Perspectives

The Future of Work and HR’s Identity Change

By Brett Walsh, Deloitte Global Human Capital Leader

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Many HR executives feel unprepared to keep up with the evolving talent issues around them. Over the past five years, Deloitte has tracked what we term the “HR scorecard,” which measures how well HR executives believe their teams can address the talent issues around them. This year, HR is struggling. Last year, 39 percent of surveyed HR teams felt their capabilities were good or excellent, but this year that proportion has dropped to 36 percent.

Why the slip backwards? HR is in the middle of a significant identity change. Not only do HR organizations need to structure themselves for service delivery efficiency and excellence in talent programs, they must now also focus on the employee experience, employee productivity, and the entire realm of work, job, and structural design.

This is a particularly broad mandate when you consider how quickly the world of work is changing. Research shows that employees are more “overwhelmed” than ever at work, coping with mobile devices, social media, and information overload, to name a few distractions. Pair that with the steady introduction of new technologies, geographically far-flung workforces, and evolving work expectations, and the employee experience can be anything but positive. And this experience can be having some very negative outcomes: despite all the technological advances over the past decade, growth in busi¬ness productivity stands at its lowest rate since the early 1970s.

It’s not that executives think employee experience doesn’t matter. According to the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, 79 percent of executives rated employee experience as very important. The problem is that 59 percent of survey respondents reported they were not really ready to do something about it.

Why is this? It may be because today’s companies are judging employee experience by yesterday’s rules.

  • Many companies still use annual engagement surveys and have no way of gathering feedback from employees on a continuous basis.
  • The customer experience is often treated as more important than employee experience.
  • HR departments are still siloed and find it difficult to obtain the resources needed to address an integrated set of priorities.
  • Culture is a slogan on a website, but not measured or defined through behavior.  

This old way of thinking just won’t work in the digital age and in a time when competition for the right employees is as hot as ever. To workers, employee experience is a key competitive differentiator—and it increasingly involves a more holistic view of life at work. Leadership, organization structure and teams, career mobility, learning, diversity, employment brand, and HR services are all now a part of an employee’s experience—making it a tough nut to crack for HR professionals.

But it can be done! The most successful companies are looking to their own employees for inspiration. A number of organizations have used hackathons to produce new ideas and approaches to performance management, workplace design, benefits, and rewards. Others have redesigned onboarding, recruitment, and employee applications to help them develop solutions that improve and simplify life at work. Even the physical environment itself can promote a more gratifying experience by providing innovative work spaces that bring together recreation, collaboration, and individual work.

HR professionals have a real opportunity to take the lead on initiatives of this type and develop a new set of rules for people, work, and organizations. Here’s a start:

  • Elevate the employee experience and make it a priority: An inte­grated employee experience is just as valuable—if not more so—as the customer experience.
  • Designate a senior leader or team to own it: Placing such key activities such as leadership development, performance management, workplace design, and rewards under one person or team will make a truly integrated employee experience more likely.
  • Embrace design thinking: Study what employees are doing every day and discover new ways to simplify work and im­prove productivity, performance, and engage­ment.
  • Consider the entire work­force: Keep all segments of the workforce in mind—candi­dates, full-time, part-time, freelancers, gig em­ployees, and even alumni—as the employee experience is rede­signed.
  • Look outside: Check out Glass­door, LinkedIn, and other companies to spot areas of opportunity and invest in benchmarking.
  • Enlist C-suite and team leader support: Employee experience redesign touches almost every aspect of the workplace—so without true C-suite buy-in and support, it could be dead on arrival.
  • Consider the impact of geography: Think about it. Does every culture eat the same, work the same, relax the same? Then why would employee experience be the same—even if you are a global company?
  • Measure it: Make use of the range of real-time tools to gauge employee experience on an ongoing basis—pulse surveys, regular performance conversations, and candidate and exit interviews.

This new set of rules will help HR make sense of the changing world of work and lead the way on motivating, managing and engaging the 21st century workforce. These are just some of the ideas Deloitte proposes. 

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iJeff Schwartz et al., The overwhelmed employee: Simplify the work environment, Deloitte Insights, March 7, 2014,

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