5 workforce management trends to watch in 2017

By: Sharon Florentine

What will 2017 hold for the human capital management (HCM)/workforce management space? Organizations will focus on strengthening relationships between their workers and managers, leveraging data to improve engagement, and lowering attrition and demand more from their technology solutions, according to a new report from The Workforce Institute at Kronos.

“Each year, we ask our board of advisors to weigh in on what they think will be the top trends in the next year. Then, we take all those predictions and distill them down into larger trends,” says Joyce Maroney, senior director of customer experience and services marketing at Kronos Incorporated and director of The Workforce Institute.

Here’s what you can expect this year.

1. The year of the middle manager

Organizations spend a lot of time and money at the top developing a strategic vision, and equal time, energy and money at the bottom engaging employees. But this leaves out a critical part of the equation: middle management, says Maroney.

“We know that employees join companies, but they leave managers; for all the bad press middle management gets, they are the folks that have the greatest impact on overall performance. And, especially in tech, the competition for talent is fierce and people have more options. That means organizations have to pay attention to employee engagement and things like management and leadership development through their existing workforce, and middle managers are exactly the right people to do that,” Maroney says.

Savvy companies will invest in front-line management as a means to engage and retain valuable employees in 2017, Maroney says, and will emphasize that middle managers are crucial to ensuring transparent, authentic communication between top leadership and the greater workforce.

“Good managers are key to helping identify goals and strategies, translating them into manageable chunks of action and tying those back to the larger business goals for the workers on the ground,” Maroney says.

[ Related story: 14 tips to land the job you want in 2017 ]

2. Focus on the employee experience to drive engagement

Leading companies work hard to deliver a superior customer experience to attract, engage, retain, and cultivate brand-loyal customers. Organizations will apply a similar approach to their workforces, looking for ways to make the employee experience easier, rewarding, more transparent and professionally fulfilling, according to Kronos.

“We believe we’ll see increasing parallels between the customer experience and the employee experience in 2017, because the same principles apply: organizations need to understand what’s most important, and that starts by asking. In this case, asking which benefits matter most to employees? What technologies, training and processes can help workers succeed without suffering burnout? How can the performance evaluation process be enhanced to provide real-time feedback for employees — both salaried and hourly workers — while relieving overbearing processes for managers?” Maroney says.

Unfortunately, though, many organizations spend more on recruiting new talent than developing the top talent they already have; that has to change in order for companies to be successful in a tight talent market, Maroney says.

“Part of creating this engaging employee experience is making sure resources are added, dollars spent and management is on board. We’ve seen that, assuming a company’s compensation is competitive, people want ‘bread-and-butter’ benefits like PTO, flexibility — really, the mantra should be to treat your people like the adults they are, be clear about the objectives and their role in achieving them, and make clear the benefits to both the company and to them,” Maroney says.


3. Achieving agility

To say the global economy is in flux is an understatement. We saw a U.S. Presidential election like the world has never seen before; The Brexit impact on the European Union is as yet unknown. Key political elections will take place in 2017 throughout Asia and Europe, and countries, counties, and cities continue to enact ever-evolving labor laws, such as the Wage Code Bill in India, National Living Wage in the U.K., and the currently-stalled U.S. FLSA overtime proposal, according to Kronos.

“The key point here is that organizations are going to have to stay on their toes and be able to react quickly as changes happen. That’s the case no matter what, but it’s especially important right now, I believe,” Maroney says.

4. Using people data to solve people problems

Even the term “big data” can be enough to strike fear into the hearts of many organizations; by 2020, IDC estimates that about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second of every day for every human. In 2017, the key will be to first decide what’s important to measure, instead of measuring just for its own sake, Maroney says.

“Unless you can apply some statistical modeling and converge the right sources, you’re just going to be drowning in meaningless data streams. In HR, you’re looking at things like time and attendance as well as wellness data and productivity data, and you need to be thinking about how to take that information and deliver the outcomes you want. So, ask yourself what insights you’re seeking, and then build the strategy to support that,” Maroney says.

For example, can you use data to identify staffing, engagement and attendance issues by manager? By location? How do transit schedules and weather data tie in? Technology will allow organizations to look more closely into the workforce data they already capture — i.e. people data — to make better employee and business decisions that solve challenges related to turnover, retention, engagement, customer and patient satisfaction, and productivity.


5. HR gets more strategic

The human resources function has evolved from the transaction-driven personnel department of decades past into a strategic business partner, thanks to a growing foundation of data-driven practices, according to the Workforce Institute. However, many HR leaders still spend more than a third of their time on manual tasks, have limited insight into the entire business, and are continually inundated by basic employee FAQs.

Wide adoption of SaaS has brought more sophisticated HCM solutions to organizations large and small alike, and HR leaders will now demand more from technology to deliver better recruiting, retention, talent management, collaboration, and onboarding solutions with prescriptive insights and enhanced self-service features that drive a better employee experience, according to Kronos.

“There’s so many technology options out there, not just in HR, but everywhere, and if you’re relying on that solely to automate transactions, OK, that’ll get you some productivity gains, but it won’t necessarily help you with things like employee relations. So, you have to be really smart about what you are trying to achieve before you go out and buy a bright-and-shiny, niche solution that might not end up solving your problem. The best bet is to work with IT to figure out what your use cases are, and have them help you make sound decisions,” Maroney says.