HR profession: A new HR for a new workforce

If the past 20 years have taught us anything, it’s that the complexity of regulatory compliance and technology application keep most of the HR profession mired in the transactional. The global downturn may change all that.

HR directors have a perhaps unprecedented opportunity for creativity and strategic impact today, as trends triggered by the downturn will reshape the workforce forever.

New approach

Diminished, or worse, lost pensions and plummeting home values signal delayed retirement for the baby-boomers – 81% of respondents to a recent survey planned to postpone theirs. As workers seek prolonged productivity and flexibility to ‘earn while ageing’, creative employers will increase productivity and reduce costs, diversifying what defines a ‘job’.

Imagine arrangements that extend beyond work-from-home, off-peak-hours and four-day weeks; consider mentor job shares that team a seasoned professional with a trainee, peak-staff programmes that use experienced staffers only for critical cycles such as tax season, and vari-time programmes offering regularly paced pay for a volatile schedule.

With teams in constant flux and a redefined job construct, responsibility for developing skills will shift to the employee. Greater diversity in what constitutes a job will require workers to develop sophisticated change management skills, but employers need not fear; those embracing flexible working have historically reaped cost and productivity gains.


There is now recognition that we are not running out of workers, and room must be made for the young. Predicated on worker scarcity, employment rewards have migrated to time-based entitlement. With millions unemployed worldwide, though, employers have more power, and this will enable marked changes in reward. Banker bonuses are just the first victim of shareholder outrage. As employers rethink rewards, components will become more discreet; base salary will change only if and when a job is changed. A bonus will be offered only for a specific performance event and paid as a fixed amount (not as a percentage of salary).

Gain sharing, stock ownership, and pension allocation will be rare, as companies recognise there is reduced need to incentivise longevity. Ranging from schemes which restrict promotion to only those staff who have accumulated ‘performance points’, to incentive plans which are defined by corporate profitability, the new tools will sound familiar, but be distinguished from years past by their rigorous application.

Millennial workers

Millennial employees have previously been buoyed by a booming economy. Now, as baby-boomers adjust their hopes for retirement, millennials will need to adjust their hopes for life.

Fewer jobs, higher performance standards, less development spending and more competition are sure to tame the demands of millennial staff, but it may also curb their risk appetite. Challenged to incentivise innovation, HR and recruitment professionals are well advised to develop their branding skills. Not only employer branding (how you engage workers), but personal branding (how you market yourself to others) will mushroom as savvy millennials apply these techniques to compete in a market that increasingly requires workers to be creative, productive and self-sufficient.

Tomorrow’s world

Tomorrow’s leaders will replace ‘greed is good’ (repeatable return) with ‘green is good’ (sustained return). Coupled with advances in technology, continued globalisation and relaxation of the requirement for face-to-face communication, even more business will be conducted from afar, heightening local leadership impact, and potentially creating borders.

To develop capable global leaders, today’s tired executive education series, in-house training and ex-pat rotations will be replaced with creative mentoring and viral management (practices that are ‘planted’ to spread through an organisation naturally), applied across multiple hierarchal levels.

The downturn has pulled HR back into the chief executive’s office, as redundancies and compensation cuts provide immediate cost containment. If HR can anticipate the business impact and opportunity presented, the downturn may offer the chance to garner respect and stature; a new HR for the new workforce.

Stephanie Kelly, managing partner, APT Talent Partners

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