security study released this year, 57 percent of chief human resources officers globally have rolled out employee training that addresses cybersecurity. However, the respondents’ positive percentages dropped noticeably when asked if they provided cybersecurity training that included measurable, results-based outputs, or if there was reinforcement throughout the year that provided more than a once a year cybersecurity training. …

The IBM report urged key executives in human resources, finance and marketing departments to be more proactive in security decisions, coordinate plans internally and to be more engaged in cybersecurity strategy and execution with the C-suite and IT. This means HR personnel should not only stay abreast of proper security processes when it comes to accessing sensitive employee data, but they should be able to communicate updates about cyber threats effectively to the enterprise, to current and new employees, and contractors.

From my perspective, the implication here is that the CHRO-CIO relationship needs to become closer. King hints at this notion at the end of his article, but it merits more discussion.

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