5 Areas Where HR Technology Will Make a Difference This Year

The global human resource management (HRM) sector is projected to reach $30 billion by 2025. In other words, the business of creating innovative HR solutions is booming. HR, an industry comprising professionals that have been historically overburdened with the complicated processes of managing the lifecycle of every employee, is currently experiencing a deluge of innovation.

Increasingly, employees are looking to work for companies that provide more than just a fair salary plus the usual benefits and perks. They want to be members of a diverse company inundated with easy-to-use solutions that increase their engagement, promote their wellness, and improve their work-life experience. The increase of innovative tech for the workplace mirrors the shift toward a more holistic employee experience.

The HR technology trends that we here at G2 Crowd are most excited about for 2019 include solutions that will promote employee engagement, diversify companies, rethink sexual harassment training, expand corporate wellness solutions, and employ AI to improve HR operations. These are the 5 major HR trends we see:

  1. Engaging all employees
  2. Fighting unconscious bias
  3. Improving essential people training
  4. Expanding our concept of wellness
  5. Streamlining HR operations with AI

1. Employee engagement

Prediction: Businesses will increase their employee engagement spending by 45% in 2019.

Employee engagement is the level of an employee’s emotional connection, involvement, and commitment to their organization. When employees feel valued, their dedication and enthusiasm for their jobs, coworkers, and companies grow. This, in turn, increases employee retention, performance, and productivity.

As research shows, companies suffer when employee engagement is low. We recently surveyed both HR and non-HR employees to get a pulse on employee engagement. We wanted to know if employees feel differently about engagement based on their role in the company; either they are making the decisions around engagement initiatives (HR employees) or, they are working in any other field or department (non-HR employees) with no real say over how their company attempts to engage them.

80% of HR employees surveyed found that using HR technologies improved employee attitude toward the company. 57% of HR employees strongly agree that employee engagement initiatives will help their company retain productive staff. The majority of employees surveyed believe that employee engagement is important for a thriving company culture. When employees are engaged, everyone wins.

And yet, there remains a disconnect about just who is feeling engaged. HR professionals claim to provide engagement initiatives, but many non-HR employees remain unconvinced that their companies are making the effort or that they will help. We are at a turning point when general employees want to be engaged, but are skeptical of the solutions.

HR departments, teams, and personnel develop and oversee comprehensive engagement programs that touch all aspects of the employee lifecycle from recruiting through offboarding. The challenge will be in deciding which solutions will most benefit their employees, company, and culture.

There are many options for improving employee engagement. HR personnel can use employee engagement software to solicit and track feedback from employees, recognize achievements and promote positive activity. These tools enable HR to draw actionable insights from employee feedback that can be essential for improving engagement.

Furthermore, there are a variety of other initiatives to help engage employees including continual training and education, career development, employee recognition, as well as programs around topics like wellness — physical, mental and financial.

Businesses and HR employees have a wide array of options to improve employee engagement and we expect employers to increase their use of these solutions in 2019.

2. Blind hiring technology

Prediction: Companies will increase their use of technology to remove unconscious bias from the hiring process by 30% in 2019.

The focus on increasing diversity to improve company-wide performance and workplace culture is already on the rise. An HR survey by Harvey Nash found that organizations are increasingly broadening their diversity hiring to gender, ethnicity, culture, age, and LGBT-identifying individuals.

And yet, implicit or unconscious bias is still prevalent throughout the resume screening process. In a recent resume audit study, researchers identified pervasive racial discrimination throughout the resume screening process.

They found that resumes with “white-sounding” names were more likely (11.5% vs. 18%) to get an interview request than identical resumes with Asian names, and 30% more likely to get an interview request than identical resumes with “black-sounding” names.

The study illustrates how unconscious bias might play out in the hiring process. Now just think of the more insidious ways implicit bias affects recruiting, hiring, interviewing, pay equity, career development, and the like.

We all know that diverse organizations perform better. A recent report from McKinsey & Company found that gender and ethnic diversity in the workplace positively correlate with profit. The biggest hurdle to creating a diverse workforce is in identifying one’s own bias, acknowledging it exists, and taking the appropriate steps to reduce or, better yet, remove it from the hiring process.

