As we take stock and reflect on HR trends from 2017, we are reminded of the exciting developments around hot topics like automation, artificial intelligence, diversity, gender parity and contractual talent. We have also seen previously ‘radical’ concepts like flexibility, personalisation and transparency become official policies in many organisations around the world today.

Rapidly escalating shifts due to digitalisation and globalisation are bringing about a more significant impact on workplace attitudes, culture and processes. This year, it will be key for HR to understand and build on these new perspectives. Here are five priority areas that will shape the workforce in 2018.

Know your business, customers and competition

Tomorrow’s workplace will be more resource-competitive than ever as business challenges, consumer expectations and workforce culture become more complex and yet also ever-changing. Talent mobility is sure to increase as technological disruptions constantly redefine ‘work’ and diversify opportunities. Organisations have always relied on HR’s training and instincts in dealing with shifting behaviours in the workforce. But the volatile nature of the digital revolution will require HR workers to expand their level of awareness and involvement well beyond their comfort zone.

It is an exciting time for HR to unlock frontiers far beyond the back office. They will need a solid understanding of how the business works, especially how it cultivates relationships with customers and responds to changes in the socio-economic climate. This can be further enhanced through developing an ear for trends in consumer habits and expectations, politics, and trade and industry from a local to global scope.

As the function most connected to the employee experience, HR needs to realise that employees are their ‘customers’. Gaining a business perspective on customer needs and satisfaction can inspire new approaches for addressing employee well-being in the workplace. The future and relevance of HR will rely on HR professionals taking a proactive involvement in business challenges that can ultimately affect revenue and sustainable growth.

Being tech savvy

Many employees are active consumers of new technologies, so they are aware of the new solutions that can make work easier and more interesting. Knowing the huge effect that tools and processes have on employees’ productivity and sense of fulfilment at work, it behoves HR to be a strong advocate for digital transformation in the workplace. The true value and strength of HR is in engaging people and developing their potential. Moreover, digitalising every routine task will help HR reclaim that objective.

Many HR groups may find themselves stuck using human resource management systems simply as transactional hubs. There’s nothing wrong with using them for this reason, but it would be unfortunate to remain content with simple process automation. Most employees now want the same intuitive and customisable capabilities that they get from their personal digital tools. There are HR technologies that can already replicate the personalised interfaces of social media apps. Employees can use these to customise, track and even ‘share’ their tasks, benefits, rewards, trainings and goals with their manager, colleagues or the entire organisation. HR helplines can be replaced with interactive chat programmes, where features like remote desktop sharing and control, video chats and group meetings can soften technology with a human touch.

Data needs to be interactive

Hands down, one of this era’s major innovations that HR must immediately welcome is the digitalisation of data. What used to be represented as static and limited information on cumbersome spreadsheets, now can be ‘brought to life’ through intelligent dashboard technologies. HR can upload and convert their mountains of data into movable and highly customisable objects that they can interact and play around with. This allows HR professionals to easily unlock new and interesting insights, as well as discover fresh knowledge and context that were not immediately apparent before – such as trends concerning human behaviour.

Digitally mature companies heavily leverage data analytics to find links between people metrics and issues – such as gender parity, diversity and unfair practices – to business metrics. When HR is able to feed useful, crucial data-driven evidence to the C-Suite, leaders will have a strategic tool that enables them to take timely and proactive actions.

Engaging digital talent

Today, around 80% of the global workforce comprises ‘digital talent’ – an employee demographic that is not only at ease with digital technology, but also strongly prefers flexibility, personalisation and transparency. Their influence in these paradigm shifts helped create greater value and awareness for the employee experience, and inspired improvements in the culture and policies of many organisations.

Digital talent are actively looking for environments where they can be agile and work on their own terms, which is why many of them join enterprises that have an almost flat organisation and a democratic setup. Digital talent see risk and failure as part of the productivity mind-set, and thus need to be allowed the flexibility to continuously evolve. They also want work to be more than just a ‘daily grind’ – they want to make an impact and to work for a meaningful cause.

This mind-set can be challenging for conventional organisations to grasp. They have long been operating as well-oiled machines, with a strong focus on pre-set priorities, goals and processes. But an attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ can do much more harm than good, and has rendered many traditional business models irrelevant in the digitalisation age. It is also a major reason why they can have such difficulty in attracting and retaining digital talent.

Instead of agonising over whether a 30% or 40% pay premium would put you ahead of the competition, evaluate why and how new talent would want to join your organisation in the first place. How can you ensure that they can be productive and engaged for the long-term?

Diversity and wellbeing

Diversity goes beyond recognising differences in gender identity. It is also about appreciating the unique opinions and experiences of various types of people. This includes each person’s individual sense of health – not just physical, but very much also social, financial and mental.

For a majority of employers in Asia Pacific, traditional benefits around healthcare and financial security remain as the most popular provisions. However, less than 50% of employees agree that these meet their actual needs.

This takes us back to our first point about knowing the employee experience. Organisations need to look no further than their own workforce in order to better design their benefit plans and make them truly effective and beneficial. Generic offerings do not work, because they overlook the diverse needs within a workforce. Over 75% of companies that offer personalised, flexible benefits report that employees are more motivated to use them actively. Sixty-three percent said that this has also helped improve talent attraction and retention.

Some organisations are trialling innovative ideas to spice up their rewards initiatives. Injecting a healthy dose of competitiveness can also help to build a sense of community around a common goal. Team fitness challenges, healthy lifestyle awards, volunteer days, self-defence workshops, ridesharing incentives and bring-your-family days are fresh takes on driving wholesome behaviours among employees, without breaking the bank.

2018 is uncharted territory – stay on course with these two values

We can say with utmost certainty that technology will continue changing throughout 2018, as will how we live and work every day. The best response to these situations is to practise two core values, which digital talent expertly exhibit – to be agile and to be cognizant of the changes around us at all times.

Staying attuned to the employee perspective is in itself a huge undertaking. For HR professionals to stay focused on this goal, it is crucial to take every action that keeps our function moving from a supporting role to a strategic one – and not turning back.


About the Author

Towers Watson Media

Sambhav Rakyan

Willis Towers Watson


Sambhav Rakyan is the Data Services Practice Leader in Asia Pacific. To connect with Sam, please email wtwapdata@willistowerswatson.com.