The future of work: HR capability, diversity and technology key concerns

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Less than one in three employees believe their HR department is prepared to meet future needs

In a study surveying almost 300 employees we asked about their perception of the ‘future of work’ and the results are astonishing. While workers see a clear need for stronger, strategic integration of people management in the corporate strategy, less than one in three believe their HR department is prepared to meet the future needs of the workforce. In other words, HR needs to change to master the change.

Unsurprisingly, diversity was confirmed as a highly relevant issue; mostly by those being directly affected by discrimination such as women and other minority groups. Finally, all employees are extremely open to new technology. Rather than being considered a threat, the majority see the benefits and opportunities that come with it. This is a great chance for HR management to further build on these new opportunities.

Almost 90% of the respondents agreed that people management will become more integral to business strategy. Moreover, 71% are convinced that people management will become an everyday activity for each employee and manager in the near future. Interestingly with higher responsibility comes a higher awareness for people management. Lower management levels especially need to be better prepared and trained for taking over people management roles.

While the increasing importance of HR management is supported by the majority of respondents (about 70%), their perception of HR managers’ roles is alarming. Only 31% believe that their HR management is prepared to meet the future requirements of employees. Shockingly, two-thirds do not trust that the mindset of HR managers is properly prepared to account for future staff needs. This should be a wake-up call for HR professionals, urging them to reflect upon their own roles and the way they are perceived by the workforce.

With regard to diversity, more than 90% of respondents believe that diverse viewpoints in team discussions or decisions will add value within a company. This is especially true for employees with foreign work experience. Additionally, knowledge about norms and beliefs of diverse groups are expected to help people be more effective. However, a fifth of all respondents feared being called prejudiced when they disagreed with people in diverse groups. In other words, social desirability bias in the response behaviour regarding diversity must be considered. Diversity is still very much something of a sensitive subject but, in order to tackle these issues, a lot more research is necessary.

Finally, an overwhelming 95% expect that automation and advanced technologies will redefine the relationship between man and machine, transforming all kinds of jobs. However, these changes are welcomed with a positive attitude rather than being considered threatening.

A majority of more than two-thirds consider that the benefits from digitalisation far outweigh the drawbacks. People in higher management positions especially rate the impact quite positively – important findings that call for a deeper look into the role new technologies can have for HR.

Benjamin Bader is an academic partner and strategic adviser to the RES Forum and professor of strategic management and organisation at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg in Germany

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