One of the common jokes that employees and line managers make about HR professionals is this: When you ask HR folks a question, they never answer you straight. They always say, “It depends”.
Well, we must say that we agree with that observation but not the allegation!
The work that HR professionals do is almost always contingent upon a whole lot of dynamic contextual factors. So, when the person says it depends, he or she is right.
As the three of us (Harish Devarajan, V J Rao and Ganesh Chella) got together to author the book, HR Here and Now, there was a lot of pressure on us to look at the future rather than the here and now.
We were steadfast in our resolve to stay with the here and now and not do crystal gazing.
That is because HR is in our view is part science and part art. There are some things which easily lend themselves to logic, reason and a scientific rigour. Whereas there are other parts of the function and profession which are open to multiple interpretations and approaches. We were happy to accept with grace and humility that there isn’t just one way of doing HR work and that our way is not always the right way. So, you see, the future of HR depends not on what will happen but on what we will choose to create, in response.
The context of our work in 2020 and beyond
As we look at the larger global context, six trends and possibilities strike us as significant in terms of their impact on HR work.
Artificial intelligence in our lives: The disruptive advances in the field of artificial intelligence that we are witnessing seem to hold more fear than hope for the future. Very few of us know the true implications of robotization and its impact on human lives and the future of work. Similarly, the nature and impact of advanced computing and the all-pervasive intrusion of technology into our lives will impact privacy and behavior in our day to day lives.
The geo-political landscape: After several years of globalisation and living in the belief that the world is flat, we are now beginning to realise that the world is not flat but walled. Growing barriers to trade and commerce seem to be making it hard for anyone and anything built on global aspirations. Can the aspirations of a nation be fulfilled within its borders? Will nations build more walls or is all this a storm in a tea cup and things will get back to where they were some time ago?
The emerging social fabric: What more and more researchers are telling us is that what concerns our employees more are the problems of living and not the problems of working. How will some of the challenges fuelled by social-cultural changes like relationships, parenting, personal health, the health of their elders, finances, domestic migration, lack of support for emotional and physical needs, lack of skills to cope with these challenges impact the social fabric and the ability of employees to give their best?
How will social disparities play out in the coming days? Will they get worse? Will social strife flow onto the streets? Is there the possibility of a revolution? Will there be a breakdown of law and order?
There is an ever growing fear that we live in an unsafe world with threats of safety and security from multiple sources We certainly know that not feeling safe does not augur well for a healthy and productive life at work and at home. Will these fears grow or diminish?
Breakthroughs in science and technology: We are seeing significant breakthrough in science and technology that hold the promise of a better life every single day. Be it health or conveniences or energy or communications, there is hope that on the balance, we are seeing progress. What are the new frontiers that science and technology will open up and in what ways will it positively impact our work and our lives remains to be answered.
The dreams and aspirations of future generations: What will the future generations aspire to accomplish? What will be their orientation to life and work? What is the nature of choices they will make in terms of the way they would like to live and work? What will matter to them more and what will not? What will be their motivational hot buttons?
Mother earth: How will we treat mother earth and how will mother earth respond? What will the global environment look and feel like? Will the heightened awareness and some of the breakthrough ideas help heal mother earth or will the ecological disasters that we are witnessing only increase in the days to come?
The HR response
While some of the potential trends we have outlined seem ominous and others at best uncertain, it is our hope that the right people will end up coming together to engage, understand and find solutions with varying levels of effectiveness.
HR has always been a multi-disciplinary field and it will be even more so going forward. More and more solutions will emerge from fields as diverse as AI, Information Technology, ecommerce, Neurosciences, positive psychology and mental health.
If the larger goal of all HR work is to help individuals and organisations realise their potential, then we do know for sure that such work will get done somewhere in some manner and under some name.
If you were to ask us what titles the future generations of HR professionals will carry or how they will be organised or where they will come from or which part of it will be human driven and which part automated, we can only say that it depends!