4 HR Trends That Will Impact Your Workplace Culture in 2020

Last updated: 12-28-2019

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4 HR Trends That Will Impact Your Workplace Culture in 2020

A new year is fast approaching and, with it, comes new laws, opportunities, and potential challenges for HR professionals. But creating a positive workplace culture is likely to be a constant activity, this year and next. So, what are the top HR trends that will lend to building a positive work culture in 2020 and beyond?

Here are four of the hottest employee experience topics that HR professionals will be tasked with addressing in the next decade:

I mention retaliation first because, quite simply, I believe that retaliation may be the next big #MeToo issue that takes the workplace by storm in the coming decade. And unless organizations put this issue on their radar now and take swift and meaningful steps to safeguard against it, the next hashtag may be just as devastating.

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements demonstrated the alarming scope of sexual harassment and discrimination, but consider this: according to the EEOC, retaliation in the workplace is actually far more common–1.5 times more common, in fact. Indeed, retaliation has been the #1 complaint filed with the EEOC every year for the past decade, and by FY 2018, over 50 percent of all charges alleged retaliation. 

To prevent this looming crisis, organizations must do more in 2020 than simply point to a non-retaliation policy. They will need to train all employees–in particular, managers and executives–to understand how and why retaliation occurs, the legal–and more importantly, cultural damage it can cause, and what they can do to ensure non-retaliatory treatment. HR must put systems into place to proactively check-in with whistleblowers and monitor any changes to their working conditions and performance reviews. 

With a shift in the status quo of employees being more outspoken about harassment and workplace concerns of all types; the increased scrutiny by Boards, investors, shareholders, and employees about how complaints of workplace misconduct are handled; and the willingness of juries to punish organizations who retaliate through significant damages, retaliation in the workplace is an issue that HR cannot afford to ignore. 

A combination of factors including new laws and a continued heightened, and high profile, awareness of harassment in the workplace will continue to drive the need for effective harassment prevention training in the decade ahead. Unfortunately, much of the harassment prevention training that has been historically provided to employees and supervisors about harassment in the workplace has been woefully ineffective for a variety of reasons. HR and training and development professionals will have an opportunity to reverse this trend in 2020.

While organizations will continue to ensure that their harassment prevention training meets the content requirements of the ever-growing list of state and local mandates, they also will increase their focus on the effectiveness and impact of that training. To this end, organizations will look to incorporate training techniques and subjects that the EEOC and academic research have indicated are most promising for actually preventing harassment from occurring: bystander intervention skills and positive, professional, and respective behavior.

The benefits of a great working environment—boosting employee recruitment, retention, productivity, and engagement, as well as an employer’s brand–have been well understood by HR for some time. But in late 2019, we saw a dramatic increase in focus on the opposite end of the spectrum: the terrible toll that negative workplace culture can have on organizations, their people, and their bottom line. 

Week after week, the media reported on high-profile organizations whose employees alleged intimidation, bullying, and bias. The Society for Human Resource Management released a study that calculated the cost of unhealthy workplaces at an estimated $223 billion. Finally, an EVERFI/HR Research Institute survey found that despite the prevalence of unhealthy work environments, many organizations are at a loss of how to fix them.

To resolve this in 2020 and beyond, HR will need to debunk some common misperceptions: 

Look for HR leaders to pivot away from implementing on-trend benefits as the way to improve workplace culture, and to instead create a proactive, robust, and multifaceted culture strategy. This strategy will involve ensuring leaders demonstrate and reinforce key organizational values (“walking the talk”), holding all employees accountable for behaviors that fall short of those values (rather than addressing only egregious misconduct), equipping managers with critical skills such as conflict management and coaching, and training all employees in culture-building topics such as bystander intervention techniques and respect.   

As a matter of policy and practice, organizations have long kept its most sensitive HR-related information strictly confidential. From harassment complaints to diversity metrics to pay information, companies have traditionally held this information very close to the vest to protect their legal, competitive, and brand position. Indeed, some have opted to forego collecting or analyzing this data altogether in the name of risk mitigation. 

This is rapidly changing, however, and will continue to evolve in the coming decade. Companies are increasingly seeking more robust data about the impacts of their HR practices and other aspects of the employee experience. Further, many are realizing that some degree of transparency about their internal challenges–and the progress they’ve made towards addressing them–are critical to demonstrating accountability, earning trust, creating a positive workplace culture, and building their brand. 

For example, nearly one-third of companies on Ethisphere’s World’s Most Ethical Companies list publicly share information about workplace complaints they receive as well as the results of investigations. Uber released a landmark report of U.S. safety incidents and the steps the company is taking to prevent and address them and has called upon other companies to follow suit. According to a report by Just Capital, at least 65 of the largest U.S. companies have made the results of their pay equity analyses public. Many firms are also seeing the benefits of publishing their diversity report cards. 

Look for more companies to follow suit in 2020 and beyond on creating a positive workplace culture and fully utilizing HR metrics, as organizations increasingly view transparency as a strategic differentiator.


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