The world of work has changed drastically over the past 10 years—so it’s no surprise that the role of HR has evolved too. From the 2008 recession to major technological advances, the events over the past decade shape how we work today. A few distinct global HR trends have fundamentally changed how HR practitioners approach strategic implementation of people processes. SHRM reported that ten years ago, companies said their top future challenges were succession planning and providing leaders with the skills needed to be successful. A 2017 study reported by Randstad found that HR’s top challenge, in the increasingly competitive market for skilled talent, will be finding and retaining employees.

It’s now HR’s job to recruit the most high-performing employees, make sure they feel like they belong, and give them reasons to stay. This isn’t an easy task; it requires a more holistic approach. For the first time ever, we have five generations of employees working side-by-side. HR practitioners must now consider the individual employee journey and how each function, from recruiting to onboarding to career development to career transition, impacts each individual employee’s journey. This holistic HR approach wasn’t born overnight. Let’s take a look at how HR has evolved to put people first, and what it means for those of us in the trenches. It starts with 8 key global trends that have emerged since 2008.

#1 New concept: employee journey

The idea of the “employee journey” has only recently manifested, inspired by the shift toward companies placing high value on their employees and ensuring they are happy. As RiseSmart’s Kimberly Schneiderman put it, HR leaders should think of their department as a hub that is connected to all teams and departments across the company.  It’s HR’s role to encourage and support the employee through their journey and career advancement. Sometimes this means finding alternative, internal opportunities for career advancement or redeployment, and other times it might mean supporting employees through career transitions outside of the company.

When HR leaders begin to take a holistic approach to the employee journey, new ways of attracting and retaining employees emerge. For example, recruiters might be more apt to discuss opportunities for career advancement with candidates in the spirit of honesty, which sets the employee up for success in her journey. Similarly, HR might uncover the overlay between onboarding and retention, for example, when they begin to think how the two functions are connected in relationship to individual employees. Deloitte reported that many HR departments are applying new approaches like design thinking and employee journey maps to better understand and improve the complete employee experience.  

#2 Rise of remote work

Working remotely increased 16% between 2008 and 2012 alone, which some attribute to cost-cutting measures companies took following the recession. A remote workforce can be profitable for companies, especially given the rising cost of office space in some markets. Companies with large numbers of remote workers also save on office perks such as catered lunches, snacks, and other office costs.

Beyond its benefits to the bottom line, flexibility is seen as a perk and is something job seekers are asking about during the negotiation phase. Recently, Remote.co reported that offering remote work options reduced employee turnover, further confirming the positive benefits of offering flexibility to workers. To realize the benefits of a remote workforce, and to avoid some of the pitfalls, HR leaders must ensure that remote employees feel like part of the greater team and that they are productive and engaged. Companies that put structures and policies in place that set expectations and provide guidelines for communication will have greater success than those that do not have consistent policies.

Whether employers view remote work as a cost-saving measure, or simply another employee perk, working remotely would not be possible without the technological advancements over the last 10 years that allow workers to communicate and interact easily from a distance. Given the cost savings, employee demand for flexibility, and growing technological advances that keep a remote workforce engaged, remote work is a trend that will continue to grow in the coming years. To stay competitive, companies who have not offered workplace flexibility in the past will need to consider implementing a remote work force program. In fact, a PGI survey found that 79% of knowledge workers would leave their current job for a full-time remote position, if the pay was equal.

#3 HR takes stake in brand

In recent months, we’ve explored the idea of the employee relationship economy. We’ve watched the world of employer/employee relationships change significantly in the last few years. This momentous shift is due to several factors, and hinges on the realization that the world is small and everyone is connected. The rise of social media has created an atmosphere of transparency and a window into your organization. As a result, your company culture is no longer isolated within the walls of your business. When employees are laid off, or leave voluntarily, there remains a strong chance they’ll cross paths with your company and its employees in the future. Alumni employees are future customers, business partners, brand ambassadors, future employees, and influencers of your employer brand and sentiment.

HR’s role has expanded to include brand management and significant attention to creating a positive company culture that results in satisfied employees and an employer brand that attracts the best talent. Organizations have come to realized that building a positive culture and supportive work environment creates former employees who will represent the company and its culture positively. On the other hand, when the work culture doesn’t meet expectations, disgruntled employees often share their negative opinions that can quickly tarnish a brand. Now, more than ever, establishing and maintaining a strong internal culture will have positive ripple effects on brand sentiment.

