HR Disciplines Panel Trends Report

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About the Special Expertise Panels’ Trends

The lists of key trends each panel produces in its subject area make use of panel members’ insights to uncover a wide range of HR-related trends. These lists assist SHRM in creating forward-looking information and content for our members in forums such as the online HR Focus Areas, research articles, reports and surveys, and through media and outreach efforts. SHRM would like to acknowledge the efforts of each of the members of the Special Expertise Panels.

Disclaimer: The views presented on this report are those of the members of the SHRM Special Expertise Panels and do not necessarily represent the views of SHRM. All content is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as a guaranteed outcome. The Society for Human Resource Management cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions or any liability resulting from the use or misuse of any such information.

Employee Health, Safety and Security Trends

  1. The continually increasing use of technology and smartphones creates a fertile ground for cyber security breaches. This risk is compounded by bring-your-own-device policies and telecommuting. This creates concerns for employers about the security of employee data.

  2. There is increased awareness of the hidden costs of workplace bullying. Bullying is an employee relations issue, and it increases potential for workplace violence. Employers will address issues related to workplace bullying by creating policies and training about civility and respect in the workplace.

  3. The increasing knowledge of the impact of health risk factors will continue to sharpen the focus on workplace wellness. Employee health affects productivity, attendance and insurance costs. Successful wellness programs address these concerns and make a positive impact on the bottom line.

  4. There is a rapidly increasing number of states that are legalizing or decriminalizing recreational or medical use of marijuana. Employer policies will continue to evolve accordingly to ensure safety in the workplace.

  5. Employers will be increasingly concerned with workplace violence prevention and with establishing procedures to address workplace violence. Concerns about the high incidence of workplace violence will increasingly prompt employers to establish or refine their workplace violence prevention and intervention strategies to better identify and respond to warning signs and potential threats and better respond to violent incidents.

  6. Obesity is on the rise in the U.S. and worldwide. If current trends continue, more than 50% of the U.S. adult population will be obese by 2030. The growing number of employees and candidates who are obese or who have obesity risk factors is creating safety and accommodation challenges for employers.

  7. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will continue to fast-track many new regulations, putting a significant burden on employers to rapidly implement new standards to stay in compliance.

  8. The increasing incidence of natural and manmade disasters is prompting employers to develop or improve their organizational resilience management (e.g., disaster preparedness, emergency response plan, continuity of operations plans).

  9. The increasing use of prescription opioids is creating a new category of employees—employees who are working legally high. The workers’ compensation system is attempting to regulate and change the use of opioids when treating routine orthopedic injuries.

Employee Relations Trends

  1. There has been much discussion in magazines, online articles and blogs, both in traditional and nontraditional forums, challenging the value of traditional annual performance reviews. There is an increased focus on the use of the performance review and ways in which the process can be made more effective for the employee, the team and the organization. 

  2. Regulatory development and executive orders are beginning to affect the workplace on a more frequent basis than legislative reform. Since 2009, the White House has issued at least 12 contractor-focused executive orders that have led to 16 new regulations, including mandates for minimum wage, pay fairness, nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, paid leave and more, with at least four more executive orders pending. These mandates may affect small business more than larger employers as the former have fewer resources dedicated to managing growing obligations for implementation and monitoring for these myriad compliance demands. The obligations may drive an increased need for in-house HR professionals for small businesses or a demand for outsourced consulting services.

  3. Limited resources affect employee engagement. Companies are continuing to evaluate their workforces to optimize the productivity of their employees and actively match employee skill and labor hours to specific work and projects. The goal is to avoid understaffing as well as overstaffing. The result is leaner and more targeted work teams. Employees may be challenged to expend more discretionary effort toward work, which requires highly engaged employees.

  4. Many organizations are realizing that traditional “succession planning” methods are not meeting the talent needs of fast-moving, change-driven organizations. The annual conversations about which top executive can fill which chair in three years is no longer effective. Organizations are finding that they need to look much lower in the organization for talent needed to meet today’s business objectives. These “talent review” meetings take place more frequently and include several additional outcomes, including succession planning. This process differentiates the talent and addresses skills gaps, flight risk and professional development to meet the future needs of the organization.

  5. There is a growing focus on civility in the workplace and respect for others. In 2014 the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) shared the stage for a public dialogue on employees’ use of social media and employers’ monitoring of such activities. In 2014 the Workplace Bullying Institute reported that of the 27% of survey respondents who reported being a victim of workplace bullying, 33% reported being bullied by co-workers and 11% by a subordinate or direct report. The EEOC continues to hold employers accountable for maintaining a nonhostile work environment. The NLRB continues to uphold employees’ right to engage in uncivil discourse, inclusive of directed profanity and derogatory comments when such discourse is attached to protected activity (e.g., concerted comments about wages, hours or conditions of employment). Employers will need to remain on active vigil as these trends play out to determine how to demand workplace civility while balancing employees’ rights to seek the protection of rights afforded them under Section 7 the National Labor Relations Act.

