HR Trends to Watch in 2016
February 2, 2016
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Millennials, Gen Zers & technology solutions: our top HR trends to watch in 2016.

The watchword for 2016 should come as no surprise: Technology. While HR pros were sidetracked over the last few years by Affordable Care Act and Compliance issues, HR software vendors were busy developing applications serving not just the HR office, but the worker and applicant as well.

Meanwhile, legacy HR programs have become – to borrow a phrase once used to describe the typical Russian novel – “loose, baggy elephants,” time-consuming, onerous and clumsy. Employers across the country are long past due for upgrades in a wide spectrum of technology functions.

Managers With Vision

With the heavy lifting and detailed staff work of ACA compliance behind us, there will be less need for compliance-based managerial emphasis. HR managers whose understanding of their role is only compliance checklist deep will be consigned to assistant status. 2016 will belong to the HR visionary – the business personnel leader who values engagement over compliance, leadership over management, outreach to insularity, and who has the technological savvy and open-mindedness to embrace technology, media and communications solutions to make his or her vision happen.

Naturally, this is going to require some investment and resources from the top, as well. Technology isn’t free. But antiquated technology is expensive. Very expensive. So the CEO and CFO should be supporting the HR leader as the HR leader supports their vision and ultimately helps them build the team that unlocks shareholder value.

“People Analytics” Will Take Hold

Sports fans will be familiar with the concept of “Moneyball.” If not, read the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, or see the Brad Pitt movie about the effort to transform the Oakland A’s into a playoff-competitive team by making giant conceptual leaps in the analysis, interpretation of the vast wealth of baseball statistics compiled over the years to form managerial and back office decisions.

It’s kind of like a cross between The Natural and Revenge of the Nerds.

The pro sports world isn’t the only industry that has turned to Big Data to inform decision-making. The credit industry has also long embraced a similar data and probability-based approach to lending on everything from microwaves to credit cards to cars to houses. The quantification of your probability of defaulting on a loan, based on others who are as close to just like you as statisticians can manage, is your credit score. And this is the reason your bank or credit card company doesn’t feel the need to interview you in person before they lend you money.

Overwhelmingly, the trend has been to automate credit decisions as much as possible. The reason? Lending officers are terrible at interviewing people, too.

People analytics is the attempt to take the same data-driven approach to personnel decisions and move it from the baseball field to the workplace – and data analysts are already putting the lie to a lot of bad assumptions that have hamstrung hiring managers for generations.

The bottom line: Intuition is terrible. Hiring managers routinely fail at successfully interviewing good candidates or predicting success by using subjective hiring criteria. What’s more, hiring managers have long bought into assumptions that data analysts are finding out are not true. For example, according to Jim Meyerle, co-founder of Cornerstone (formerly Evolv), the long-term unemployed, applicants with a record of job-hopping, and even convicted felons do not underperform other applicants when they are actually hired.

Specifically, when Cornerstone looked at actual performance data, a past history of job-hopping had zero statistical value for predicting future job success or failure. Candidates with five years in a single job prior to being hired elsewhere were no more likely to stay with the company than candidates who had held many jobs.

Multiple studies have confirmed that hiring managers are terrible at predicting job success or failure on the basis of the traditional job interview.

The result, unfortunately, becomes a bias-driven decision-making process, rather than an information-driven one.

Yes there is vast potential for similarly data-driven approaches decision-making across a wide variety of disciplines and contexts. But informing HR leaders of the most promising applicants (and candidates for internal hires and promotions) is the most obvious place to start.

We will see more and more people analytics applications and solutions in the workplace in 2016.

Financial Wellness & Student Loan Payments as a Benefit

Research shows that 401(k) products don’t adequately incentivize employees under 35 to join and stay with employers. And with Millennials making up the largest percentage of employees in the workforce, what motivates them matters.

Imagine that you are one of the 40 million students who graduated with, on average, a balance of $35k in student loans in 2015. The standard repayment plan for federal student loans puts borrowers on a 10-year track to pay off their debt, but research has shown that, on average, it takes college graduates 21 years to complete their payments. Studies have shown that more than half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have put off a major life event or milestone because of their student loan commitments.

For the 70 percent of college students graduating with student loans, retirement seems far-fetched. The benefits employers have used for years to distinguish themselves from other employers and help them attract and retain talent are no longer resonating.

Enter: Corporate student loan payments as an employee benefit. For global companies who care deeply about their employees, it is a tool that will truly help them recruit and retain top emerging talent.

“Continuous Feedback” Will Begin To Replace the Annual Review (And It’s About Time)

While we’ll probably always have an annual decision-making cycle at some level, there is no reason why an annual review needs to have the importance it does. Basing promotion and compensation decisions largely on an annual review is arguably a failure of weak managers: If an employee gets a bad review after a year, and that’s the only record of feedback and counseling on record, then shame on that manager!

Technology now makes it easy for management to provide employees with weekly, daily and even continuous and instantaneous feedback about their job performance. For example, applications like Impraise leverage mobile technology to allow employees to request management feedback on the spot, rather than having to fly blind as they navigate a project or wait for a scarce face-to-face appointment with a manager who may not have time to conduct a full in-person counseling session.

These programs, ongoing 360-degree performance evaluations (and the software necessary to facilitate them and package the information in a useful format) will make strong managers better – and limit the damage that weak managers can do. A company that invests in such programs can track usage, for example. If one middle manager goes a month without using the system to provide feedback to employees working on his projects, leadership can take action to find out why. The result is a chance to make a leader stronger, and make a much better manager out of a mediocre one.

Welcome Generation Z!

Yep. We’re running out of letters. Thank the people who named “Generation X” starting with the third-to-last letter of the alphabet!

Generation Z are the youngsters just now entering the workforce and internship programs, succeeding the people we now call “Millennials” (who just this year established themselves as the majority of the work force).

These young people, born after 1995, are just now beginning to buy their first legal beers. The large staffing firm Adecco has recently published a report based on their survey of these brand new workers, Generation Z vs. Millennials.

Key findings:

  • Generation Z takes multi-tasking to the extreme.
  • They are the most social-media-engaged cohort yet. They’re probably using apps and platforms you haven’t even heard of.
  • They make extensive use of university career centers to search for jobs. To reach them, reach out to your local colleges and universities.
  • They research company culture online and via social media tools prior to signing on. They leverage social media to communicate your company culture.
  • Unlike the thoroughly recession-traumatized Millennials, Generation Z is still optimistic about their job and career prospects.