What will your job look like in 2025? How confident would you be in your answer? These are the questions Gartner has been asking in our ongoing series of briefings with hundreds of HR business partners, HR generalists, and other strategic HR professionals.
This particular group’s answer to this question is a matter of particular concern for their organizations. HRBPs and HR generalists make up the largest portion of today’s HR functions: about 25 percent of HR headcount and 19 percent of HR budget expenditure, according to Gartner’s HR Budget and Staffing Benchmarking Survey. Accordingly, the work these professionals do has a large impact on the global HR community.
At one of our recent briefings in Chicago, HRBPs discussed the new responsibilities they expect to take on in their jobs in the coming decade, as well as the tasks they are looking forward to setting aside or delegating.
Much of the new work HR professionals are anticipating mirrors the environment in which they will work (and in many cases, are already working):
- Doing more with data. HRBPs already feel growing expectations around their data skills and all expect that trend to continue. The ability to use data effectively, participants predicted, will also increasingly depend on fluency with HR technology and information systems, making the already difficult task of analyzing and telling stories with data more complex. For example, one HRBP from the retail industry shared that employee sentiment analysis and mood tracking was one particular area where she was already being asked to do more. Instead of relying on the formal employee survey, HRBPs will be asked to spot trends in employee email histories, health data, technology use tracking, and other data sets to identify workforce issues and opportunities.
- Being predictive, not just proactive. The HRBP role originally emerged as part of the HR function’s transformation from being reactive to being proactive. The next evolution of HR is to become predictive. Being proactive meant trying to anticipate events and align their work accordingly; being predictive, participants said, means not only anticipating potential outcomes, but also being able to judge which outcomes are most and least likely to occur. In other words, being predictive blends anticipation and prioritization in a way that proactivity alone does not. Many of our attendees indicated that they were enthusiastic about this change, especially in combination with their growing strategic role.
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.
As CEOs and investors become increasingly aware of the bottom-line value of organizational culture, HR leaders and professionals are being called upon now more than ever to shape their companies’ cultures in ways that maximize business performance. Under pressure to show results, many organizations have either tried to copy an already successful company culture like that of Google, IBM, or Netflix; or treated culture as a people problem, attempting to generate buy-in among current employees and hire more candidates who embody the kind of culture they want.
Our latest research at CEB, now Gartner, shows that these conventional approaches aren’t working. There is no one type of culture that always performs best, we find, and changing the culture by changing the people is far less effective than embedding the desired culture in the organization’s processes. A key challenge in making that happen, however, is that many organizations aren’t sure what their current culture is from an employee perspective and don’t know how to measure the effectiveness of their culture change interventions on the ground.
At our ongoing series of briefings with HRBPs, HR generalists, and other strategic HR professionals, our members are getting a chance to share experiences and learn from how their peers have been implementing this process-based approach. At our staff briefing in Atlanta earlier in November, the conversation focused on this challenge of investigating culture and surfacing the barriers that prevent employees from incorporating desired cultural behaviors into their work.
Learn: Airing Daily Experiences of Culture
One HR leader shared that their organization has appointed a dedicated “Chief Storyteller.” This person doesn’t just talk about values and behaviors at town halls and company events, but gathers candid information from front-line employees to better understand the day-to-day culture, and then brings these stories to senior leaders. This approach of uncovering and sharing evidence of company culture in the form of stories makes the examples more tangible and memorable and gives leaders an unfiltered view into how employees are actually living the culture—as well as the barriers that get in the way of them doing so.
Even though so-called “gig workers” are not generally entitled to the same benefits and perks as regular employees, as contingent labor makes up a greater portion of the workforce, many employers are concerned about how they will provide benefits like health insurance or retirement savings plans to this new and different type of worker, for whom many existing benefit systems and regulations do not account. Companies like Uber and Care.com, whose business models depend on drivers or caregivers being classified as independent contractors rather than employees, have been experimenting since last year with ways to deliver retirement and health insurance benefits to those who are employed through their platforms, but not by them.
This issue is also entering discussions about public policy: Last September, the online handicraft retailer Etsy published a proposal imagining a new form of “social safety net” for gig workers, and recommending a series of policy changes to that end, and since last year, New York State has been developing legislation that would establish a model for gig economy workers to receive portable benefits while remaining independent contractors under state law. In the meantime, Mark Feffer at SHRM offers employers some suggestions on how to give contingent workers benefits without running the risk of causing them to be reclassified as full-time employees:
Experts say there are two central elements to fashioning a benefits package that will attract the best gig workers with minimal risk to the company:
- First, understand that independents consider more than money when deciding whether or not to take an assignment.
- Second, make sure whatever you offer is portable, something the worker can access even after his or her assignment has ended.
Owen Gough at Small Business passes along a study sponsored by UK bed and mattress retailer Time4Sleep, which found that HR professionals are among the most likely types workers to get sleep-deprived due to work-related stress:
Operational (57 per cent), accounts (47 per cent), IT (45 per cent) and administration (45 per cent) sit at the top of the table of professions that get an average of six hours sleep or less. Sales (43 per cent), shop floor workers (42 per cent) and marketing (35 per cent) sit in the middle, while director/owners (33 per cent), plumber/electrician/builders (33 per cent), teachers (32 per cent) prop up the top ten. …
Top five professions that are kept awake thinking about work-related issues are HR (93 per cent), marketing (89 per cent), doctor/nurse/dentist (88 per cent), lawyer (87 per cent) and artist/designers (85 per cent).
In our agenda poll at CEB, we saw that burnout was the second-most common cause of attrition for HR business partners, which is understandable given both the sensitivity of the issues HRBPs handle and the constant balance they aim for between reactive and strategic work. I can imagine this holding true across most other HR roles as well. We also hear often from HR staff that they got into the HR profession for a very specific and deliberate reason—to work with people—so their personal dedication to the profession could make them prone to overwork, or more willing to put up with job-related stress or sleep deprivation.