25 HR trends for 2022

What a time it has been for HR professionals. The pandemic has brought about immense upheaval for everyone, and people leaders have been working in overdrive to keep everyone as happy, healthy and productive as possible. And more big changes look to be on the horizon.

So, what are the big trends set to shape the future of work next year and beyond? The Workstars team has been gazing into their crystal balls to see what the hot HR topics of 2022 are likely to be.

1. Hybrid working becomes huge… 

Hybrid working is going to be one of big trends for 2022. A Gartner study from last year found that 82% of companies were planning to let employees work remotely for at least some of the time, even once we were through the pandemic. And according to LinkedIn’s Future of Work study 2021, nine out of 10 professionals believe hybrid working’s going to be essential for achieving a good work-life balance.

Quite a few companies have already embraced hybrid, like Hubspot. Many other organizations are intending to do so now they’ve realized how versatile it can be. But it’s going to require careful planning (McKinsey 2021). The blurring of boundaries could create challenges that companies will need to manage – 58% of employees say the rise in remote working has made it harder to switch off from work. But companies already have gained many valuable insights from the pandemic, both the potential it offers and the challenges it presents. This will help companies decide how to structure it so it works to everyone’s advantage.

2. Changing attitudes to employee benefits  

According to The Hartford’s Future of Benefits Study conducted in August 2020, there has been a shift in employee attitudes about what matters when it comes to employee benefits. Employees are valuing perks like employee assistance programs (56%), paid time off (52%) and mental health support services (51%).

Building on a trend already identified in 2018 (SHRM), increasing numbers of organizations are seeking to offer improved benefits compared to the previous year. According to the Hartford research, employers’ attitudes are changing about benefits with more saying they’re likely to offer additional benefits and services not currently on offer from their company.

There’ll be a pivot towards more life experience benefits too – in other words, benefits and perks that aren’t directly linked to company activity. Like collaboration tool company Chantry who gives employees a $100 bonus for parties and gifts for their families.

3. The employee experience is adjusting to remote working 

The volatility and uncertainly of current times means employees are increasingly valuing a highly supportive environment. As this McKinsey research identifies, that sense of support needs to be felt in working environments where people aren’t necessarily physically in the same space. Increased levels of remote working will mean trust is more important than ever.

4. Employee upskilling is on the rise 

According to Udemy’s 2021 Workplace Trends report, the demand for upskilling went up from 14% in 2019 to 38% in 2020. There’s a move towards nurturing and developing talent rather than buying it in ‘ready-made’. Upskilling’s key for keeping employees competitive and retaining them. It also keeps recruitment and onboarding costs low. It’s a longer-term approach, focusing on developing internal talent and recruiting people with a view to reskilling or upskilling them over a longer time period. It’s all about staying agile and making the workforce more nimble and responsive – something that leading companies like Amazon, IBM and PwC have already embraced.

5. HR gets more data-driven 

Real-time, accurate and detailed data was once something HR could only dream about. Usually, as they were wasting time collating spreadsheets or working through enormous paper files to pull together the information needed. But now data is transforming the way HR works.

Read more: Why does HR lag behind when it comes to using data?

According to LinkedIn’s Rise of Analytics in HR report, adoption rates are rising as HR takes a more data-driven and analytical mindset. There’s been a 61% year-on-year increase in the number of EMEA people including HR analytics on their profiles. But there’s opportunity to do a lot more. The report found just 19% of companies had adopted HR analytics, and 12% had dedicated HR analytics roles. An increasing number of companies however are on the journey towards a far more data-driven approach to their people strategies.

6. A broader strategy to boost diversity and inclusion 

Organizations with high diversity have reported up to 19% higher revenues compared to those with lower diversity levels. Most companies understand the value of a diverse workforce and it begins with hiring for diversity. According to international recruitment company Robert Walters, 73% of employers believe diversity is important to encourage creative and innovative thinking within the company. 45% of employers think their current recruitment tools are ineffective at helping diverse candidates find their company, however. So, it’s likely we’ll see increased use of techniques like blind hiring and diversity sourcing techniques to help create more diverse teams.

Virtual inclusivity has created another angle with companies putting more thought into how inclusive cultures be established remotely. And neurodiversity presents new opportunities too: as this CIPD article explains, companies are starting to understand the benefits that neurodivergent employees can offer, and are developing approaches to help them achieve their potential.

7. EVPs will matter more than ever  

Employee value propositions have been around for a while – but they’re going to matter more than ever.

Why?

Because potential employees are doing their job searches with the mindset of a consumer. They’re reading online reviews. They’re looking to see whether the picture a company’s painting about itself is matching with the reality of what others are saying about it. They’re delving into the background details, making sure companies are checking out and their claims match up to reality.

And it doesn’t stop there – as this Mercer report explains, employees are expecting companies to raise their game when it comes to their experiences too.

Bottom line: HR folks, think like a marketer in 2022 – make sure you’re offering and delivering an amazing employee experience where development, autonomy and flexibility are the order of the day. And don’t expect one size to fit all because it won’t.

