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.
- Risk assessment, but a different kind of risk assessment. Historically, the risks HRBPs have managed were more compliance-focused, like employee relations and misconduct issues. While HRBPs are looking forward to many of these more traditional responsibilities going away, they expect new and unfamiliar risks to emerge that will require their attention. What do new data privacy regulations mean for how we collect and use employee data? What does the geopolitical environment mean for how we support our employees? Given differences in employee technology access and fluency, to what extent does more of a reliance on technology exacerbate workforce divides? These are the kinds of questions HRBPs expect they will be increasingly called upon to answer in the 2020s.
In a recent Gartner survey, HRBPs told us they want to spend 20 percent more time—one whole day each workweek—on strategic work. For that to happen, some of the work they currently do has to be automated, delegated, or otherwise taken off their plates. Here are the tasks and attributes HRBPs are anticipating (or hoping) will disappear from their job descriptions in the future:
- Tactical responsibilities—finally! For years, the HRBP community has been eager to set aside the tactical responsibilities that take up much of their time but are low in value. Today, they see digital technology finally accelerating their progression toward that goal, particularly by automating some of that day-to-day work. In a Gartner survey, HRBPs said that 21 percent of their work had already been automated, and they expect the amount to rise to 65 percent. When asked what responsibilities have already gone away thanks to automation, HRBPs mentioned tactical work like benefits enrollment, applicant tracking, and personnel files.
- Traditional compliance-focused risk assessment. Again, HRBPs don’t think risk assessment will go away completely, but they do believe it will shift in scope as compliance activities are automated or shifted from HR to the legal department. Our research suggests that this process has already started: An analysis of data from Gartner’s TalentNeuron platform shows that risk assessment was the skill that saw the greatest decline in demand (43 percent) within HRBP job descriptions from 2015 to 2018.
- An HR-first, business-second mindset. In the coming years, HRBPs are looking forward to a work environment in which they more deeply embedded in the business, with their primary focus on the business units to which they’re assigned, not HR. Also, participants said, they expect the proportion of individuals in the HRBP role coming from parts of the organization other than HR will increase, as success in the role will be defined more by business acumen than HR knowledge. One attendee envisioned that HRBPs could act as the leads on their business units’ “internal consulting teams,” while HR’s Centers of Excellence become the delivery networks that primarily serve to give the workforce access to all employee services.
Gartner Corporate Leadership Council members can learn more about our ongoing research into the future of the HBRP role by participating in our upcoming HRBP Masterclass Series: The HRBP in 2025, in which we will discuss our four predictions for the future of the role with thousands of your peers. In three sessions, the series will cover what the digital era will look like for HR leaders of the future on September 25, how HRBPs can think differently about supporting a workforce of consumers on October 16, and how HRBPs can develop for the HR function of the future on November 13.