Julia Hartz, the CEO of Eventbrite, made it a personal goal to reach 50/50 gender representation on the board of directors. Hartz achieved gender balance on the 10-person board when Jane Lauder, the global brand president of Clinique, joined. Hartz recently told Fortune, “Since I founded this company, I’ve had a strong desire and commitment to build a team that looks like the world.”

Increasingly, companies will set diversity goals which HR personnel and hiring managers will then need to meet. To do so, they will need to start by designing clear roadmaps for achieving gender, ethnic, cultural, and generational diversity. Luckily, there is a growing number of technology solutions aimed at helping HR personnel do just that.

To reduce the prevalence of sexism, racism, ageism, and classism during the hiring process, HR personnel can implement a variety of recruiting, applicant screening, interviewing, and assessment tools. A growing number and variety of these solutions are available to companies today.

These solutions provide an array of features to help companies diversify their talent. Some focus on redacting information such as gender, race, ethnicity, or education during the resume scanning and interviewing process, highlighting instead job skills and experience. Analytics can help businesses understand and compare how their company ranks in diversity against competitors.

HR personnel will increase their use of blind hiring technology in 2019 to remove unconscious bias from the entire hiring process.

3. VR sexual harassment training

Prediction: VR-based sexual harassment training industry will increase 15% in 2019. As a result of the increase of interactive, fully immersive sexual harassment training, the number of sexual harassment cases will decrease.

At the federal level, sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other physical or verbal misconduct. The Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin or religion. It only applies to employers with 15 or more employees — one reason why having state and local law coverage, as well as effective company policies, is so important.

Even though we find ourselves in the midst of the #MeToo movement in the U.S., the Women in the Workplace 2018 study by Leanin.org and McKinsey & Company report discloses minimal progress. The statistics are harrowing. Currently 35% of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Although 98% of companies report having sexual harassment policies, only 32% of women think that inappropriate behavior is addressed quickly. Furthermore, according to the report, “Less than a third of employees say that managers often challenge biased language and behavior when they see or hear it.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that it filed 50% more lawsuits challenging sexual harassment in FY 2018. The commission also saw a 12% increase in charges alleging sexual harassment. The fact remains, that women and men (but at far lesser rates) are being sexually harassed at work.

Sexual harassment training, as HR departments have deployed it, and managers and employees have experienced it, does not work. Sexual harassment training has historically been provided in person, or in the form of computer based training (CBT) which includes text, slideshow, and video instruction. These methods of training have not been especially effective at reducing sexual harassment. But could walking a mile in the victim’s shoes do the trick?

Virtual reality could make the difference.

Morgan Mercer of Vantage Point VR training is setting the bar in using this groundbreaking technology in sexual harassment training. VR’s fully immersive training increases the retention of preventable techniques as well as improving bystander intervention in harassment situations. Since April 2018, 2,000 people have completed a beta training program.

This market is sure to grow. The VR software and hardware market in just the US is projected to reach $4.3 billion by 2020. And according to IDC, more than 1 billion people worldwide are expected to use VR regularly by 2020. VR is already improving a variety of industries; it’s already improving physical therapy treatment, helping children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) overcome social interaction disabilities, and advancing surgical training, to name a few.

Virtual reality software is a promising solution to our sexual harassment problem and funding for this type of technology will inevitably increase. As VR sexual harassment training technologies progress, we believe it will supplant the standard and ineffective methods of sexual harassment training. 2019 will be the year that it takes off.

4. Corporate wellness initiatives expansion

Prediction: Corporate wellness initiatives that focus on financial and mental health, in addition to physical wellness solutions, will expand by 40% in 2019. Companies will employ financial and mental health solutions to work part and parcel with physical well-being solutions to boost employee health and wellness.