  6. When employee engagement is tied to metrics, how does it drive the business? A fluctuating economy and global markets continue to increase competition for qualified and productive employees. As a result, employee engagement evolves from a nice-to-have into a have-to-have. The primary focus of engagement shifts from the psychological aspect of asking, “Are our employees happy?” to a functional analysis, “Are our employees happy and productive?” Gallup finds that a highly engaged workforce can increase productivity as much as 20%. Much has been written about metrics and employee engagement. Proactive employers will learn to tie the two to identify key metrics to establish baseline measures and track and monitor progress. Harvard Business Review provides a primer for those seeking some preliminary guidance.

  7. Technology-based training will become more prominent in the workplace, enabling workplaces to become more flexible, versatile, on demand and global.

  8. There is a growing shift to the use of shared economy spaces as a way to save money for employers, and this raises questions around employee vs. independent contractors. The reality for many companies is that the choice to move to an open office is driven more by financial necessity than by softer targets such as a desire for increased collaboration. Workforces are often in flux, and an open/shared workspace design allows for that flux without adding office space costs. Temporary and contract workers often work offsite or have no need for permanent office space. Companies seeking to increase their workforce quickly or temporarily are able to do so without the need for finding and paying for extra space.

  9. As more workers will reveal their transgender status, companies can expect a growing number of requests for transgender benefits, thus increasing premium costs for employers.

Organizational Development Trends

  1. Economic pressures, longer life spans and other factors will foster the continued employment of five generations in the workplace, requiring employers to anticipate and manage the potential clash between individuals with differing values and ethics. One change that will affect organizations in the coming years is that the number of generations expected to be in the workforce at once will increase to five. Due to a number of factors, such as economic pressures and longer life spans, older employees are expected to remain in the workforce longer than before. This convergence of generations will force employers to anticipate and manage individuals with different values, ethics and needs, and be more responsive and flexible with regards to generational preferences.

  2. Work has become project-based, resulting in the need to reexamine performance management feedback, moving away from an annual conversation to move frequent  check-ins and requiring managers to regularly monitor and record behavior and performance. The traditional performance review is not as applicable to the new style of work for many knowledge-based and new-economy workers, whose efforts are more focused on a specific project rather than ongoing activities. These changes are making it necessary for more employers to move away from the traditional annual performance review to more frequent (at least quarterly) check-ins for managers to monitor and record behavior and performance.  

  3. There is an ongoing trend toward simplification of people processes such as performance management. With many organizations still running very lean, it is necessary for HR to remove as much complexity from the necessary people management tasks as possible. Performance management, hiring, timekeeping, onboarding and other managerial responsibilities, while necessary to the organization, can be simplified through greater use of technology, attention to the most critical parts, and the same process management skills that many organizations apply to the operational side.

  4. Organizational structure is a continuous process, requiring ongoing assessment due to changing global and economic dynamics. Organizational structures need to be adaptable due to the rapidly evolving nature of business in the postmodern world. To respond to the opportunities and threats, organizations need to empower employees to respond, nimble enough to be able to complete any required decision-making processes and approvals quickly, and flexible enough to be able to move both physical and human resources to work on a problem or opportunity quickly.

  5. The need to train workers to replace exiting, aging workers has fiscal impact that needs to be anticipated and budgeted for. As experienced workers exit the workforce, organizations must anticipate a decline in operational effectiveness and perhaps productivity that comes with the loss of institutional knowledge. This impact can be minimized with effective succession planning and professional development. However, conservative budgeting of this potential loss will result in more accurate financial forecasts.

  6. Managers are involving employees more in their career planning. The use of personalized development plans and career maps will show employees one possible view of their future within the organization while also providing the organization a possible roadmap for succession planning.

  7. It is becoming more common to conduct smaller and more targeted surveys to get real-time feedback that can be used to create more local and immediate change. Most organizations recognize that the drivers of workforce engagement and the level of engagement itself vary by department, division or organizational unit. As a result, more value can be realized by organizations that use targeted engagement surveys that are tailored to the unique needs of the workforce segment that receives the survey.  

  8. There is an increased focus on the separation of individual development goals from annual performance review in favor of goals solidly linked to business strategy and objectives. Individual development, such as soft skill development, remains important; however, those goals are not measured as a part the annual performance review.

  9. Globalizing demands a focus on change management as it relates to organizational design, understanding and responding to the strategy, and aligning talent management with the strategy. Organizations are required to be globally focused and not limited to U.S. demands for products and services. To respond to the growing and competitive global markets and customers, the organizations must be able to respond quickly to the changes in their market as well as those going on in the world economy/markets.

