Navigating Benefits

HR Trends in 2018: Year in Review


  • Many HR trends discussed during the past year were newsworthy topics


  • 2018 saw the rise of the #MeToo Movement, as well as advancements in HR technology


  • Health care remains as convoluted as ever, and is expected to continue to evolve


Posted by December 30, 2018

When you think of the term “HR trends,” you might not necessarily think of headline-making news. But recently, that’s changed.

Many of the HR trends observed this last year have been hot topics in popular culture—from the rise of the #MeToo movement to cutting-edge advancements in technology, these highly discussed trends have changed the HR department as we know it. Here’s a look back at the biggest developments of 2018.

The Rise of the #MeToo Movement

Activist Tarana Burke sparked the #MeToo movement in 2006 “as a way to help women who had survived sexual violence,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Then, in 2017, the hashtag went viral and shed light on the deplorable acts of many famous individuals. Since then, sexual harassment (and the role of power dynamics) has become a highly discussed issue; one that translates to the workplace, and thus, directly affects HR.

Numerous companies, from Google (who fired Android co-creator Andy Rubin for sexual harassment) to Under Armour (who changed its outdated policies allowing reimbursement for strip clubs) changed employee guidelines.

Thanks to the movement, women (and some men; for example, the very public case of a female NYU professor accused of sexually harassing a male student) felt more confident speaking up. People changed how they interacted with colleagues, HR departments received more sexual harassment complaints than in years past and many lawsuits were filed.

The Bots Came

This year, HR began hiring new recruiters in the form of chatbots. Simple recruiting chatbots can be set up in a matter of hours, but it takes work and time to get them running properly, as noted by HR Technologist. Once they are operating well, however, they can increase the quality of hires and reduce the workload on the human recruiters. This explains their popularity in 2018. Bots have since been used to handle employee complaints, help employees choose their benefits and answer simple questions.

The Labor Market Tightened

Unemployment hit a record low during 2018. With more open positions than people looking for jobs, business had to change. One of the main ways it did was through the creation of better benefits (including a big focus on maternity and paternity benefits). Many companies increased the flexibility of their policies in order to attract candidates over the competition. Additionally, due to the need for labor, telecommuting continued to grow in popularity both with employees and companies.

The Focus on Productivity Increased

Given the tight labor market, companies tried to do more with less—and didn’t always succeed. This opened up a big opportunity for startups with ideas about making work easier, especially in the HR sphere. Apps were introduced that allowed users to easily communicate with field and retail employees, or provide instant feedback from bosses, coworkers and clients. Tech companies also developed more tools to help telecommuting coworkers communicate with each other.

Despite all of this, HR Analyst Josh Bersin said he believes that productivity has been falling even as we try to make things better for people. As such, he noted that technology can’t save us, it’s only a tool. Some tasks will always require a human touch.

Regulations Were Reduced

The current administration vowed to cut regulations and it has done just that in many areas. Importantly, there have been changes in how the National Labor Relations Board provides social media guidance. There were also a number of updates made to the joint-employer standard. This trend won’t likely slow down in the new year—so expect to see more regulatory changes from the federal government.

So, What Does This Mean for 2019?

Health care remains as convoluted as ever, and it’s hard to determine how much that will change in 2019. The #MeToo movement will continue, but with perhaps less energy surrounding it than during 2018. Conversations about how to handle accusations (and the hazards around doing so) will be ongoing, and definitely something HR teams should pay attention to in the new year.

Technology in the HR world is likely to continue advancing. You’ll see new solutions arriving and older ones (perhaps only a couple of years old) falling by the wayside. HR tech is here to stay, and the bots aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Given the tight labor market, it’s possible to see more of a focus on retention in 2019, as replacing an unhappy employee is more difficult than it once was. Overall, though, look for a great year ahead in HR trends!

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