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The Top 5 Trends for HR Leaders to Watch in 2022

from  January 18, 2022 | 4 min read

What. A. Year.

The past twelve months have been marked by continued workplace uncertainty. First, vaccine rollouts and mandate debates hindered workplace returns, even in a hybrid capacity. Then, delta and omicron variants cast further shadows on getting back to site. And, through everything, human resources leaders have had to contend with unprecedented talent shortages – gaps which were exacerbated on an exponential scale by the biggest HR story of the year: The Great Resignation.

The Great Resignation touched almost every sector in 2021. Following record flights of employees in the Spring, the rate of people who quit their jobs reached another record high 4.4 million people in September 2021 – that’s approximately 3% of the nation’s workforce, according to the US Department of Labor. Employees are (re)claiming control of their professional prospects and bringing HR leaders to a critical crossroads: we have to address several key aspects of the future of work in order to effectively recruit, engage and retain top talent.

But, it’s not all bad news. Quite the opposite. Looking at the glass half full – which we should always aim to do as people and culture leaders – we stand at the precipice of a new age of HR and human capital management. Covid was the tragic inciting incident for a necessary paradigm shift in the practice of HR. Many of the important practices we have advocated for years have been brought into stark focus for organizations of all kinds. Employee experience. Technology-powered engagement. Ongoing skills development. Management and leadership. Culture, inclusion and belonging. The list goes on…

In turn, the role of HR leaders, such as the Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO), continues to evolve and elevate in importance. As we look ahead to 2022, it may very well be “the year of the CHRO” – or, certainly a year in which CHROs have more opportunity than ever before to deliver strategic impact to their organizations and help shape the future of work. With that in mind, here are five trends you need to know for 2022 that can help you rise to the occasion and drive meaningful change for your company.

1. Hybrid Work

The pandemic forced a more flexible, work from home/work from anywhere model for every business. According to Gartner, nearly one-third of knowledge workers worldwide will work remotely by the end of 2021. And employees aren’t coming back to the office, or at least they don’t want to. McKinsey research has shown that around 30% of employees say that they’d switch jobs if they were asked to return to fully on-site working. In fact, 50% said that they’d like to work from home for three days or more every week.

Frontline employees crave flexibility, too; an August survey from Gartner revealed that 60% of non-knowledge workers want their organization to provide more flexibility. It’s clear that better work-life balance, more choice in working hours and scheduling, and flexibility in working location are all up for discussion.   

Many forward-thinking businesses have already chosen to redesign work to fit the hybrid world, by moving away from the office-focused model and towards a more human-centric design. As businesses go through such a huge change, CHROs need to be agile to make sure this transition runs as smoothly as possible. Technology expertise will also play an increasingly larger part in the role of a CHRO, as we navigate remote workforce management. We need to understand not only the cultural impact of working in a hybrid world, but we also need to have a clear understanding of the platforms, software and features required to enable a robust and supportive working environment for our people – wherever, whenever, and however they work.

2. Organizational Agility

If there’s been one certainty over the past two years, it’s that nothing is certain. The pandemic has proven that organizational agility – our ability to react and respond to change – is perhaps the single greatest imperative for HR leaders. As we discussed in a recent podcast with Unit4’s VP of People Success and Enablement, Michael Visser, a willingness to adapt to whatever comes strengthens both HR and business strategies. By understanding that nothing will stay the same, organizations can accept change and also thrive in it.

What does that mean practically? It means that we need to help create and support our people with the processes, technologies and cultural environment to be flexible and shift as the needs and priorities of the organization change. From recruiting and onboarding, to engagement and recognition, to training and improvement and succession planning, we need to enable ourselves and empower others to freely communicate, adapt and respond.

Consider the OODA Loop. The OODA Loop is 4-step process that was developed by United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd in 1961 as a method for making quick and continuous decisions in the heat of combat, and it has been popularized in recent years through General Stanley McChrystal’s best-seller on leadership and team management, Team of Teams.

While most of us aren’t in life-or-death situations on a daily basis, this methodology for ongoing assessment, feedback and action is a good model for what we’ve been forced to do to embrace change throughout Covid. And it can offer us a useful rubric through which to look at our own HR processes and technologies. Are we empowering ourselves and our people to sustainably observe our situations, gain our bearings, choose an informed course of action, see it through, and learn from it?

3. Automation

Gartner research projects that, in addition to the 17% of organizations currently using artificial intelligence in their HR functions, another 30% of companies will adopt AI next year. And, according to McKinsey Global Institute, current technology can automate 56% of all activities performed by human resources departments.

When many of us hear “automation,” we fear the worst: machines taking people’s jobs. But rather than something to be feared, automation technologies could actually be a reward for employees, instead of a replacement. For employees experiencing burnout from the pandemic, and for the many more reconsidering their priorities amid The Great Resignation, they are looking for greater meaning in their work.

Now, think of your teams that spend hours of their work lives keying and rekeying employee form data. Having a digital assistant or AI technology doing the monotonous work for them could be very opportunistic (not to mention delightful). Automation technologies that augment our team’s capabilities can free them to focus on what they really do best: more strategic, relationship-oriented tasks. In 2022, consider where you can empower your people with AI and automation, from talent search and onboarding to helpdesk and document access.

4. Delivering on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)

Over the past several years, DEI has claimed its deserved spotlight as a business and HR priority. More and more organizations are monitoring and reporting their diversity statistics and implementing measures to step up. According to Gartner’s 2022 HR Priorities Survey, delivering progress on key DEI outcomes is among CHROs’ top five focus areas. That said, according to Glassdoor's Diversity Hiring Survey, more than half of people think their company should be doing more to increase diversity among its workforce – this belief is much more pronounced among under-represented groups.

If we’re going to walk the talk about DEI, it’s essential to now look past the typical checklist of criteria and look at candidates with alternative experience and attributes that could enhance advertised roles. Work to uncover diversity bottlenecks in the recruitment process and leverage both training and technologies to help reduce implicit and explicit bias. And, turn remote work to your advantage by considering highly skilled candidates who may not have otherwise had access to on-premise working opportunities due to physical challenges. 

It’s also important that you get the word out about the actions and outcomes of your work, and involve your people in those efforts. Bring diverse groups into how you design and execute your hiring and people management practices. Regularly survey and report on your diversity metrics. And, consider how you can create and/or support employee resource groups (ERG) that give underrepresented employees the opportunity to connect and feel greater belonging. 

5. Digital Transformation (For Real)

If you didn’t have a digital transformation strategy before the pandemic, you do now. As we covered in our recent post on change management, the workplaces that have most successfully adapted to change have been those that  saw the need to create an entire digital ecosystem – including such elements as robust ERP, HCM and financial functions – as well as the growth culture that empowered people to explore it, navigate it, and most of all, use it.    After nearly two years of reshaping the landscape of work, your technology ecosystem has been pushed to its limits and necessarily expanded to support the “new normal.” In 2022, it can’t be new anymore: just normal.

Register now for this upcoming CHRO webinar from Unit4 and IDC

Join us as we explore how the CHRO role will continue to evolve in 2022 – and share insights and best practices for driving impact through Human Capital Management.

Register for the webinar now