Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

10 workplace trends to watch out for

Being human is the buzzword for Indian businesses as employees look for empathy, ethical practices and good old-fashioned personal interactions

From the blowback that followed demonetization, to the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST), it has been a rough year or so for Indian business. In the workplace, fears of redundancy abound—according to research last year by human resources (HR) solutions firm PeopleStrong, a quarter of those expected to lose their jobs to automation by 2021 will be from India. As Manish Sabharwal, chairman of staffing company TeamLease Services, puts it, “The future is unknowable and unpredictable."

In times when everything is uncertain, we asked HR heads and industry experts what the year ahead looks like.

The human touch 

A November McKinsey Global Institute report, “Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions In A Time Of Automation", predicts that around 800 million jobs could be lost worldwide to automation by 2030. The prospect of competing with robots for jobs is intensifying the need for human interaction, which experts predict will be at the centre of hiring and engagement programmes in 2018. 

Industry watchers believe automation will transform recruitment, but not in 2018; this is going to be the year of foundations. While tech interventions like psychometric profiling and video interview platforms will continue to grow, “we firmly believe that companies will use them primarily as efficiency enhancers", says Paul Dupuis, managing director and chief executive officer, Randstad India. A “personal touch" remains critical to the hiring process—Randstad India’s Tech And Touch survey in November revealed that 88% employees want at least one round of interviews to be conducted by humans. 

Companies introducing data-driven approaches to transform business performance foresee that the most effective tool to motivate employees will remain what psychiatrist Edward Hallowell calls “human moments", or authentic face-to-face interactions. “Hopefully, we’ll see more two-chair conversations over cups of hot masala chai," says Sabharwal. 

Hiring beyond generations 

Generations X, Y and Z—alphabetically, we’ve hit a dead end, so maybe it’s time for companies to discard workplace strategies targeted at specific employee eras. After all, there are only subtle differences between, say, a millennial employee who prioritizes personal values over career ambition and a Gen Z-er, who has a more competitive do-it-yourself mentality. “My sense is that the core of what human beings look for from their work has not changed—and will certainly not change in 2018: respect, continuous learning, broader impact or purpose, fair compensation, transparent and consistent performance management, and smart colleagues," says Sabharwal. 

Do the right thing  

It’s the key to hiring top talent: 72% of the candidates surveyed for Employer Branding Trends 2016—a People Matters and Monster.com research study—said social causes are important while deciding a job offer. This is the year when creating a purpose-driven culture will go beyond the mandatory corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda. “Purpose would be a strong driver for millennials and Generation Z. They are driven by deeper motives like responsibility to society, sustainability of the planet, etc.," says Vikram Bector, president and chief human resources officer, Piramal Enterprises Ltd. “Going forward, the challenge companies will face will be in answering a key question: How are you making a difference to people’s lives beyond the profit motive?"

Learning to lead via video chat 

Indians have a considerable amount of experience managing remote workforces. However, addressing the psychological distance while working remotely remains a big challenge. In 2018, leaders will master the art of meeting virtually. Scheduled one-on-one conversations and virtual town halls will become de rigueur. “Regular reviews over various platforms/forms of communications will be encouraged, especially by use of Skype/video conference/chats," says Gajendra Chandel, chief human resources officer, Tata Motors. Virtual problem-solving sessions will be an effective way for leaders to bring team members across different locations and time zones together. 

Stricter social media checks 

Recruiters have realized that the best way to know if a job candidate is a good cultural fit for the organization is to check his/her Facebook profile or Twitter feed. That’s why 2018 will be the year of stricter social media checks. Rahul Belwalkar, CEO, SecUR Credentials, a employee background verification company, says, “There is a discernible trend towards garnering a more subjective evaluation of the candidate and a social media profile can be quite revealing when it comes to aspects that aren’t mentioned in the resume." For candidates, this could mean major privacy concerns— they could be discriminated against for their lifestyle choices and views.

Nurturing life-long learners 

Going forward, Sabharwal believes companies will make what Stanford professor Carol Dweck called a “growth mindset" (capabilities are like a muscle which can be developed by working out) an explicit variable for promotion. 

Employees today are self-driven to improve their knowledge and skills; in 2018, companies that want to retain top talent will have to find new ways to foster ongoing learning in the workplace. Bector says, “Curating and reimbursing online courses that enhance an employee’s job skills and personal growth, as well as creating learning paths for employees that align with both company and personal goals, are some of the ways organizations can create a culture of life-long learning." 

Creating civil workplaces 

Globally, uncovering the truth about sexual harassment in the workplace became one of the defining moments of 2017. In 2018, appropriate behaviour will be a big mandate for Indian companies, which will invest time and talent in monitoring the words and actions of their employees. “Harassment of any kind is less likely to be tolerated at the workplace than, say, 5-10 years ago," says Antony Alex, CEO, Rainmaker, a compliance training firm. 

Minding employee mental health 

One out of every two employees in corporate India shows signs of depression, according to a Mental Health Status Of Corporate Employees study conducted by 1to1Help.net, a professional counselling company, in 2016. This year, conversations around mental health will gain greater acceptance as companies extend healthcare benefits to cover 24x7 counselling services as well. 

To fight the stigma associated with mental health, companies need to normalize any “dips" caused by pre-existing conditions or work stress, says Smriti Joshi, lead psychologist at Touchkin.com, a platform that uses Artificial Intelligence to provide solutions for behavioural and mental health. “People should be allowed to buckle, given space to restore oneself and come back," she says. 

Diversity will go beyond women 

Corporate India has done a lot to promote gender diversity, but hasn’t managed to build an inclusive agenda that covers the entire spectrum to include the disabled, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) and racial/religious minority groups. Alex believes that going forward, there are two reasons why this is likely to change. “Indian companies that are eager to go global are adopting practices from US and European companies to build a strong employer brand, while others feel the pressure to update business practices in order to recruit talent," he says, explaining that today’s employees strongly believe that companies should embrace all forms of diversity more proactively. 

Constant feedback culture 

Bector uses an interesting analogy to explain why continuous performance management is the way forward. “If you send me a WhatsApp message and I don’t respond immediately, you will wait for the ticks to turn blue. We’re living in a world where people are all looking for instant feedback, so how can we expect employees to wait for a full year for assessment?" he asks. Constant feedback helps establish expectations, provides an opportunity for acknowledgement of work and quick improvement, and boosts motivation and morale. The only tricky part is going to be creating a rewards system around it. 

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What’s in store for start-ups

TN. Hari, HR head, BigBasket, and co-author of ‘Cut The Crap And Jargon: Lessons From The Start-up Trenches’, says the next big idea may come from Artificial Intelligence and analytics. “Ideas around blockchain (a distributed ledger technology, which securely records information across a peer-to-peer network, blockchain is the technology at the heart of bitcoin) and P2P (peer-to-peer) lending start-ups may also see a breakthrough," he says. 

Youth will continue to dominate start-up leadership roles. “Start-ups require a passion for new technologies and an understanding of problems that the biggest consumer segment (youth) faces, both areas where young leaders are at an advantage," he says.

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