8. The rise of digital literacy 

An increasingly digitalized workforce needs to have the right skills in place to make the most of the opportunities it offers. But there’s still a mismatch between what organizations need and where employees are at in terms of digital competency. One of the big items on the HR to-do list is going to be coming up with strategies that make sure learning and development is delivering the vital skills that will be needed to ensure a digitally productive workforce.

9. A continuing shift away from hierarchy 

Organizational hierarchy as we once knew it is changing. The move is towards flatter and circular structures that are often designed to let employees have far more say. There’s a fascinating opportunity here for HR to take on board organizational design concepts, such as organizational network analysis which offers a structured way to understand how communications, information and decisions flow around a company. HR’s in a great place to tap into these flows using tools such as employee surveys and technology tracking.

10. Leadership development is going to be in the spotlight 

Organizations expect a lot from their leaders. So, what is the support like that enables them to be capable of delivering what’s being asked of them? How can they develop the skillsets to bring about genuine change in uncertain times? Let’s not forget about the leaders of the future too. Companies need to start looking at the potential they have now and nurturing it to make sure tomorrow’s leaders are ready to step up when the moment comes.

This will mean investing in high-quality carefully targeted leadership development programmes. But expect it to incorporate a broader range of approaches, such as greater levels of coaching and mentoring, and partnering up leaders to create complementary leadership structures too.

11. The era of the great resignation  

All the signs are that there’s a lot of restlessness right now with employees thinking about moving on. And they’re not only thinking about changing employers but moving into whole new careers too. There are going to be some big challenges for HR to design retention strategies that hold on to their top players. But there’s also a massive opportunity with some amazing fresh talent hitting the market. Employers should be thinking about how best to use this to their advantage.

12. Blockchain will transform data security 

What does the word blockchain mean to you? You might already be nodding wisely, well aware of the HR implications on the horizon.

Or, like quite a few people, you might be scratching your head and asking ‘Blockwhat??’.

If you fall into the second group, you might find articles like this one helpful to give you some background and the story so far. But to summarise extremely briefly: it’s a technology that looks set to be an absolute game-changer for employee data security.

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13. Employees will finally feel heard 

There’s a shift taking place in organizational cultures. Companies had to think very carefully about the way they communicated with their employees during the pandemic… and finally realized that actively listening to what they had to say adds a serious amount of value. It’s been a long time coming, but more employees are going to feel that when they say what they want to say, it’s being listened to properly. And acted on too.

That’s great news given that Qualtrics research found almost 70% of employees are more likely to stay with a company longer if they feel someone’s hearing what they have to say.

14. The power of collaboration magnifies 

Connected teams make things happen and, let’s face it, collaboration has never had many negative associations anyway. But the opportunity to do it more effectively than ever, building virtual “super-teams”, is here to stay with solutions like collaborative software readily available. And the desire is now there at leadership team level – according to KPMG research, 77% of CEOs surveyed are keen to explore a greater use of collaboration and communication tools in their organizations.

15. NLP goes mainstream 

Have you heard of Natural Language Processing? If not, it’s worth paying attention to this particular HR trend. It’s a branch of AI that uses algorithms to interpret the human language and it’s advancing the ability of computers to interpret the written and spoken word. Its potential is huge. As HR teams amass increasing amount of data, they’ll need efficient ways to collect the insights it can generate and NLP is already revealing itself to be a game-changer in helping them to do that.

16. The influence of Generation Z 

The priorities Generation Z are driving are encouraging change in workplace. Gen Z employees put a real emphasis on feedback and collaboration – 60% want a daily check-in with their managers and over 65% want regular feedback (The Center for Generational Kinetics, 2018). They’re a generation dependent on their smartphones too – over 30% feel uncomfortable if they’re away from it for more than 30 minutes.

Read more: Do millennials and Generation Z hold the key to creating a “better normal”?

According to this Zety research, 67% prize a good work/life balance. 62% want their values to align with their employers. And 61% want their employer to have a purpose that goes beyond profit too. By understanding these working styles and preferences, HR can explore ways to keep this new generation engaged and happy in their work.

17. Employee financial wellbeing becomes part of the HR agenda 

Employee wellbeing’s been on the radar of forward-thinking HR teams for a long time. But the pandemics put it at the top of the agenda like never before. There’s big scope to make an impact: from normalizing conversations about mental health; to direct health promotion support like stopping smoking and on-site fitness facilities; through to a range of benefits that can help employees better access healthcare like private health insurance.

But a big shift is the recognition of the importance of financial wellbeing too. Even before the pandemic, financial worries were affecting employees – this report found 25 million UK workers worried about money issues while in work. And money concerns have been found to be biggest cause of stress for UK employees. 4.2 million worker days are lost annually in absences due to a lack of financial wellbeing. There’s a strong case building that this needs to be part of an overall approach to wellbeing. It’s not just about looking after your employees either – research suggests that it’s becoming an increasing priority for investors too.

18. More compassionate leadership 

The pandemic has been a tough time, but one positive is that it made us all more human in the way we interacted with each other. Need to break off the phone call for a moment because the kids need something? Sure. Need to open the door to the delivery guy during an online meeting? No problem.

