What will life be like for HR in 2015?

There’s no doubt that the pressure the profession has increasingly found itself under in recent years is unlikely to lift. HR people will still be juggling a myriad of demands from the business and will have to choose wisely on how to spend their time.

So as 2014 draws to a close, here’s our take on what challenges and opportunities the profession is likely to see in the year ahead.

More legislative changes

The legislative roller-coaster continues with a number of new initiatives coming into force next year. Shared parental leave, although a laudable initiative, is probably the one that’s going to cause the most angst for HR. Practitioners have already begun untangling the new rules, which mean that parents of children born on or after 5 April 2015 will be able to choose to share the care of their child during the first year after birth. It will be interesting to see how many parents actually take up the option and how easy it will be to arrange in practice. Pensions will also continue to be high on HR’s list – with the gradual roll out of auto-enrolment continuing. Companies with 50-249 staff have until April next year to comply, while those with under 50 employees will have from 1 June 2015-1 April 2017 to get their people signed up to a scheme. Changes to the way sickness absence is managed are on the agenda for next year too, with a new health and work assessment and advisory service coming on stream in April. The service, which employers can use to arrange an Occupational Health assessment of people who’ve been off work for more than four weeks, is all part of the Government’s ongoing effort to reduce the UK’s huge sickness absence bill and get people back to work quicker.

Agile working

HR will have to work hard next year to make sure their organisations are equipped to respond to constantly shifting markets and the opportunities presented by the improving economy. The recruitment market has gone into overdrive and practitioners are likely to find themselves struggling to keep hold of their best talent (particularly if they haven’t previously invested in initiatives to improve engagement and support staff with their career development). There have already been warnings of critical skills shortages in some areas – witness the recent reports about the lack of senior medical staff – and companies are finding themselves engaged once more in a vicious battle for talent, with highly qualified IT and professional services staff at a particular premium. The challenge for HR is to find new and more effective ways to tackle workforce planning and to get more creative (and fleet of foot) about the way they develop and up-skill their people. A shift in mindset around flexible working will be a critical part of operating successfully in the more fluid and faster-moving business environment we find ourselves in. Many companies are still only paying lip service to the concept of flexible working and haven’t yet caught on to the fact that it’s not a ‘convenience’ for employees – but a business benefit that can help them retain their best people, grasp new opportunities and respond more speedily to their client’s needs.

Insights from neuroscience

New insights from neuroscience will continue to drive advances in the way organisations manage performance and develop their employees. There have been some exciting developments in understanding during the past year – and the challenge for HR will be to put some of this latest thinking into practice going forward. The advice from the experts is that we need to shift performance management away from processes that measure and compare people towards more motivational approaches that embrace ongoing feedback, celebrate strengths, and focus on the future rather than the past (see our previous blog on developing performance management processes fit for purpose). Research coming out of Ashridge Business School has also shed light on how we can best prepare managers for stressful situations. In a recent report they suggest that it’s not just pilots, astronauts or FI drivers who benefit from simulation exercises to prepare them for challenging situations. This kind of experiential learning is important for leaders too. If managers are given the chance to ‘practice’ dealing with difficult situations in a safe environment, they are much more likely to think and react more appropriately when a challenging workplace scenario arises in ‘real life’.

Mobile technology

The ongoing march of mobile technology is a double-edged sword for HR. On the one hand, the widespread use of smartphones and tablets is supporting the move towards anytime, anywhere working and is making connecting with employees so much easier. Smart organisations are realising that they need to communicate with employees in the way they want to be communicated with. Generation Y, who are now playing such a critical role in the workforce, have grown up with technology and expect to be able to manage their day-to-day affairs (booking holidays, logging absence, updating their records) electronically and while on the move. The opportunity to improve collaboration, stimulate creativity and raise performance by smart use of mobile technology is unprecedented, and HR needs to be at the forefront of efforts to make sure it is maximised to the benefit of the business. There is of course also a downside. While mobile technology can do much to improve productivity, there is also a danger that inappropriate use will have the opposite effect. Witness the recent case of Conservative MP Nigel Mills, who is to be investigated by the House of Commons for playing on-line game Candy Crush while in a work meeting! It’s a difficult balancing act and one that HR needs to get right.

HR software (r)evolution

The HR technology landscape has changed enormously in the last few years, and the pace of change seems set to continue. The new breed of Cloud HR systems are generally cheaper, more agile and more suited to today’s way of working. This opens up a real opportunity for HR to change the balance of power; to liberate themselves from time-consuming admin and use technology to really drive forward the people agenda. As Deloitte points out in its recent report (HR Technology for 2015), used to their fullest extent, these systems can be real catalysts for change, helping to engage employees, connect people and make core processes much more consistent and effective. HR people will be spending time next year thinking about how they can use the latest on-line HR software to make performance management more timely and dynamic, provide the learning people need at the time they need it, support change initiatives, connect with employees and make it much easier for line managers to get the best out of their teams.

What do you see as the main HR challenges and opportunities for 2015? Let us know in the comment section below.

You may be interested in reading our guide to making home-working successful 

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.