2020 HR and L&D Trends: 12 Expert Predictions

December 3, 2019 David Witt

HR and L&D experts are already predicting that a changing landscape will require new thinking and strategies for the coming year. Here are 12 of the most recent predictions about changes in the work environment and what’s needed to successfully meet these challenges. 

Each trend and prediction includes a link to its original article—be sure to click for the full story. And don’t miss the opportunity to join us for a free 2020 HR/L&D Trends webinar—details after trend #12!  Over 800 human resource and L&D professionals shared what their number one initiative will be in 2020 and how they will be addressing it.

Trend #1: Tech enables a personalized employee learning experience

Steve Boese, Human Resource Executive’s “Inside HR Tech” columnist, predicts two tech-related trends that will be top of mind for HR and L&D professionals in 2020—employee experience and personalization.

“[Employee] Experience allows us to think more specifically about the individual moments in an employee’s relationship with work and the organization, and to develop processes and technologies that are meant to elevate these moments to make them easier, more valuable, and designed with the employee in mind. In HR tech, the influence of employee experience has manifested in much more user-centric designs, cleaner and simpler interfaces, and technology much more focused on users, as opposed to back-office or IT administrators.”

For 2020 and beyond, Boese expects to see a personalized technology paradigm become more common in HR and workplace technologies.

“My favorite consumer comparison is the smartphone: Every new iPhone and the like ships to consumers exactly the same—loaded with the same software, layout/interface and installed applications. Within mere minutes of being activated, each of these millions of smartphones becomes unique—as users add, modify, adapt, and configure their phones to support their own needs.”

Boese’s prediction: “HR technology solutions will develop even more flexibility, adaptability and modularity—like your phone’s app store—in order to give users almost unfettered ability to tailor their workplace technologies to their own preferences, giving them more control over their data, their workflows, and their experiences.”

Read more in What trends will dominate HR tech in 2020?

Trend #2: An increased focus on mental health and wellbeing

TalentCulture founder Meghan Biro identifies that the concept of wellness is changing, with both Millennials and Generation Zs expecting employers to take a more holistic approach when investing in employee health and wellbeing.

“There’s a disparity between how employers and employees view access to health and wellness benefits,” says Biro. She cites a study published by Aetna that indicates 70% of employers believe they provide reasonable access to health and wellness benefits, while only 23% of employees agree. “Additionally, the study found that 82% of workers across the globe are concerned that mental health issues could impact their ability to work. But only 25% of employees feel their organizations provide enough support for mental health conditions.”

Biro’s prediction: “Holistic benefits plans will become more readily available. … Managing mental health conditions such as stress and depression will be increasingly commonplace, extending, in some plans, to assistance with financial stressors such as college loan payments."

Read more in in 6 Employee Wellness Trends for 2020

Trend #3: Creating brand advocates

Michael Hartland, internal communications specialist at SnapComms, predicts a renewed focus on creating employee brand advocates as companies recognize the impact advocates have on building customer relationships, attracting and retaining top talent, and improving business performance. The end result? Employees impact your bottom line, whatever their role.

“Word of mouth has always been a potent business tool, but never more so than today. Employees have become social storytellers. Their opinions reach ever-wider audiences through social networks. Company messages are shared 24 times more when distributed by employees than [by] the brand itself. Positive sentiment can promote your company—but negative will threaten it.”

Hartland’s prediction. Organizations will keep an increasingly closer eye on internal NPS (Net Promoter Scores) and track sentiment regularly to assess the health of the employee experience.

Read more in Internal Communication Trends 2020

Trend #4: Seeing disruption as an opportunity

Maureen Metcalf, CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute, suggests L&D leaders look differently at the accelerating rate of disruption and the adaptive leadership that is required.

According to Metcalf, “Organizations must continue to monitor trends and disruptions and look for ways to leverage them for strategic advantage. It's often noted that businesses must recognize the importance of disrupting or get disrupted. The question for organizations and their leaders is how to monitor these trends and create an advantage.

“As companies evolve to respond to disruption, leaders need to elevate the quality of their leadership. The challenges businesses face are adaptive: leaders need to change themselves and their organizations. We are facing problems that we can’t solve with our current thinking.”

Metcalf’s recommendation: Leaders need to seek to elevate the quality of their leadership rather than just build skills.

Read more in in her article for Forbes Online, Leadership Trends: Lead The Disruption 2020

Trend #5: A new approach to teams

ADP’s Spark research team believes that organizations will take a new look at how teams are created and supported.

“Organizations of all sizes need to break down silos to unlock potential and create a culture of connectivity predicated on engagement and performance. Even though work is often done on teams, HCM [human capital management] solutions to date have not been architected in a way that supports dynamic teamwork. Expect that to change.

“The future of work lies in a flat working structure that unlocks the potential of dynamic teams. The tight labor market will continue to fuel the war for talent, forcing employers to reevaluate their teams and seek alternative hiring solutions.”

