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Perry Timms



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Three predictions for HR in 2020

The road ahead for the HR profession in 2020.

It is always at this time of year that we direct our attention towards ‘what may be’ or even what we wish it to be. I have seen predictions come and go. I’ve been around long enough to have seen the fascination with time travel, and it has revealed more about our collective idiocy than our predictive intelligence.

People will be working really hard for a while longer, as the automatons aren’t here in big enough numbers yet to save us.

With political games, swings and uncertainty, who knows what a post-election 2020 UK will be like, let alone the rest of the world, commerce and HR more specifically.

I won’t sit on the fence though. Here I will build on a few themes that will hopefully help those trying to place bets to focus on or exploit things in the near future.

Prediction one: g is for graft, not gig

Economic stuttering will continue and more unfulfilling, hard grafting will continue. Talk of automation is still some way off, even with the rise of bots. I think we may as well buckle down and accept more long-hours, low-reward roles until at least 2024/5. We will see more people understanding the need to experiment with automation, and they won’t wait for some big-box solution to just land in our workplace and automate automation. People will be working really hard for a while longer, as the automatons aren’t here in big enough numbers yet to save us.

Prediction two: a is for autonomy, not agile

I’m a BIG fan of agility, and use it a lot. I’m also a believer in agile (mindset etc) as a form of utility in businesses and across all sectors. More important to that, however, is autonomy. I think we’re standing on the edge of realising that over-management (often called micro-management) is a bureaucracy that has simply had its day.

HR’s interest in human energy (and what depletes it, recharges it, and directs it) should start to become more important. 

We will see more liberation, empowerment, and a deployment of autonomous ways of working. Largely this is because we’ve added more and more to managers lots in terms of supervisory and project work. We have to let some of that go because it chokes growth, innovation and diversity. We need managers to close the gaps between supercharged high performers and low-end stragglers with this much of good/not bad in between. A more equalising performance curve would see a more sustainable way of raising performance levels.

Instead of creating high performance bubbles around people, we should look at what a minor gain across most of our people-force could do. We  also need to ditch our obsession with under-performance management.

Designing for autonomy will help this, giving people a more instrinsic stimulation to perform. It’s their performance, so this kind of autonomy is about people standing in a more mature space and adopting more ownership of problem solving, learning, developing, designing and deploying adapative working principles and practices.

Like the consumer is an audience of one, so is the employee. Their needs and energy should be theirs to deploy in the interests of the company.  

Prediction three: e is for energy, not engagement

Employee engagement (and now even experience) are follies HR has created and they haven’t moved the dial enough. Instead of measuring fluctuating moods, attitudes and almost Pavlovian responses, we should look at energy levels. This is not just because our moral compass says that it’s ethical to know about our own and our employees’ energy, but because that’s the key to sustainable performance.  

Have someone’s energy in the right place, and even if their attitude is a bit suspect, they’ll probably perform and have good relationships with customers, partners and colleagues. You can, of course, check their attitude and direct their energy towards wanting to shift that for the better.

Energy is crucial not only for our performance, but our entire wellbeing. If we are flagging mentally, it will affect our work. It’s simple physics but also subject to those unique human factors, spirit and soul. We can be physically exhausted, but a spark of inspiration surges us on with hitherto undiscovered reserves of energy.

HR’s interest in human energy (and what depletes it, recharges it, and directs it) should start to become more important as it’s the evolution of the (well-meaning but underwhelming) wellbeing agenda. Employee engagement will not be saved by the current trend towards employee experience (something that may well exist, but be at the behest of varying degrees of control by management systems and managers themselves).

So energy is the thing. We all have it, we all need it and we all waste it. I don’t think anyone can manage time, but they can manage their energy (source, replenish, utilisation etc).

The year ahead

I’ll leave my predictions there, with just these three things: graft, autonomy and energy. They may be too vague for some and not broad enough for others. I won’t get drawn on what percentage of work I believe will become a digital algorithmic script. Nor will I get drawn on how much the multi-generational workforce will impact on creativity and productivity. Spoiler: it won’t.  

Understanding that we’ve all got to continue grafting, but can expect more autonomy and should pay attention to our energy will help us deal with the known and unknown challenges ahead.

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