Pre-pandemic, companies were grappling with engagement and how to make a success of remote work. Unexpectedly, the pandemics provided some answers. Businesses became more aware of the realities of their employees’ lives outside work as well as in. It became more acceptable to be more open and for managers and leaders to take a more compassionate approach. Thought leaders like Brené Brown suggest that not only is it okay to be empathetic and vulnerable. Her research found those kinds of traits make for better leaders. Be more human, be a bit more understanding, show some compassion to other people – and according to this Roffey Park report, it’ll pay dividends.

19. Software is simplifying recruitment

In the past, HR typically spent hours wading through applications, screening applicants and then responding to them. A more automated approach to recruitment promises to make things quite a bit easier. Cloud-based recruitment software’s transforming the experience for everyone involved. From text message recruitment for fast and engaging communications, through to applicant tracking software for efficient management of the entire process, increasing numbers of companies are realizing the potential this kind of software has for them. Such as saving an incredible 70 hours of recruiting time according to automated language assessment solution provider Emmersion.

20. HR become curators of learning 

Once HR were the ones who told people which course they needed to go onto and made the necessary logistical arrangements. Thanks to online learning we’ve been shifting away from that as an approach for a while now.

And now we’re heading towards HR becoming the curators of the learning experience, helping employees learn in a way that suits the organization, but that suits the employee too.

As this Udemy article mentions, Bersin by Deloitte refers to the value of “building L&D into everywhere employees go and everything they do” as a result of this kind of approach. Improving performance becomes part of the everyday growth mindset. Think bite-size knowledge modules fitting around the learner’s demands and preferences rather than sitting on endless courses in tired hotel conference rooms for days on end.

21. The robots are coming… 

Technology’s moving forward at an incredible speed. In HR terms we’re particularly talking artificial intelligence, virtual reality and robotic process automation.

While some of this will be used for lower-value transactional activities, it’s becoming more mainstream in other areas too. We’ve already mentioned HR teams using tech in recruitment. But expect to see it appear more in the employee development arena too, such as coaching guided by coachbots. VR technology’s going to have an increasingly valuable role to play too – especially in high-risk roles, where skills can be initially developed in safer environments. Another application is the increased use of HR chatbots. Deloitte’s revealed that 22% of high-impact HR organizations are already embracing robotic process automation, using chatbots to help with high volume questions relating to things like benefits and company policies.

22. Companies that care 

Corporate social responsibility might have been around for a while. But issues connected to sustainability are escalating in importance. Employees want to know the work they’re doing, and the company they’re doing it for, has real purpose and impact when it comes to social responsibility.

And they won’t hold back if they’re not happy – 82% of millennials think they have the right up to call out their employers (SHRM, 2019). Employee activism’s likely to trigger a rise in meaningful action from employers keen to energize workforces who want to be part of an ethical company that cares about more than just the annual profit figures.

23. Biometrics are going to be bigger than ever 

Biometric technology that used to seem futuristic – retina or iris scans, fingerprint scans, voice pattern recognition, hand scans, or facial geometry – is becoming increasingly mainstream in workplaces. And that’s likely set to expand with employees becoming more comfortable using this kind of tech – 75% of millennials according to IBM research. From time and attendance systems to building access, the use of unique biological markers will simplify data collection while helping make workplaces more secure and employees feel safer than ever. It will mean though that HR must get to grips with all the implications for data retention and protection.

24. It’s becoming ok to “fail” 

The chaos of the pandemic meant people were improvising, they were trying new things. And it made people think differently. There was more willingness to forgive well-intentioned errors. Companies began to recognize the learning that resulted from them was an amazing way to stimulate creativity.

Read more: 51 super employee wellbeing ideas – the ultimate list

HR can think about how to harness this spirit, and build a culture where what Harvard professor Amy Edmondson calls ‘intelligent failure’ becomes more accepted as a valuable way to learn. Microsoft, Amazon, and Netflix are all companies that are already embracing this approach.

25. Managing the implications of a gig economy workforce 

The days of traditional employment are changing as the gig economy grows. In fact, over a third of all US workers are now gig-based (Fortunly, 2021). For some, it’s a choice based on a desire for greater flexibility and autonomy and a better overall work-life balance. For others, it might be a shorter-term situation driven by the need to make up work hours. (Statista, 2021). Either way, HR will need to create strategies for accessing the right skills when they’re needed, and for keeping this section of their workforce engaged and productive.

A new era? 

With everything going on right now – the pandemic, people returning to the workplace, the heightened awareness of the climate emergency – it feels like we’re in a new era. But it’s an era in which HR’s credentials have been massively boosted. During the pandemic they were amazing. They were the ones suddenly leading on remote working strategies. It was HR who had to respond as employees fell ill, blending a compassionate and practical approach to support employee wellbeing and keep businesses going. In 2022, HR’s going to be upfront and centre, as organizations look to them to guide them in the best ways to move their cultures and values forward in these volatile times.