Spark Team prediction: Companies will increasingly look to meet their talent needs by supplementing their staff with highly specialized gig workers; former, returning workers; and retirees that can support nimble work.

Read more in Trends Driving the Workforce in 2020 

Trend #6: Making work inclusive and accessible

Cecile Alper-Leroux, Ultimate Software’s vice president of HCM innovation, identifies that the aging of the world’s population will become one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century.

“As the population ages, another workforce reality is emerging: many of us will age into disability. We’re now grappling with record-high labor shortages in Japan, Germany, coastal cities in China, and the U.S. (where we have a gap of more than 1.7 million jobs). Meanwhile, more than one billion people worldwide are currently unemployed or underemployed due to some form of disability.

“To enable this vast workforce, our organizations will have to make work truly accessible. In fact, as the number of organizations investing in D&I initiatives increases globally, we must now expand these programs to explicitly include non-traditional labor segments, such as gig workers, returning retirees, people with visible and invisible disabilities, and the neuro-divergent.

“We can no longer ignore or shut out a large portion of the workforce if we are to meet the needs of our businesses and customers. Organizations will need to invest in technologies that can augment and compliment the capabilities of diverse groups of people while making their workplaces, and transportation to these workplaces, fully accessible. Central to this effort is to extend the scope of accessibility to include access to new opportunities, which makes inclusion, not just accommodation, critical.”

Alper-Leroux’s prediction: Organizations will redefine work to be more fluid and flexible to meet the requirements of more people including generalists, specialists, gig workers, retirees, remote and virtual workers. This could mean introducing cyclical or intermittent work, which is not the same as seasonal work, or lifecycle-based assignments and compensation. Organizations must do more to attract and select diverse and disabled individuals based on actual job requirements and provide significantly better accommodations so that all employees can contribute to their full potential.

Read more in her article, Trending Soon 2020: Accessibility, Balance, and Adaptability

Trend #7: New ways to communicate with prospective employees

In an article for PandoLogic, author James Haley predicts that two new communication channels—texting with staffing candidates and utilizing chatbots with customers—will continue to see increased adoption among staffing professionals.

“Texting with candidates is a 2020 staffing trend that is exciting some professionals because it's immediate. Nearly every candidate you want to reach is carrying their phone around with them at all times. And, whatever you text, it has to be short and sweet—that is the nature of the medium. From the candidate’s perspective, it is easy to write back a quick text no matter where they are, whether on the bus or at a restaurant. It’s much easier to respond via text than pick up a phone call.”

“Many retail websites have embraced the chatbot to interface with customers. Rather than refer people to a website full of FAQs, chatbots use artificial intelligence (AI) technology and natural language processing to find and answer people’s questions with the specific information the person needs. Why make a customer sift through information they don’t need when it's better to provide them the answer more quickly? When applied to the hiring process, this type of tech can be valuable for candidate engagement. Oftentimes candidates have the same questions come up again and again. Rather than have staffing professionals take time to answer in the same way, again and again, bots can inform and keep your candidates engaged in the process.”

Haley’s prediction: The overall trends of streamlining and automating work will continue in 2020 and beyond.

Read more in 2020 Staffing Trends Professionals Are Excited About

Trend #8: Creating comprehensive development plans

John Wright, president of leadership and learning events for Eagle’s Flight, says that employees in today’s workforce—especially younger generations—have high expectations for continuous learning and development in the workplace. That’s going to require more robust development strategies and people centric productivity solutions, says Wright.

“Rather than just training during onboarding, employees are seeking ongoing education opportunities that will help them grow both in the organization and in their careers. They also seek customized solutions that address their individual needs. To stay on top of this trend, [organizations must] develop a comprehensive learning and development strategy that meets people where they are and evolves with them, but that also meets the needs of [the] organization currently and in the future.

Wright also suggests that organizations “Identify the barriers to a productive work environment—inbox overflow, interruptions, insufficient time for training, and so on—and find people-centric solutions. These might include setting up an internal messaging system to alleviate the onrush of emails, allowing for flexible work schedules, or providing additional communication training to those who need it. The solutions will depend on the specific challenges, but the primary objective is to approach each issue from the employee’s perspective.”

Wright’s prediction: Organizations will focus on putting people at the forefront and leveraging technology to come up with creative solutions. A comprehensive development plan tailored to each generational group will keep the organization competitive.

Read more in 4 Important Workplace Trends to Consider in 2020

Trend #9: Skills mapping and reskilling the future workforce

Expect L&D teams to start tackling the reskilling of their workforces, according to a learning trends report from Udemy. “Organizations tend to lay off workers to address obsolete skills and then hire for new skills to move the business forward. However, with tight labor markets, business leaders are beginning to recognize retraining existing talent for new roles as more effective than competing for scarce talent.”

