Future Focus: HR’s Challenging Next Decade

Volume Number: 
Vol. 55
Issue Number: 
No. 11

By Jennifer Schramm
1/11/2010

Making the most of their investments in human capital will be the greatest challenge for organizations in the next 10 years, according to a recent poll of U.S. human resource executives conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

In a separate research effort sponsored by the Society and conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a subsidiary of the Economist Group, top executives of global organizations said the two biggest challenges facing HR in the coming decade will be retaining and rewarding the best people, and attracting the best people.

The Economist report, Global Firms in 2020, was unveiled this fall at a conference in New York City. HR executives and other business leaders who attended heard experts debate how organizations and societies can make the most of human capital. The rise of emerging markets, the global financial crisis and demographic pressures are among the forces experts identified as pushing companies to become more global.

The Economist report forecast that these forces will also push companies to grow less centralized and flatter, giving more decision-making responsibilities to employees further down in the hierarchy and potentially at earlier stages in their careers.

Consequently, organizations will need to invest more in strengthening the knowledge and capabilities of their workers, and will want to hold onto this talent as long as possible. They also will need a better understanding of what employees want from work and will need to learn how to leverage the diversity of multicultural workforces.

Many top executives said their organizations will make more efforts to tap into a global labor pool. Some companies are partnering with schools and universities to develop technical or managerial curricula designed to prepare students for moreglobal workplaces.

SHRM built on these findings in asking HR executives about the tactics they are employing to meet the challenges of retaining and attracting the best people. The most commonly cited tactic, expressed by 58 percent of respondents, was to provide more flexibility so employees can achieve better work/life balance.

HR professionals are getting the message that workplace flexibility is a major determinant of job satisfaction and could be a pivotal reason employees choose to join or stay with a company.

The next most-cited tactic, selected by 47 percent of respondents, was “creating an organizational culture where trust, open communication and fairness are emphasized and demonstrated by leaders.”

The Economist report concludes that forward-thinking company executives will accelerate leadership training among younger workers, will continue to develop older workers to meet the challenges brought about by demographic changes, and will use technology to increase workplace flexibility. And HR professionals will be central to making each of those aims a reality. 

The author is manager of the Workplace Trends and Forecasting program at SHRM.

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