According to a recent survey, only 35% of US employees reported feeling satisfied with their finances in 2017. Thirty-five percent of employees surveyed miss 3–5 days per month as a result of workplace stress, and yet another 85% of workers who have experienced stress at work rate the efforts of their workplace to reduce stress as fair to poor. Investing in employees’ well-being is an essential part of improving employee engagement and promoting a healthy workplace culture.

As employers begin to recognize mental health wellness as a necessity and not just an afterthought, corporate wellness programs are expanding beyond focusing solely on employees’ physical health. Technology is helping companies improve their wellness programs to include financial and mental health well-being.

More than half of American employees are worried about their finances and that stress has increased over the past year. Millennials, for example, are the largest working generation and are the most burdened by school loan debt. Meanwhile, the sandwich generation is stretched thin between caring for children and aging parents.

Financial wellness technology provides help for everything related to an employee’s financial health including 401ks, debt, savings, mortgages, earnings and investments. From student loan repayment benefits to assisting employees with short-term financial issues, employers are increasingly providing financial education, assistance, and solutions.

To provide a comprehensive corporate wellness solution, businesses will increase their budget allocated to wellness, focus on integrating solutions to improve employee access and embrace digital solutions. Businesses will focus on emotional well-being initiatives including offering stress management workshops, providing meditation rooms, and focusing on mindfulness and work-life integration. Companies will also have the option of using wellness apps to better promote and deliver these solutions to all of their employees.

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An improved focus on corporate wellness decreases stress and burnout, resulting in more productive employees and a positive organizational culture.

5. AI to improve HR operations

Prediction: AI-driven HR technology innovations will increase by 35%.

The new industrial revolution is all about artificial intelligence, as we discussed in our artificial intelligence trends post. Companies are increasingly leveraging AI technology to help identify data opportunities, improve internal workflows, and increase productivity, to name a few.

AI-embedded HR technologies can also help companies improve the employee experience. The employee experience begins with the candidate experience, and AI enhances the entire employee lifecycle from recruiting through offboarding. AI can help businesses treat candidates and employees as if they are loyal customers. Improving the employee experience increases employee engagement and enhances company culture.

Machine learning, an application of AI, uses data to learn, identify patterns, and make decisions. These tools reduce the amount of human power needed to perform a job quickly and effectively; meanwhile, they increase both response time and access to information.

As employees demand more and more from their employers — the pairing of machine learning with HR couldn’t come at a better time. A common thread that ties together all of the HR trends we’ve been discussing is AI. From engaging employees to fighting unconscious bias, and expanding our concept of wellness, embedding HR tools with machine learning as a service (MLaaS) streamlines all of these HR processes.

Take, for example, our blind hiring trend for 2019. AI can be trained to avoid unconscious bias by ignoring information such as names, universities, locations, and dates previous positions have been held. However, these systems are still at the mercy of human decision-making and therefore require constant vigilance. When AI systems learn by looking at existing systems (and biases) they run the risk of inheriting and applying those biases within the hiring process.

Meanwhile, HR service delivery software, for example, helps organizations and HR personnel simplify complex HR operations. These solutions combine service center and help desk technology by standardizing how HR personnel provide services and interact with employees. AI can learn commonly asked questions and automate responses thereby reducing the time HR personnel need to spend reviewing and responding to employee requests.

AI-driven technologies will continue to improve and increase throughout the HR sector. As the demand for these technologies expands, there will be no shortage of new innovations in the coming year.

HR trends 2019 and beyond

We all understand that the bottom line benefits from a diverse, engaged and mentally, physically and financially healthy workforce. HR solutions that benefit employees are on the rise.

To create a thriving, productive, engaged workplace culture, companies need to recruit, hire and retain top talent. And today, that talent is everyone and everywhere. After all, it is a candidate’s market. For companies to attract and retain diverse and competitive talent, they will increase their spending on HR solutions, which will push the variety of HR innovations to new limits in 2019 and beyond.

This article was first published on G2 Crowd.

Courtney Moran is a research specialist at G2 Crowd. She specializes in HR with a focus on diversity and inclusion, employee engagement, and wellness in the workplace. When she's not researching and writing about HR-related topics, you might find Courtney helping out on her friend's organic farm.

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