With large-scale technology disruption in the next decade, Udemy predicts that continuous skills mapping will become critical for workforce planning. Skills mapping is a visual representation of skills needed to perform desired roles as compared to the existing skill base of an organization’s workforce. This exercise helps HR and L&D leaders identify key skill gaps.

As Udemy’s report identifies, “As organizations tackle workforce reskilling, they’re beginning to hire experts to help map existing workforce skills and future skills. J.P. Morgan is working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Initiative on the Digital Economy to forecast emerging skillsets for its workforce. J.P. Morgan is also piloting a “skills passport” platform in their IT department. The platform enables employees to assess current skills as well as browse new roles and the necessary training to achieve this next step in their career.”

Udemy’s prediction: In 2020 and beyond, expect organizations to take a deeper dive into skills mapping to prepare their workforce for what’s next.

Read more by downloading Udemy’s complete report at Udemy Workplace Learning Trends 2020: The Skills of the Future

Trend #10: Improving expertise for organizational design

Fifty-six percent of HR leaders say organizational design and change management will be a top priority in 2020, according to researchers at Gartner.

“They face a range of problems,” say the study authors. “Many say their leaders aren’t equipped to lead organizational redesigns and change. Others are unsure how to design their organization to support faster/more responsive ways of working. Some say employees are fatigued by all the change.

“Today, organizational structures are often poorly mapped to workflows and networks, especially as operating models evolve. Organizational effectiveness is frequently misaligned with enterprise priorities and inadequately measures the quality and prevalence of planning and goal setting, as well as the outcomes.”

Gartner’s prediction: To be more agile and responsive in uncertain times, HR leaders will need to move away from top-down change management and instead push decision making and planning deeper down into the organization. This will require HR to involve employees in co-creating change strategy by engaging them as active participants in making and shaping change decisions.

Read more at Gartner Top 3 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2020

Trend #11: Enhancing and personalizing the learning experience

Experts at Docebo explain that with so much content now available for learners, oftentimes the most time consuming task is finding the right materials and the most relevant content for each learner. Keeping learners engaged is another challenge.

“As always, engagement is an uphill battle for all those in learning and development. Providing the best possible experience for our learners is paramount, and we’re becoming more and more inventive with our solutions.

“Leveraging AI-powered learning platforms will spur an increased usage of personalization approaches alongside the use of personal learning trainers. Focusing specifically on how to support your learners, digital coaches will prompt them to finalize courses, suggest new content, and answer questions. In addition, your learners will be able to have more of a say about what skills they want to develop and how.

“With AI becoming even more sophisticated, intelligent Learning Platforms are now enabling learners to identify which skills they want to grow within their learning environment and then have the platform serve up related content.

Docebo’s prediction: Learning tools will become more prominent as delivering effective learning programs becomes even more critical and businesses look to strategically upskill, reskill, hire and retain top talent. Solutions to this common problem will take the form of social learning tools that empower subject matter experts to create and share their own content, and smarter content curation tools that produce catalogs for individual learning needs.

Read more by downloading Docebo’s report, E-Learning Trends 2020—A new Era of Learning

Trend #12: Training integrated into work

Experts at EdgePoint Learning believe the biggest shift in 2020 is going to be training that occurs seamlessly in the flow of work.

“With everyone connected through smartphones and devices, the various aspects of our lives are now more integrated than ever. Just as push notifications alert you to sales and specials when you walk into a store, so too will future corporate training initiatives drive more holistic and integrated training opportunities, with microlearning leading the way.”

Edgepoint’s prediction: Compartmentalized trainings (i.e., on Thursday morning you go to a training, then you put that manual back on the shelf and keep working in the afternoon) are being phased out as on-the-job training with immediate application emerges as a major trend.

Learn more in their blog post, What Should We Expect For The Future of Corporate Training In 2020?

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Would you like to learn more about the three- to five-year trends impacting today’s work environment—and how HR and L&D professionals are planning to address those challenges?  Join us for a free webinar!

2020 Leadership, Learning, and Talent Development Trends

December 18, 2019, 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time

In this complimentary webinar, Blanchard program director David Witt will share the results of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ 2020 HR/L&D Trend Survey. Witt will detail responses received from 800 leadership, learning, and talent development professionals who participated in Blanchard’s November trend survey to identify the #1 new initiative L&D professionals anticipate addressing in 2020.

Attend the webinar and see how your planned initiatives stack up against those of your peers! Together with L&D professionals from around the world, you’ll learn:

  • The #1 new L&D initiative identified for 2020
  • Other top initiatives identified for leaders at different levels in the organization
  • How new initiatives rank order against existing priorities

Witt will also share strategies and resources for presenting new HR/L&D projects for budget approval. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn what your peers are focusing on for 2020 and how to get funding for your next initiative. The event is free, courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies.

Register today!

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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