The changing workplace – 5 key HR trends to watch in 2019

By 10/01/2019 February 5th, 2019 Employee Management, Human Resources
Two male colleagues preparing for the top HR trends 2019

Our recent Natural HR annual conference – entitled ‘How HR can adapt to the changing workplace’ – was a fascinating event that yielded many insightful predictions for the coming year.

On 29th November 2018, three prominent HR experts shared their views on how the workplace will change in 2019. They were, gig economy specialist and HR influencer Annabel Kaye; entrepreneur and employee engagement expert Glenn Elliott; and writer and HR transformation specialist Andrew Spence. Their talks were followed by a panel discussion, in which they answered questions about the future of work and the changing role of HR.

So for this post, we’ve picked out the 5 key trends shaping the workplace in 2019 that emerged from the conference. The post also covers what each one means for HR leaders, employers and employees alike:

1. The rise of flexible working

An ever-growing number of employees want to work remotely or have greater flexibility in terms of work hours. In fact, a 2018 study by Powwownow found that 75% of UK employees wanted the option of working flexibly.

And this trend is certain to increase in 2019. A survey by XpertHR found that requests from employees for more flexible working have increased dramatically over the last two years and will continue to rise this year.

Technology has made it easier than ever to enable remote working. Staff can now access all documents and systems through the cloud, so are no longer reliant on office-based devices, and many organisations are turning to hot desking – so people just come into the office when they really need to, and then use any available working area.

Firms that embrace the demand for flexible working will also reap rewards, as remote working improves work-life balance and leads to healthier, happier and more productive employees. For HR, the main challenge will be to convince leaders with long-held beliefs that flexible working will lead to employees exploiting their new-found freedom, resulting in a drop in productivity.

2. Increasing use of automation and AI

The role of technology will continue to grow across all sectors during 2019, and with it will come increasing levels of automation and a greater role for artificial intelligence (AI).

And this will apply as much to HR as any other department.

2018 was the year where everyone was talking about the use of AI for HR. And 2019 is set to be the year where we move beyond the hype and more HR teams start to apply basic AI analytics.

One area in particular that AI is set to transform is the recruitment process – through systems that can analyse the web and scour thousands of candidates in seconds to produce short-lists automatically.

This trend means companies and HR departments must think carefully about the best ways to use automation and AI, especially as it may become unnecessary to continue training workers in certain skills.

Indeed, the conference panel warned about the dangers of relying on AI-led outputs that were built on flawed algorithms and inaccurate data. Glenn Elliott highlighted a number of examples where AI was used in the US for recruitment purposes, which led to ‘machines’ unintentionally discriminating against certain ethnic groups because of gaps in the initial thinking behind these projects.

3. More organisations embracing the gig economy

The gig economy has been on the rise for years. A report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that 20-30% of the working population has spent some time in the gig economy – and this trend will undoubtedly increase throughout 2019.

Gig working is increasingly popular amongst employees – with many now seeing it as a positive lifestyle choice that allows them to work for who they want when they want. The McKinsey study found that around 70% of those in the gig economy worked that way through choice, due to the greater autonomy and flexibility offered by this employment model.  

For employers, there are many benefits to leveraging the gig economy. Firms that hire independent contractors may not have to provide benefits such as paid time off, and sick days, whilst gig workers can be employed on-demand to fulfil short-term goals, without having to hire full-time employees. Much depends on the classification of ‘workers’ though, as certain occupations such as taxi drivers and couriers are entitled to benefits, despite being part of the gig economy.

Indeed, gig economy expert Annabel Kaye cautioned that by simply taking on workers from the gig economy, many organisations are storing up trouble for the future through a lack of planning and processes, which may result in the poor treatment of these workers. Allowing this to continue within your organisation could result in your gig economy workers ‘sacking you as the client’, thus removing a valuable resource and impacting upon your business success.

4. Generation Z will represent more of the workforce

The presence of generation Z will be bigger than ever in 2019, as more and more of those born after 1996 will enter the workplace.

The conference panel argued that this group brings with it many benefits – as this is a tech-savvy generation who understand the value of hard work and are ready and eager to learn and contribute.

But the rise of generation Z can also be a challenge, as they tend to be extremely digitally focussed and live in a very connected world. This means they can often fail to see a distinction between work and social life, which may clash with more reserved older workers. A recent survey by APPrise Mobile in the US found that 36% of managers believe that managing employees from generation Z will be more difficult than previous generations, whilst 26% believe they will be more difficult to communicate with.

According to a 2018 study by Pew Research Center, Generation Z has ‘grown up through a major recession’ and as such are less confident and cautious, so they may be more risk-averse than the millennial generation who often view the world through ‘rose-tinted glasses’. This may present an interesting dynamic for HR teams.

5. Workforce diversity increasing

According to our expert panel, there has been little discernible increase in workplace diversity over the last few years, despite the trend for companies to publish diversity reports and make promises to change. This is because firms are largely sticking with their existing recruitment policies and practices. But 2019 will be the year where workplace diversity goes up a gear.

This is partly driven by the increasing diversity of society itself, and thus the available workforce. Also, companies that fail to display a noticeable commitment to diversity risk being seen as too ‘pale, male and stale’ – which can have a negative reputational effect amongst both potential customers and employees. So, it pays to change.

Increasing diversity could also be led by legislation. After the success of the mandatory gender pay-gap disclosures that started in 2018, the UK government is considering forcing companies to reveal their ethnic pay-gaps as well – and develop an action plan to close them.

In summary

These are the five big HR trends our conference experts identified for 2019. While they are not new, they are going to increase in prominence throughout the coming year and may well have significant implications for your organisation.

One to watch: An important, emerging trend that you can expect to hear more about in 2019 is the move towards Blockchain. HR technology leader, Andrew Spence explained how this technology – which in simple terms is a more modern means of storing transaction data – will transform the world of work in years to come. He argues that it will underpin a variety of HR activities, including candidate credentials verification, faster payments, employee records management and digital job matching.

Finally, no 2019 prediction would be complete without a mention of Brexit. Obviously, with so much uncertainty surrounding the issue, it is impossible to predict accurately what the repercussions will be. However, limited free movement of labour may well impact the ability of companies to hire critical talent, and this must be taken into consideration when planning for the next twelve months and beyond.


Natural HR 2018 Conference speaker projecting her top key HR trends in 2019 Natural HR Annual Conference – ‘How HR can adapt to the changing workplace’?

In our first annual conference, we conference focused on the impact of the changing workplace driven by key trends, such as the gig economy, technology disruption and flexible working.

Each of our three keynote sessions explored the future of work from a different perspective, while always providing practical and actionable advice to help HR adapt and prepare for change.

You can download all of the keynote sessions by clicking here.

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About Natural HR

Natural HR is a cloud-based HR software company for growing businesses with 100+ employees. Since launching in 2010, we’ve been building a comprehensive suite of HR functionality that equips the small to medium-sized enterprise with everything needed to build an effective and efficient HR operation.

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