Brian Kropp

Distinguished VP, Research

To drive organizational performance and meet the growing demands of the CEO and board, HR executives must stay abreast of the critical elements impacting the modern workplace. Brian Kropp, Group Vice President, Gartner Research & Advisory, and conference chair of Gartner ReimagineHR Conference 2019, shares top trends facing HR executives today and into the future.

What are the major trends impacting the workplace?

Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are hot topics in the HR space that will change the mix of skills we hire for. The demand for AI, data science and machine learning skills is doubling every year, and we’re seeing this in every industry, not just in big tech companies. But even as we see an increased demand for digital dexterity skills, we’ll need an equal number of people developing more social and creative skills that complement the machines.

We’re also seeing a shift in the traditional employer-employee relationship with the gig economy, a trend that is here to stay. Gartner projects gig and contingent workers will represent up to 40% of the workforce by 2025. But this relationship is evolving on multiple fronts: more employees are shifting to contingent work while gig workers are also gaining some of the rights of traditional employees. As organizations adapt, we may see convergence on employment models that land somewhere in the middle.

Lastly, an increased focus on pay equity is driving a need for organizations to re-evaluate their rewards design and develop and communicate a pay transparency strategy.

What are the biggest challenges that the HR function is facing today?

First and foremost, the labor market is red hot. Unemployment rates for critical roles are as low as 1%, and in many cases, HR can’t find enough candidates. HR executives are in the midst of a highly competitive talent market, where attracting the best talent – and retaining your best employees – is of increasing importance. This is creating real pain for organizations as they have to dangle more pay to lure in new workers. Right now companies are offering on average a 15% salary increase to switch employers, which is both costly for the organization and creates more trouble when tenured employees discover the discrepancies with their salaries.

And companies are finding they can’t buy their way out of the problem. We’ve been tracking the downward trend of employee engagement and discretionary effort for years, and we continue to see both decline in 2019. Some of the biggest issues facing organizations today – say, digital transformation, innovation, and the rise of AI – are at their heart talent issues. Companies can only succeed if they have the right people and the right culture to support these initiatives, but if those people are unengaged, the organization won’t see any of the benefits.

Why is talent an increasingly important talking point in the C-suite and boardroom?

As I mentioned earlier, some of the biggest challenges facing organizations today require the right talent and culture. “Do we have the right AI strategy? Should we acquire that company? Are we able to launch a new product line?” These are all primarily, or even exclusively, talent questions. The HR executive is under an increasing amount of pressure to support these goals, but also has an opportunity to prove greater business impact.

Workplace issues like harassment and discrimination are gaining attention from both the investor community and media as well. Organizations are now finding they can’t just make these issues disappear anymore. As leaders realize that culture and talent management are at the root of these problems, HR is tasked with holding leaders and managers throughout the organization accountable for these outcomes, and also assessing their current state and measuring progress.

What do you predict for the future of work?

There are three underlying trends that we’re seeing that are changing the modern workplace. And while most organizations are aware of and thinking about these trends, they are also missing some important implications.

First, is that data is becoming more transparent within the organization, which changes the way HR will measure and evaluate employees. More importantly, this changes the way employees and candidates will measure and evaluate their employers and prospective employers. The HR function can no longer assume to be complete owners of information like salary data and employee satisfaction.

Second, of course, is the introduction of new technologies into the workplace, including those using AI. But while most organizations are (rightly) thinking about how these technologies will impact jobs, they are missing things like the ethics of decision-making when algorithms are at the center, or the impact on the role of managers when much of what they currently do gets automated.

And third is the global effort to reskill the workforce. As we all think about making our employees better prepared for emerging work, we are focusing primarily on on-the-job training. But we need to be thinking also about how the on-the-job opportunities will diminish as work gets less repetitive. The repetitive work will be done by the “robots,” so we need new techniques to enable rapid mastery of skills without as much “practice.”

These trends are of such importance that they’re embedded in the overarching “future of work” theme of the upcoming Gartner ReimagineHR Conference 2019, October 28 – 30, in Orlando, FL. We’re in a very exciting time for HR to lead the way in reimagining the future of work.

What do you predict for the future of the HR function?

There are several forces carrying the potential to change the HR function over the next few years, including but not limited to, AI, the gig worker, and as I mentioned previously, employee transparency. HR executives must adapt their internal processes to accommodate – and stay ahead of – these forces.

Technology is increasingly employees’ only interaction with HR, so there is a need for a comprehensive HR technology strategy, which can contribute to a more positive perception of HR if done correctly. And as quickly as technology is evolving, so are analytics tools and processes. We see organizations experimenting with “nudge” technology, using data to gauge things such as time spent on tasks and encouraging workers to take breaks to help boost productivity.

But data on employee productivity, performance, retention, and engagement can be overwhelming, and the HR function must focus on collecting data that leads to actionable insights. And even as we get better at embedding analytics in our processes, we have to be careful in the way in which data is collected.