Soft skills, work flexibility, harassment among trends transforming HR

Employer-employee relationships changing alongside technology: Report

Soft skills, work flexibility, harassment among trends transforming HR
Nearly half (49 per cent) of Canadian respondents believe workplace flexibility is a perk that helps in hiring, according to a report. Shutterstock

Traditionally in a position of power, employers are being held to a higher standard as technology empowers workers to share and access more information, according to a report by LinkedIn.

Four trends are driving the change in relationship, including soft skills, work flexibility, pay transparency and anti-harassment measures, according to the Global Talent Trends survey.

These stand out as essential to the shift in Canadian workplace culture, according to Chris Brown, director of talent solutions at LinkedIn Canada in Toronto.

“Employees have come to expect more transparency, flexibility and objective assessments from the companies that hope to attract and retain them,” he said.

“As such, employers that want to stay competitive will have to embrace a more equal employer-employee relationship — not just because it looks good, but because it’s good for business.”

The LinkedIn report surveyed more than 5,000 global talent professionals and hiring managers — including 287 in Canada.

Technological advances, alongside a low unemployment rate, are turning the workplace into an employee’s world, said Monica Haberl, senior research associate at the Conference Board of Canada in Ottawa.

“It’s challenging for employers because they have to compete with each other for the best talent,” she said.

“And that’s where we’re seeing some things emerge.”

Transforming workplaces

The four major trends identified by LinkedIn are having a major impact on today’s HR professionals in terms of hiring and future planning, said Brown.

Soft skills: Ninety-four per cent of Canadian respondents said soft skills are important for the future of hiring, though less than half of companies have a formal measurement process in place. Eighty per cent admit they are increasingly important to company success.

Technological advancements are shortening the lifespan of many hard skills, and a renewed emphasis is being placed on highly transferable soft skills, he said.

“Some of the most in-demand soft skills — such as creativity — are applicable to almost any role, and are not easily replicated by machines, making them increasingly vital to employers,” said Brown.

Meanwhile, employers are struggling to attract and retain people for IT positions, management, sales and marketing, according to Haberl, “areas that tend to be dominated by soft skills.”

Flexwork: The ability for employees to work remotely or shift their hours is increasingly an expectation, according to the report.

Nearly half (49 per cent) of Canadian respondents believe workplace flexibility is a perk that helps in hiring.

“Flexibility has become the new normal and is a top priority for candidates when choosing a job,” said Brown.

Two-thirds (69 per cent) of Canadian HR professionals also believe that allowing employees an opportunity to work remotely improves morale, found LinkedIn.

Flexwork opportunities are now an expectation in office roles where employees toil at a desk. And while flexibility is hard to offer in manufacturing and customer-service positions, flexible hours may be an option, said Haberl.

While full-time remote work remains uncommon, flexwork allows many workers to avoid commutes or inclement weather when necessary, she said.

Anti-harassment: Nearly half (49 per cent) of Canadian hiring managers said employees are more empowered to speak up when uncomfortable, and 78 per cent have seen changes in workplace dynamics and culture.

“We know this has been going on in the workplace for hundreds of years,” said Haberl. “But with the media focus on the #MeToo movement — a lot more focus on diversity, equality and equity — people are more open to coming forward when they’re having these experiences.”

“Organizations are taking note and we’re also seeing lawmakers and governments putting in legislation that basically forces employers to address this issue.”

Thirty-seven per cent of respondents said their company has highlighted existing policies and promoted safe ways to report, while slightly more than one-third saw improved policies or a zero-tolerance policy established.

Pay transparency: Companies are facing increased pressure to be transparent on issues such as salary, and 27 per cent are now sharing ranges with employees and candidates early in the hiring process, with an additional 22 per cent expected to employ this tactic within the next five years, said the report.

But even as access to aggregated salary information is readily available through a variety of websites, 51 per cent of respondents indicated they do not share salary ranges with employees or early stage candidates, and are unlikely to do so within the next five years.

Like harassment issues, pay transparency is a “new topic on the radar,” driven by millennials and gen Z workers seeking equitable workplaces, said Haberl.

Compensation and benefits are likely always going to be hot-button issues for employees, because of how important they are to quality of life, she said.

Advice for HR

Employers would be wise to measure their organization against the trends identified, then focus on opportunities to implement changes, said Brown.

“While these trends are evolving at their own pace, staying on top of them and continuously measuring improvement can help employers stay competitive,” he said.

“It’s important for employers to remember that these initiatives often require iteration and improvement over time.”

Each of the four trends point to corporate culture as a cornerstone, according to Haberl.

“It’s not something that’s easy to create, but it’s a good goal to have.”

Diversity, flexwork and transparency should become a part of the organizational brand in order to attract the best talent.

For employers unable to offer flexwork, explaining the reason to staff can do wonders, she said.

“There’s a lot to be said for organizations demonstrating that they really trust their employees, and treating them with respect and as equals,” said Haberl. “Transparency is an important element of that.”

“So, while not all of these trends will necessarily be something that every employer will be able to push forward with… it’s important to take all of these elements into account and to try to figure out where there are potentially some quick wins,” she said.

“But, really, when it comes to things like anti-harassment and pay transparency, a lot of it just comes back to communication — communicating what is available; how to report harassment, if necessary; training managers to make sure they know how to manage these situations and speak with their employees.”

Policy excellence will not have much impact if communication is poor, said Haberl.

“Between communication and trying to shift the culture, I think those are good areas to focus on to be able to embody some of these trends.”

Such transformation must begin with the C-suite. If it is not practised by senior leadership, any efforts by HR will go unrecognized, said Carolyn Levy, president of technologies at Randstad Canada in Toronto.

Transformational leadership is all about transparency, honesty and trust, rather than closed-door meetings amongst senior leaders — a culture that can often lead to increased turnover with employees unclear as to where the organization is headed, she said.

“That’s a shift… Focusing on building trust, we do that because you need to foster new ideas and really reduce that fear of failure that may sit within the organization.”

For HR, two more trends to keep an eye on are transformational leadership and change management, according to Levy.

“There’s a ton that HR needs to do,” she said. “Long story short… I do not think that businesses are prepared or have the right tools for how to handle all of this change in the workplace, on top of what’s happening with the impact of technology.”

If they haven’t already, HR professionals must move away from administrative tasks to focus on driving organizational agendas by way of human capital, said Levy.

And for HR professionals to push their profession forward, they will need to continuously disrupt themselves, she said.

“What are we doing to disrupt ourselves from the HR perspective in regards to what the experience is of working in the organization? This disruptive mindset into how you look after your people will be key moving forward.”

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