So the festive wind-down has well and truly begun and as the year peters to an end, all that’s left for HR is to deal with the fall-out from the office Christmas party and remind people that yes, Friday is a full working day.

It’s certainly been a challenging year for HR practitioners – and if the raft of 2013 predictions that have already crossed my desk are anything to go by, even more ‘interesting’ times lie ahead.

So when HR people – or those responsible for people management – return refreshed and renewed after the seasonal festivities, what issues are likely to be top of their agenda?

Here’s our list of the top six issues that should be keeping senior managers and HR on their  toes in 2013.

Bridging the generation gap

Recent research has shown that it’s definitely not a case of peace and goodwill when it comes to Generation X and their Gen Y colleagues working together in harmony.  One of the key challenges will be to find ways to bridge the generation gap and manage the conflicting needs of the different age groups now populating the workplace.  Striking the right balance will be key.  Businesses need to find ways to appeal to the young talent that will ensure their future – while at the same time maximising the skills of more mature employees who are likely to work longer than their predecessors and whose experience and contribution is invaluable.

Keeping it healthy

When the last mince pie and glass of mulled wine have been polished off, businesses will need to turn their attention to ways of maintaining the health and well-being of employees.  The difficult economic times of the past few years have led to leaner workforces and people being under more pressure than ever before.  For the second year in succession, stress has topped the list of reasons for workplace absence.  HR needs to help the business examine working practices to make sure they are as flexible and efficient as possible.  But companies also need to draw on some of the last thinking about resilience and find new ways to support employees who are feeling the strain.  Above all, at a time when many people are still fearing for their jobs,  managers  need to make sure the business has a culture where it is acceptable for employees to say if they are struggling to cope and simply can’t do what is being asked of them.

Making better use of technology

These days, even Santa has Sat Nav – yet numerous surveys have shown many businesses are still not using the sophisticated technology that could make their jobs so much easier.  HR software now makes it possible to automate many of the mundane tasks that take up so much time.  HR systems that can help the business manage absence, keep track of holidays and monitor performance management without needing specialist expertise, are now widely available.  Thanks to the advent of ‘the cloud’, the price of technology has come down enormously in recent years and is within reach of even the smallest business who wants to streamline their admin.  For businesses that have been slow to adopt HR systems, it’s time to get over  technophobe tendencies– and maybe even put a new HR software system at the top of the Christmas wish list?

Exploiting social media

HR has long had an uneasy relationship with social media – but the season of goodwill provides an opportunity to put aside differences and embrace the potential existing and emerging tools have to offer.  There has been much talk this year about how HR needs to move out of its ‘guardian’ role and become an ‘enabler’ in the business.  Some of the new internal social tools provide a prime vehicle for HR people who want to make this shift.  Cezanne HR’s new social HR portal, for example, makes it easier for employees to collaborate and share ideas and insights in a virtual space.  It’s all part of an ongoing trend towards what Management Today, in a recent article, dubbed ‘cloud-storming’.  It means people can add new ideas as and when they occur rather than having to be ‘creative’ on demand and avoids the problems of individuals dominating the conversation or shouting down new and potentially exciting ideas.  2013 is the time for HR to step out of its comfort zone and lead the way by using these innovative social tools in its own practice, while encouraging the rest of the business to follow suit.

Keeping up with Employment Legislation

The year ahead will see a number of significant changes to employment law – and it will be vital for HR people and business owners to make sure they are in the know and on top of the legislation.  March will see an increase in parental leave, with the permitted period of parental leave following birth or adoption of a child increasing from three to four months. Companies will also need to keep a close eye on the calendar for pensions auto-enrolment. Implementation is in stages, depending on the number of PAYE employees a company has on its books.  Deadlines for small-medium sized businesses are a little way off yet – but HR will need to start planning ahead and make sure the change-over and all it entails is not left until the last minute.  Other changes in the pipeline include the possibility of a new type of employee-owner employment contract which would give staff between £2-5K of shares in the business, in exchange for forgoing certain employment rights.  They would not be eligible for statutory redundancy pay, for example, or have the usual unfair dismissal protection after two years continuous service.  As if that wasn’t enough for HR to grapple with, there are also plans afoot to overhaul tribunal rules, introduce equal pay audits in certain circumstances and to extend rights to request flexible working.

Raising their own game

Top of HR’s resolution list for the New Year should be finding ways to ramp up their own Continuing Professional Development (CPD).  Developing business nous, getting more financially savvy and improving their knowledge of the markets they operate in have all been identified as areas where HR needs to raise its game.  There’s widespread consensus that HR people have a vital role to play in supporting business growth – but the profession still has some way to go in terms of gaining the respect of its management colleagues and getting the ear of the board.  A strong focus on acquiring new skills and developing new insights will be key to helping HR improve its standing and influence in 2013.

What other areas do you think HR or senior managers should be focusing on in the year ahead?  Let us have your thoughts – and in the meantime we wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.