Talent Acquisition Trends

  1. Mass sourcing of candidates through “big job boards” (e.g., Monster) and broad networks (e.g., LinkedIn) gives way to more targeted sourcing of subpopulations, enabled by the use of analytics and big data.

  2. Pressure will increase for the U.S. government to dramati­cally increase or abolish H-1B visa ceilings, recognizing the shortage of STEM graduates in the United States and the resulting loss of talent when these students graduate and return to their home countries.

  3. As the economy recovers and hiring volume increases, recruiting has shifted from an employer-driven market to a candidate-driven market, causing more competition for strong candidates and challenges in retaining current employees. As a result, employers are becoming more competitive with benefits to attract candidates and to retain current employees, as 71% of people in the labor force say they are actively looking for or are open to a new job.

  4. Social media is contributing to lack of communication and conflict resolution skills. As staff and managers become more engaged in e-communication and remote technologies, the art and craft of face-to-face communication may become lost. Decreased attention to active listening skills and lowered ability to assess tone and manner of speech in human interaction may increase misunderstandings as visual and auditory cues become lost or unrecognizable. Research shows the impact is felt not only by workers but by children as young as age 6. This trend will require employers to be more vigilant to ensure communications, particularly in-person, reflect intent and to consider ways to personally and actively engage the up-and-coming generation of workers. Left unattended, the lack of skills to effectively communicate and resolve conflicts in person may negatively affect behavior and impair the ability to develop and maintain relationships.

  5. Regardless of the current employment rate, there is always a war for candidates. Companies are competing for the best talent, and to attract the best talent, they have to have a strategic advantage with their company branding. Organizations will need to create and communicate a compelling and unique perception of their company in the minds of targeted candidates and employees—a brand that attracts, subtly encourages and retains them.

  6. College curriculum out of step with current employers’ needs and the perceived lack of emphasis on communication, conflict management and leadership skills are leading to scarcity of leadership talent. Curriculum within higher education needs to be strategically aligned to ensure that students’ educational experiences sync with employer and industry expectations. Today, more and more colleges want to identify employer expectations and structure students’ educational experiences accordingly. With the rise of the knowledge economy and advancements in technology, employers are looking for college graduates who meet the workforce needs of traditional and emerging industries (e.g., energy, health care and information technology). This rapidly changing environment is challenging higher education to find ways to ensure that students graduate with the skills and training needed to be attractive to employers in these fields.

  7. New selection methods or techniques will continue to be used to attract talent. Companies will use new and effective Web 2.0 recruitment methods to create a solid selection strategy: social networking, virtual job fairs and gamification (using gaming principles by posing virtual challenges that require the skills necessary for a given job).

  8. The DOL’s and IRS’s new test significantly challenges employers with independent contractors, and employers are more likely to classify more individuals as employees than as independent contractors.

  9. With the Iraq war over and the war in Afghanistan drawing to a close, more than 1 million service members are projected to leave the military in the next several years and transition to civilian life. Companies struggle with converting complicated military specialties to civilian skill sets. 

Total Rewards/Compensation and Benefits Trends

  1. Mandated paid sick leave/disability leave: Four states, 19 cities and one county across the United States currently have paid sick time laws on the books. Recently the federal government has mandated paid sick leave for government contractors, and more and more states are considering either mandated paid sick leave or state-funded/insured disability programs to provide paid time off for illness.

  2. Defining employee status (employee vs. contractor vs. temp worker vs. intern): With the upcoming changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers will begin to take a serious look not only at exempt/nonexempt status of their employees but also if independent contractors truly meet the IRS guidelines and if the employer can be considered a joint employer of temporary employees that may have lingered too long at the organization.

  3. Possible repeal of ACA Cadillac tax and consideration of 40 vs. 30 hours as full-time employment: There is bipartisan support for the repeal of the Cadillac tax, so chances are good that the tax will be repealed. The conundrum of repeal is this tax was considered to be a significant funding source for the ACA, so what will replace the dollars that were expected to be raised through this tax? Although there was much activity in Congress in early 2015 regarding considering 40 hours a week as full-time status, the debate has seemed to wane. It is likely that if this clause remains in the ACA, smaller employers may continue to cut employee hours to below 30 to avoid the expense of employer-provided health care. Generally, this trend does not seem to affect larger employers.

  4. Wellness initiatives dealing with stress, financial planning, credit counseling, student debt and legal issues: Debt-to-income ratio in the U.S. is at its highest as is nonmortgage-related debt. The pressure to rein in spending, pay down debt and deal with other financial issues like children’s education or care for elderly parents is weighing on many people’s minds. Financially distressed employees are less productive, less engaged, spend more time away from work and cost companies more than those who are happy and have lower financial stress. Workplaces that offer tools to deal with fiscal wellness and successful programs that help employees reduce debt will see an increase not only in productivity but also in retention.

