Viewpoint: Trends and Predictions for 2017 and a Brief Look Back at 2016

Josh Bersin By Josh Bersin December 21, 2016
Viewpoint: Trends and Predictions for 2017 and a Brief Look Back at 2016

​Next year is expected to be a rapidly changing time in the world of HR.

Not only is there increasingly a new political and demographic environment in many countries around the world, but the new world of work itself demands a lot of attention.

Here are three big changes ahead for 2017 and some reflections on 2016.

The biggest issue we face in organizations today is the shift toward what we call the "digital enterprise," which demands a digital workplace, digital workforce and, of course, a digital HR strategy.

The implication here is not simply that we have a lot of new technology at work; we clearly do.

The bigger issue is that organizations themselves (regardless of size) are now selling products which are "digital by design," implying that almost everything we build and sell must be redesigned to adapt to the digital marketplace around us.

Restaurants need digital marketing, menus, and delivery and ordering systems. Retailers need digital shopping, payment and checkout solutions. Designers need to build digital products and services. And manufacturers, energy companies and professional services companies need to adopt digital and cognitive tools and robotics to augment work, workers and tasks.

All these new changes in what we build and sell demand a new model of leadership and management. The digital workplace, one which is now filled with people of five generations, is always on; always changing; and filled with data, information and electronic noise.

By noise, I mean messages. I get messages on e-mail, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and a few other systems as well. We spend three to four hours a day on e-mail and, frankly, employee productivity and engagement is not going up (one could argue it's going down). A recent study found that U.S. workers are spending four days less on vacation than 20 years ago: We are working harder than ever, yet we are not getting more done. 

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Making the Workplace Better

So in my first area of focus for 2017, I want to point out that we in HR have to do everything in our power to make the digital workplace better. We have to look at new tools (Workplace by Facebook, Slack, new Microsoft and Google tools, etc.) and programs that focus on wellness and sleep. We need to start to move beyond the concept of employee engagement to a focus on the entire employee experience. The term "experience" has become a buzzword in business today, but it does reflect a new focus on thinking holistically about what it's really like to come to work.

Then, we in HR have to move far beyond our focus on "programs" and "tools" to look at improving the workplace itself, starting with the physical work design (Do open offices really work for you or not?); providing people with a healthy environment (food, rest, time for relaxing); and giving people the coaching, development and support they need (read: new performance management practices). All this has become our job, coupled with the need to survey and listen to people on a regular, more-frequent basis, not just once per year.

The Digital Workforce

The second big area of focus is the digital workforce. In the coming year, it's going to be clear that topics like diversity (gender, generational, race, culture, geographic background, ability); inclusion (removal of bias, giving people freedom to speak openly); and fairness (eliminating bias in compensation, promotion and hiring), as well as a focus on building a meaningful and clear culture, have to be paramount. We no longer operate in top-down hierarchies; most of our products are based on services and intellectual property. People must feel fully connected to perform well.

Digital HR

The third big area of focus is building what I call digital HR. HR itself, which has a long history of being an administrative and service function in business, has to become a "one-click operation." Just as we can order food and even cars with one click, so we should be able to file expenses, track time, set goals, find peers, take training and get support in one click. This means doing away with old clunky HR information systems and upgrading them, building and buying apps that employees actually like to use, and using video and microlearning wherever we can to make HR interactions easy, fun and instantly gratifying. This isn't easy. We have to learn design thinking, do more hackathons … really get focused on making HR "invisible," as I describe in the article When Less Is More: Make HR 'Go Away.'

2016: A Look Back

As I reflect back on 2016, I recall quite a few things we've learned. We've learned that income inequality, job security and health care are more important than we ever could have believed, implying that our job in HR is to educate leaders that fair pay and humane work practices are good for business.

We've learned that social media and transparency are powerful weapons—ones we must harness. Employment brand, employee communications, salary information and organizational culture are all reflected in social media, so we in HR have to use it well and teach employees how to use it well.

And we learned that inclusion, diversity, and a focus on nationalism versus globalism are tricky, sensitive and important subjects.

I believe 2017 is the beginning of a whole new era for HR, one where we are now expected to lead our organizations in adapting to the digital workplace, driving a strong and enduring culture, and finding ways to improve productivity and alignment in a networked, always-on company. And part of this will be developing a new breed of leaders, helping them understand the needs of the diverse workforce we have, and really paying attention to the use of automation and cognitive technology in jobs.

For more details, I encourage you to read my 2017 predictions report. The world of digital HR and our role in the workplace and workforce this next year will be big, and I know you are all up to the challenge. 

Josh Bersin is founder and principal of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP. He is a published author on the Forbes website; is a LinkedIn Influencer; has been quoted by Bloomberg, NPR and The Wall Street Journal; and speaks at industry conferences and to corporate HR departments around the world. Contact him on Twitter @josh_bersin and follow him at

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