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19 HR Trends in 2019

The year 2019 presents a new era for HR Managers to rethink and review their current and future HR work.  The beginning of the year is a good opportunity to reflect on your HR portfolio of services, interventions and practices. Putting the past behind you is a good way to start.   It is also a good time to take stock and prioritise for the year ahead.   However, HR professionals always need to be at the cutting-edge of the latest trends and developments.  Admittedly, it is not always easy to distinguish between a trend and a fad.  There is a proliferation of fads that is exacerbated by the easy distribution of lose ideas on the Internet and social media platforms.  Also, as a profession that has not yet achieved a high level of consistency and maturity in HR practice, some HR practitioners are vulnerable to respond to the latest opinions and fads that are not necessarily based on scientific research or agreed HR standards. They are also more susceptible to being dominated or manipulated by line managers who may want them to allow non-compliant, illegal or other forms of unprofessional HR work or exploitative people practices.

Today with the view of supporting HR practitioners to be focused in their HR professional work, I am presenting you with the top 19 HR trends for 2019. Some of them have been around for a few years, but unfortunately most of them have not yet been fully implemented at most organisations. The top companies have mastered most of them, while other organisations need to so some serious work to embed enabling and progressive HR practices as a response to these trends.  Furthermore,  new trends require significant preparation and planning work in ensuring that you fully internalise and apply the correct practices according to the trends identified.

The top HR trends in 2019 are as follows: 

  1. Business driven-Integrated HR strategy: HR practitioners need to ensure that they develop and deliver a strategic HR plan aligned to the overall business strategy of the organisation. The need for a business-driven-integrated HR strategy remains the top HR trend world-wide.
  2. High performance organisation culture: As specialists in organisation behaviour and culture, building, nurturing and growing a high-performance organisation culture is not only a key trend, but also one of the most important contributions HR can make to the success of an organisation.
  3. Future-focused HR 4.0: The Fourth Industrial Revolution ushered in transformative ways of doing business such as new business models, disruption, innovation, robotics and artificial intelligence requiring HR to reconfigure HR practices aligned to the new world of business and work.
  4. Innovative and diversity-driven Talent Management: More dynamic and innovative approaches to talent management will be needed to ensure that businesses performance is driven by the best possible talent within organisations leveraging the diversity of talent available.  Effective talent management will become the most importance source of competitive advantage.
  5. HR Risk Management: HR Leaders are not only organisation behaviour specialists, but also masters of HR Risk management responsible for identifying and mitigating HR risks, while simultaneously leveraging opportunities for optimising people-driven business performance.
  6. HR Governance and Ethics: The effective and ethical HR leadership by HR leaders is what the HR trend of HR Governance is all about. Sadly though, the current examples of corporate scandals, fraud, corruption and state capture all constitute major incidents of poor governance and unethical behaviour committed by managers and HR practitioners alike. This can only be overcome by a strong focus on HR governance and ethics. We need to make the right decisions about people if we want our companies to be successful in 2019.
  7. Workforce Planning: The proper planning of your workforce is a key need of line managers that HR need to facilitate in ensuring that the right people are available at the right time. A more professional and systematic approach to workforce planning is therefore of utmost importance, notwithstanding the need for flexibility in addressing short-term needs and unexpected circumstances such as the loss of key skills when you can least afford it.
  8. Learning and Development: The speed and complexity of change requires a competent workforce, thus more proactive and dynamic approaches to learning and development is a top trend affecting all organisations. Learning will be faster and more focused and should be just-in-time in setting employees up for delivering their best.
  9. Digital HR: While significant progress has been made to leverage HR technology over the last two decades, a fully integrated approach to digital HR has not yet been realised in all organisations, hence the need for a digital HR strategy. HR teams need robust discussions on digital HR, followed by a clearly articulated digital HR strategy and plan.
  10. Leadership Development: Given the fact that leadership is the most important factor driving business success, the role of HR in enabling leadership development is under-estimated. However, current efforts at leadership development do not have the desired effect, but to address leadership challenges, gaps, and overall under-performance of leaders in many organisations, significant HR work is needed to improve in the area of leadership development of all managers in organisations.
  11. Employee Experience: While the previous decade was dominated by a focus on employee engagement, the latest trend is towards creating a great employee experience similar to the emphasis on customer experience by top companies.  The reality is that an exceptional employee experience is needed for employees to provide the best possible customer experience.
  12. Employee Health and Wellness: The healthy lifestyle change programme of Discovery Health has achieved some major successes in changing the behaviour of employees from a reactive treatment approach to a new proactive health model. However, more emphasis is needed to create a higher level of employee health and wellness, not only regarding physical health, but also including emotional, mental and financial wellness.
  13. Employer branding: Top employers have shown leadership in repositioning themselves in accordance with leading practices in employer branding. This helps top companies to attract and retain the best employees, but average or mediocre employers are simply unable to compete with top employers for talent. It is therefore imperative for all employers to step up in achieving excellence in employer branding.
  14. Flexible work practices: Top talent thrives on flexible work practices in certain industries and occupations, but its prevalence remains the exception rather than the norm.  In the year 2019 the trend towards flexible work practices is expected to grow as co-working spaces have gained momentum over the last few years.
  15. Change management: To ensure that all these trends and other business projects and initiatives are implemented effectively in the workplace requires a professional approach to change management.  HR must be more visible in enabling professional change management in the workplace.
  16. Employment relations: Given the increase in workplace violence and industrial action, improving employment relations remains a top priority for HR leaders in 2019.  The field of employment relations is likely to be affected by the national elections in May.
  17. Organisation design: Most organisations have not yet managed to establish an appropriate organisation design that is fit for purpose in enabling it to achieve its business objectives. This year we need more design thinking, planning and configuration and less unnecessary and disruptive restructuring.
  18. Data-driven people analytics: Now that South Africa has a draft HR metrics framework in place, the trend towards more formalised approaches to people analytics and HR data management has become a reality, especially in view of the exponential growth in the inclusion of human capital as part of integrated reporting.
  19. HR professionalisation: None of the above trends will manifest itself if the overall level of HR professionalism remains the same, hence the continuous need for HR professionalisation. The current focus on HR competencies, HR standards and HR metrics both locally and internationally will further reinforce the need for increased efforts towards HR professionalisation. Make HR capability building your top priority in 2019 and you will see the results of better and more dynamic HR professional work being done by HR professionals.

