Tom Haak / The HR Trend Institute

9 Mega HR Trends

There are many relevant trends that impact the future of work. Most trends are not new, they have been visible for years.

If HR would use the opportunities more created by the trends, the impact of HR could be a lot higher!

Important megatrends do not change so fast

25 years ago, I was part of a task force at KPMG Netherlands that studied important trends, and especially discontinuities. I found one of the reports, and it contained an interesting list with trends. Some examples:

  • From a standardized to an individual society
  • From worthless to valuable older people
  • From “same place same time” to “any place any time”
  • From moving people to moving information
  • From solutions for the business to solutions for the individual in the organization
  • From organizations that employ people to organizations that enjoy people
  • From fixed structures to virtual networks

For only 25 years ago, it is not a bad list. It shows that trends in the people and organization domain do not change so fast. Many of the megatrends we saw in 1995 are still visible today. The adaptation of organizations to the trends unfortunately is slow. Do we value older people, for example? In an article published on February 7, 2020, Josh Bersin suggests to HR: “Look for opportunities to empower and re-engage older workers. People in their 50s, 60s, and 70s are ready and willing to take on new roles, undertake reskilling, and extend their careers for your company. Research shows they are the most productive (and least stressed) individuals in the workforce, we just need to find new ways to keep them relevant in new roles (e.g. recareering)”.

Nine trend areas

The last years I have worked with the nine trend areas summarized in the table below. Many of the current trends can be categorized in one of these areas. I am sure you can add others (“Hey Tom, where is sustainability? And where is “lifelong learning”?), but this works for me.

The HR Trend Scan

The HR Trend Scan (see below) can give you some insight where your organization stands with respect to the trends. It is an easy tool to use in your HR team. Ask the people to rate each of the trend areas on the question ‘To what extend are we using the trend in our organization?”

Two years ago, I compiled a summary of the HR Trend Scans I conducted in various organizations (HR tech trends often ignored by HR”). A figure with the average percentage of respondents that answered: “we are ignoring this trend” per category, shows that Tech, Fun and Speed are most often ignored.

After you have rated the trends, you could go to the next step: How could we use the trends to tackle our most urgent HR issues, derived from the most urgent business issues?

What to watch in 2020

The editor chose a compelling title for this post (“The hottest HR Trends”), so I feel obliged to add some “hot” trends to the mix. You can read my article “12 HR trends for 2020” for an extensive overview. I would like to highlight five trends here.

1. Holistic HR

HR is moving to a more holistic approach.

  • Using advanced technologies and being human centric
  • Adding value to all stakeholders, not only management
  • Combining intuition and thorough analytics
  • Internal and external focus
  • Strategic and operational
  • Short-term and long-term
  • Action-oriented and reflective (fast and slow)


To a more human and holistic HR

2. Less focus on process improvement

In different HR conferences I listened to many presentations by HR leaders. I also went to various HR-tech exhibitions (like Unleash and Zukunft Personal Europe).

Generally, the focus is very much on process improvement. Old processes are redesigned, and new tools are introduced. On the surface it looks modern and state-of-the-art, but if you look under the hood the real changes are minor. The solutions and programs are still very much organisational focused (we want something, how do we get our employees to get along). Real employee-centric solutions are scarce.

In the meantime, candidates, employees and managers do not see the clear benefits of the HR-initiatives. The processes are too complex, and too standardised. Although we have been talking about the consumerisation of HR for years, the user experience at home is often better than at work.

The expectations were high, but the results are below expectations.

Time for HR to go back to the drawing board, and to get a lot closer to the various client groups. What are the burning needs and concerns, and how can we contribute today?


3. Be kind!

Recently I have spoken to the Head of HR of Mollie (Ingeborg van Harten). “Let’s be kind to each other” is a very explicit philosophy in Mollie, and HR is an important guardian and driver of the kindness value. Some simple measures were implemented, that reflect kindness, like a day off for employees on their birthday, a nice welcome package including Mollie T-shirts for your family and high-quality headshots you can use on LinkedIn and elsewhere. If you are ill, you get a “Get Well Soon” basket.

My knowledge of the “kindness” movement is limited, but if you Google kindness a whole new world opens (for example the concept RAK, Random Acts of Kindness).

Kindness is in the air, and it is certainly a promising HR trend for 2020.


4. Adaptive systems

When I book my flight with KLM, I am asked through which channel I want to receive messages from KLM: e-mail, Twitter or WhatsApp. When I made my choice once, they remember my choice for the next time. Super simple and not very advanced. In many organisations even these kinds of choices cannot be made, let alone that a clever system tries to get to know the user, and adapt its behaviour to the user.

Last week I was discussing pulse surveys in an organisation. They considered the non-response rate still high (around 30%). Their survey process was not very adaptive. All employees with an email address received the link to the survey every month. You could make some adaptations, for example stop sending the invite to people who did not react two or three times or decrease the frequency.

The content of the survey can also be easily adapted dependent on the response (Are you happy?  Yes! Thank you. Are you happy: No! Ok, what are the specific issues you are not happy about? Thank you, you mention your boss. What could he/she do better?). Technology is not the issue, and there are solutions on the market that apply adaptive survey technologies.

There are many opportunities to make your systems more adaptive in 2020.

5. Learning in the flow of work

It makes a difference if an employee must search actively for a learning module that he or she needs, or if that the micro-learning module is offered at an appropriate moment in the workflow, based on real time observations of the behaviour the employee.

If there is a meeting with company X in your diary, your personal learning aid might ask: “Do you want to learn more about company X?”. If you are stuck in designing a difficult Excel macro, the Excel chatbot asks you: “Can I help you to design the macro?”

If you have a meeting scheduled with an employee with a low performance rating (the computer gets this information in the HRIS), you are offered a short module “how to deal with under-performing employees”. During your online sales call, you receive suggestions in your screen on how to improve the conversation (“Ask some questions”, “Try to close”), and afterwards your conversation is compared with best-in-class examples, resulting in some learning points.

The solutions become even better if your individual learning style and the level of your capabilities are considered.


Josh Bersin: A new paradigm for corporate learning – Learning in the flow of work.

"By cleverly using current trends and technology, HR can have a lot more impact"

- Tom Haak

How to become an HR trendwatcher

Keeping track of current trends, in HR and in other areas, can be valuable and fun. How can you become an HR trendwatcher?

About Tom

Tom Haak is the director of the HR Trend Institute and he is considered to be one of the leading global HR thought leaders.

Tom has an extensive experience in HR Management in multinational companies. He has a keen interest in innovative HR, HR tech and how organisations can benefit from trend shifts.

Tom is a regular speaker at international HR conferences, and he conducts workshops with HR teams.

About the HR Trend Institute

The HR Trend Institute follows, detects and encourages trends. In the people and organisation domain and in related areas. Where possible, the institute is also a trend setter.