#4 The rise of people analytics


Our ability to measure people processes has improved exponentially since 2008. Now, we can closely monitor customer sentiment and predict company success through shared industry metrics such as a Net Promoter Score (NPS). In addition, HR Tech has begun to provide human management tools that help track and improve productivity, employee satisfaction, hiring and recruiting success, and professional development achievements. The emphasis on workplace culture has changed HR’s role, making it more strategic and collaborative. By now, most successful company leaders understand the impact HR processes can have on the overall success of the organization.

It’s no surprise that advancement in people analytics is directly correlated with the rise in popularity of the idea that “people are our greatest asset.” The last decade marks a shift in thinking as HR continues to think strategically about innovating how we find, recruit, and retain top talent. To guide those efforts, analytics and data will help inform decisions and improve processes in the future. Gaining insights into who your employees are, what they value, what they need to remain engaged, and how they feel after they leave your company will be critical to remaining competitive in the future.

#5 Layoff rates and processes have improved

Just a decade ago, we were in the midst of a big recession, which prompted some 2.6 million layoffs. It was the worst year for jobs since 1945 and the unemployment rate hovered at 7.2%. Fortunately, the layoff rate is actually improving—along with common layoff best practices and strategies such as outplacement, severance pay, and career transition services.

As the war for talent and push for less layoffs overlay, employers and HR teams have filled the gaps with more services for existing employees. These services, such as redeployment, redistribute talent across the organization, save resources for the company and give many employees opportunities for career development. HR teams are getting more creative with the choices of types of services they offer existing and exiting employees. Some companies offer transition to creative retirement, opportunities for entrepreneurship, support to join the gig economy, and help facilitate a major career change with outplacement and career transition support. As HR continues to approach its function holistically, off-boarding and severance offering, including outplacement will continue to demand more attention, budget, and innovative solutions.

#6 Instant access to information

While the Google search did exist a decade ago, the proliferation of social media networks has changed the way we recruit employees and stay in touch with colleagues. HR departments are using social media and AI systems to discover company fit and potential employee information in real time. This growing trend has also produced an increased need for employers to maintain positive employee relationships, even if they must part ways with the employee. The employer brand is conveyed through reviews and discussion across social media sites and sites like Glassdoor, that become instantly searchable and accessible to future employees and even customers.

Having access to more information, including alumni sentiment, gives companies the ability to proactively preserve their employer reputations. While instant search and technological advancements have given an advantage to the job-searching employee, when used correctly they can be advantageous for the employer, too.

#7 Greater generational variance

In 2008, we had 2-3 generations of workers in the workplace. In 2018, we’ll have five generations of workers, and their generational preferences, working side by side. This is a first for the workplace and offers opportunities as well as challenges for HR leaders -- who are taking strides to improve the employee experience. While there is an enormous amount of data available on the generational differences between employees, HR teams are working to remain focused on inclusivity of all generations, rather than special treatment for any particular generation.

As HR practitioners become increasingly informed about what their employees want, differences of opinion between generations might emerge. It’s the HR person’s role to learn as much about the workforce and its preferences as possible and then to provide programs that support employees along in their journey.

#8 Companies are becoming more self-aware

Reported workplace sexual harassment cases and other HR challenges are making their way into the spotlight. While similar workplace situations undoubtedly occurred in 2008, there is no previous moment in time where sexual harassment, discrimination, and inequality in the workplace have been so widely discussed and analyzed. Media coverage, especially following the #MeToo campaign, is calling into question many of the tolerated behaviors in workplaces of the past. The movement is challenging the status quo and bringing interpersonal interaction between employers and employees to light.

The backlash from recent accusations and confessions is creating a new set of challenges for HR teams scrambling to respond with policies and processes to avoid future improprieties. We hope that when it’s 2028, and we look back on the last decade, we see that we buried any acceptance or tolerance of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

These eight global human resources and workforce trends have undoubtedly changed the way HR operates in the last decade. Changes in the workforce and the workplace prompted by globalization, technology, and a changing sensibility about what work and life should be has created a major shift in the role of HR and human capital management. These 8 trends only represent a few of the major shifts we see happening and will continue to observe in the next few years. As we move into the new year, HR leaders will continue to take a holistic, people-first approach with the help of HR Tech and personalized, customized services offered by those companies who are helping to revolutionize how we approach the entire employee journey.