HR professionals need to adapt to the above trends to ensure that they keep abreast of the latest trends and best practices in the evolving field of HR management.  Fortunately, SABPP already has HR standards in place for almost 80% of the identified trends. This means that clear guidelines are available on how to respond to and implement most of these trends.   In areas in which standards are not yet available, such as HR Governance, the SABPP HR Governance Committee already developed a position paper and guide for HR Directors on how to implement HR Governance in the workplace.  Similar projects will be launched to address areas requiring more attention such as organisation culture, digital HR and flexible work practices.

However, some of the areas are more complex and due to national culture and inefficiencies in national systems, it could take a very long time before solutions will be found. For example, the current low levels of economic growth, and difficult economic times coupled with the absence of a savings culture, will make it unlikely for employees to achieve financial wellness over the short term.  Similarly, poor life style choices will perpetuate current life style diseases, in addition to the failing health care system will mean that employee physical health will put even more pressure on HR and Wellness Managers to have a positive impact on employee health and wellness.

The year 2019 is here, and this article is a call for accelerated change in the work of HR practitioners as people professionals responsible for optimising people performance in the workplace.  We can only create and develop better workforces and business outcomes if HR can manage to step up in fostering the type of organisation culture and environment needed to excel this year.  Moreover, it will be useful to see 2019 as a year of transition towards the 2020 workplace as we prepare to enter the next decade of a totally different work and business environment.  Accelerating change by getting on top of the trends will help us to get ready for whatever new changes will emerge over the next decade.  Thus, fasten your seatbelts as we drive forward during a year requiring us to be fast, responsive, professional and focused in creating effective and dynamic talent-driven workplaces.

Marius Meyer MHRP lectures in HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).

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  1. Anton Anton

    A ‘top trends article’ with no acknowldegement of sources where the author read about these trends? In the spirit of ethical conduct this very strange. The Deliotte Human Capitals, Bersins and Harvards should be at least credited for the contributions they make to ‘trend’ research. No?

  2. Michèle Boonzaier Michèle Boonzaier

    Fantastic article, Marius – comprehensively conceptualized and succinctly explained.

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