  5. Teleworking and FLSA compliance: This is a push me/pull you issue. As more companies and, indeed, the federal government are considering or have instituted telework as a recruitment and retention tool for Millennials and others, the proposed changes to the FLSA may put a damper on this movement. If nonexempt employees are working remotely, companies will need to institute ironclad processes to track nonexempt employee hours and ramp up enforcement of no “off the clock” hours. The target audience for teleworking is Millennials and Baby Boomers phasing to retirement. Millennials will often fall below the proposed annual exempt salary limit for the FLSA, and retiring Boomers moving to part time may also become nonexempt employees.

  6. Rise in onsite/near-site health clinics to reduce claims cost and better manage diseases like diabetes, obesity and hypertension: These diseases are on the rise in the United States, and managing and controlling them is a major drain on the health care dollars of employers. Onsite/near-site clinics can contain costs in the following ways: reduced time away from work to attend doctor’s appointments, better management of disease through increased case management, no middle man between the employer and the care provider requiring additional administration fees, and reduced costs on pharmaceuticals.

  7. Concierge services, laundry, pet care, grocery shopping and massages: Progressive employers are realizing that they must work to alleviate off-the-job concerns to maintain on-the-job focus. More companies are recognizing concierge and convenience services as a valuable work/life benefit. In increasingly diverse working environments (remote worksite, telecommuting), onsite concierge services may evolve into online personal assistants helping employees gain anytime/anywhere access to a host of convenience services to get their personal chores done. Some examples may be vacation planning or helping with meals and groceries.

  8. Possible increase or decrease in pay for performance; results-based pay more prevalent (results of organization/results of employees): During the recession, there was little, if any, extra money for organizations to put toward pay increases, resulting in small across-the-board increases in many cases. As we move out of the economic realities of the recession, more companies will return to performance-based increases. Organizations will realize they need to implement performance/results-based programs to “lock in” future leaders and attract and retain personnel preforming at a high level.

  9. Continued reductions in retiree health benefits: Retiree health plans are getting more expensive each year. Fewer than one in five employees today work for an employer that offers retiree health insurance, and those numbers are expected to drop annually. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, “ongoing concerns about costs, coupled with changes in Medicare, notably the addition of prescription drug coverage, and more recent changes made by the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA), have triggered a major reassessment by employers of whether and in what form they should continue to offer retiree health benefits.”

Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Trends

  1. There is a stronger commitment to diversity from government entities. Government agencies (EEOC and OFCCP) are increasing oversight of compliance with federal nondiscrimination regulation. This will result in increased diversity recruitment, development and retention efforts.

  2. Changing workforce/census demographics will continue to drive recruitment and retention strategies. As census demographics change, the workforce demographics will need to keep pace. This will drive a change in recruitment and retention strategies to reach diverse candidates.

  3. With the recent news of companies providing 12 months of paternal leave, organizations need to be aware of the potential perceived inequity in benefits.

  4. Companies will need more enhanced cultural diversity programs in the U.S. workplace as Caucasians are projected to become a minority by 2050 as African American, Hispanic and Asian populations grow at a faster pace.

  5. In the U.S., more than a decade of war on two fronts has resulted in a high number of veterans. The unemployment rate among veterans outpaces that of the general population. Many states are enacting legislation to allow private employers to voluntarily give preference to veterans in hiring and retention decisions.

  6. There is a growing recognition of fathers in the workplace needing equal paid leave as mothers. Fathers who in the past were not as actively involved in childrearing and home activities are now more engaged, more involved and more demanding of those aspects of family life. Paid leave is only one of the aspects of family life (paid leave is one of several work/life balance benefits) where employers must recognize the demands and requirements of fathers in the workplace. These issues raise questions for employers such as:

    • What leave rights do fathers have with respect to family obligations to care for an ill child or spouse, care for an aging parent, or for pregnancy or adoption?
    • How do the new paid sick leave laws around the country affect fathers’ rights to take time off for family obligations?
    • Are there laws that require an employer to provide flex schedule options to accommodate family obligations (fathers)?
    • What is "family responsibility discrimination”?

  7. There is a shift to more multicultural, multigenerational groups vs. smaller groups: The trend in the future recognizes the diversity in the workplace and the inclusivity of all “groups” in the organization to enhance the accomplishments and meet the goals. Smaller and less diverse groups do not encourage and embrace the ideas and recommendations from those who do not share the same cultural, ethnic and generational make-up.

  8. It is challenging for managers to manage a virtual workforce in different geographic areas. Many work regularly with colleagues based in different buildings, cities, countries and even continents. Team members may be in different time zones, speak different languages and be part of different cultures. To make the team work well, managers need to choose the right team players, provide education on cultural sensitivity and ensure that they have strong communication technologies.
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