What HR Leaders Should Know and Watch For in 2020

January 06, 2020

Contributor: Brian Kropp

Among the forces that HR must contend with in 2020: AI ethics, the U.S. presidential election, employee activism and the changing role of managers.

I speak with senior HR leaders daily and those conversations, coupled with our research, provide me with a unique perspective on emerging trends affecting the workplace. For 2020, the themes I feel will become critically important span many different facets of HR, including the increasing use of technology, talent acquisition and employee experience.

Understanding what lies ahead can help HR remain at the forefront of their organization — which is vital, given that talent is the ultimate competitive advantage and differentiator. To that end, I’ve come up with my 2020 workplace predictions.

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Several large companies will have AI-ethics scandals based on their talent management processes 

Companies have substantially increased their use of AI in a variety of talent management processes, moving beyond recruiting to using AI in everything from compensation and promotions to reduction in staff decisions. Unfortunately, many of these technologies are still relatively poorly understood. As their use increases, so too will the risk that the decision outputs of these technologies create ethical challenges.

For example, companies have started to use AI to make compensation decisions based on how much other people in the marketplace are paid. However, given the pre-existing bias that already exists against women from a compensation perspective, these AI technologies are likely to only worsen existing gender pay gaps by recommending disproportionate increases in compensation for men compared to women. 

Companies will reduce the number of managers due to automation 

Technologies have already been introduced into the role of managers to free them up from administrative tasks like expense report approval. The next wave of managerial-associated technologies will start to replace the more social/emotive/relationship-based tasks of managers — things like providing feedback to employees. In fact, Gartner research shows that nearly 70% of what a manager currently does will be automated by 2024. These changes will cause organizations to decrease the number of managers they have and increase the span of the typical manager. 

A 2020 election “distraction tax” will damage productivity

As the upcoming U.S. presidential election comes into greater focus, so too will the distraction that it creates for employees. Throughout 2020, the average employee will spend more than 110 hours, or more than 30 minutes per day, talking about and being distracted by what is happening with the election. The cumulative effect of these distractions will be a total amount of wasted time equal to $30 million for a company of 5,000 employees in 2020.

More employees will take time off for political activism 

Some companies already give employees time off to vote, but given the attention that will be focused on the 2020 election, and the demands that will emerge from the workforce, more than 20% of employees will take time off to participate in political activism.  

Climate activism will be the next chapter for employee activism 

Organizations have responded to the demands of interests of employees along a variety of activist issues, e.g., #MeToo, Fight for $15, etc. The next wave of employee activism will focus on the impact of organizations on the climate. While this movement already has a strong foothold within manufacturing, transportation and other industries with a relatively large environmental footprint, it will expand beyond those industries as companies rethink their supplier relationships, employee travel and office footprints. 

Tech talent will become more available to non-tech companies 

Although the tech sector has gobbled up most of the tech talent across the last decade, this trend is about to change. Many of the largest employers of tech talent are not in a financially sustainable position to maintain the number of tech employees they currently employ. As financial losses continue to pile up for these companies, they will need to reduce their head counts to move to more sustainable financial positions. 

Another factor is the increasing average age of tech employees. In 2010, the average age of an employee working at a tech company was 35; now it is just under 40. As these employees age, their value proposition for where they work will also change. Entering life stages that include children and a mortgage will cause millennials to become more interested in working for companies that are more stable and less risky. 

Companies will repeat the mistakes of the last recession due to a lack of leadership experience 

Only 35% of leaders at the average company today were in place during the 2008–2009 global recession. This lack of experience leaves the majority of companies unprepared for potential economic volatility. The companies with the least experienced leadership benches will make the most mistakes if the economy slows.

More than 50% of employees will spend part of their work week working remotely

As technology continues to improve and employees continue to demand more flexibility, companies will respond by offering more opportunities for employees to work remotely. In fact, in 2020, for the first time ever, we will see more than 50% of employees at least occasionally work remotely in a typical week. 

As major social, generational and technological shifts change our working lives, the organizations that can anticipate and leverage these opportunities will be the most successful.

Brian Kropp is Distinguished Vice President, HR Research at Gartner and oversees the research, tools, services and support that Gartner provides to CHROs and their leadership teams. 

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