10 inspiring HR Trends for 2019

hr trends for 2019
Illustration: Studio Fee Overbeeke

2021 HR Trend overview available: 11 HR Trends to take into account for 2021HR Trends 2021

Since 2014 we annually publish (at the end of November) our view on the HR trends for the coming year. In this blog post our view on 2019.

Trendwatcher or Trendwisher?

After a try out, where I talked about my draft list of HR trends for this article, one of the participants commented: “I think in some ways you are more a trendwisher than a trendwatcher, as some of these trends seem more wishful thinking than that they are based on facts and thorough research”. In my view, this was certainly a justified remark. It is difficult to be a neutral observer. Organisations, and especially HR in organisations, sometimes seem to change slowly. We have sensed all the trends we describe in this article, and for most of them we would hope an acceleration in 2019!

Looking back

hr trends

In the table below, you can find an overview of all the trends we mentioned in the last years. There still seem to be big opportunities in the area of learning and productivity. Jos Bersin published a great article in June: A new paradigm for corporate learning – Learning in the flow of work (I called this “Learning in real time” in my 2017 article about trends (and wishes) for 2018. I hope the positive developments Josh signals will accelerate in 2019, but I am skeptical.

HR Trends

What I did not mention in the last years, was the increased focus on improving the employee experience. With hindsight, it should probably have been on the 2016 list.

What important HR trends for 2019 do we sense?

We choose 10 trends for the 2019 list. It could have been 8,9 or 11, but 10 it is.

1. Personalisation

Historically HR has focused very much on standardisation and “One-Size-Fits-All”. Making the shift to an approach where the individual needs, wishes and capabilities of candidates and employees are the starting point is difficult. Traditionally, many HR-practices take the needs of the organisation as the starting point. An example is recruitment: we have an organisation structure, with a hierarchy, and well-defined jobs. Next step: how do we find the candidates that can fill the vacancy? Another example: most onboarding processes are designed top-down: what do we want new employees to know when they enter the organisation? The reverse question is hardly ever asked: what can we learn from the new employees who enter the organisation?

Also Learning & Development has a hard time to make the shift to an individualised approach. We still see many programs targeted at groups (e.g. high potentials, senior managers), with a large classroom component.  Office design is an area where the standard approach has backfired. Most of the new office designs now take the different needs of users into account. If you are work better near other people and if you regularly need advice from colleagues, you can work in open space. When you need to concentrate on a complicated report, you can sit alone in a quiet room. For a call with a client, you can find one of the small phone booths.

In 2019 personalisation will get a lot of attention, and employees and organisations will benefit.

Read: Personalisation in HR – Some ideas.

2. The Trust issue

Do people trust the organisations they work in? Do employees trust technology? Are people confident the organisations will use technology for their benefit? A recent global survey of Ernst & Young (“Trust in the Workplace”) showed that less than half of the respondents have “a great deal of trust” in their current employers, boss or team/colleagues.


The results of the annual Edelman Trust Barometer are a bit more promising: globally 72% of the employees trusted their employers “to do what is right” (see table below for the differences between countries). Trust in government and the media is a lot lower. Cognitive dissonance might be an element in the explanation of the higher trust in employers than in the government and the press. If you do not trust your employer, why do you still work there??

Edelman Trust Barometer

The trust issue needs to be on the 2019 HR agenda, because many of the HR initiatives are designed under the assumption that employees trust the organisation and that employees trust technology. Unfortunately, the trust level might be lower than we expect.

3. Development as a service

What can we learn from football? In football some of the top players hire organisations, as Your Tactical Analyst, to help them with their development.

Your tactical analyst

The provider gathers data about the player (per match), analyses the data and sits with the player to discuss the outcomes and the lessons. The provider is there for the player, paid by the player. The club of the player is not involved. This seems to work well, although some clubs do not like it. The interests of the player (the employee) and the club (the employer) are not totally aligned. The club wants to become champion this year. The player wants to develop into one of the most valuable strikers in the world. The interests of the service provider (Your Tactical Analyst and others) are totally aligned with those of the player. “We are here to help you to become better”.

In business life we have not seen it a lot (a bit in the executive coaching area), but we expect, and hope,  it will come. We see a great perspective for data-driven “Development as a service”.

4. Erosion of the Employee Experience

Recently I published “Trends in Employee Journey Maps“. It is interesting to study these maps. Most of these maps are roads.

employee journey

They look like two-way roads, but in fact you can only go one way. There are no exists, only at the far end of the road. Somewhere there is a big round-about. Only one small exit, and the road designer (the organisation) hopes that you will never find it. The “Employee Experience” is a bit of a hype, and the corporate HR designers have incorporated the employee experience in their designs and interventions. But, as we can see in the majority of the employee journey maps, they have not changed their approach. The approach is top-down, and organisation focused. “If you want an employee experience, we will give you one you will never forget”. They design employee experiences to please the boss, with no real focus on the employee.

The initial starting point of the employee experience concept is very good: how can we give employees an experience that fits with their needs, expectations and capabilities? Unfortunately, it is eroding into a consultancy led framework, trying to fool employees into a journey on a one-way road with no exists, as the brief was “We want to attract and retain our talent” (The Dutch use “Binden en Boeien”, which Google translates into “Tie and Cuff”).

Read: The Erosion of the Employee Experience.

5. No more Paternalism

Often HR takes a very paternalistic and normative approach. “Our leaders and managers should be good coaches”. “We expect our employees to take responsibility for their own development”. “You cannot opt out of life-long learning”. Coaching is a good example. It starts with the global leadership model. These models (often a circle) always contain an element like “Developing People” and/or “Coaching. You can find many examples in our article “Nearly 100 Leadership Models“.


As the reality is that many managers are not good coaches, the next step is training (mandatory). Also, HR designs a process, that forces managers to have coaching sessions with their direct reports at least twice per year. The process is incorporated in the HR System, and when a manager starts her computer in the morning, the chatbot starts talking: “Good morning Tina, it is time for your bi-annual coaching session with (terrible) Tom, I have already scheduled it. Can you please complete the following preparation form?”. This approach is cracking, as it does not work. Neither Task Oriented Tina nor Terrible Tom are happy with the process. Why force people to do things they do not like, and they are not very good at? it is time to consider other approaches.

Read: How can HR give time back to the organisation? 

6. People Analethics

Under point 2 we discussed the “Trust Issue”. Trust is an important issue to deal with in people analytics. Jouko van Aggelen (of Cubiks) distinguished four elements of trust in people analytics (see graphic below).

4 elements of trust in people analytics

In people analytics the starting point is often the needs of the organisation. How can we reduce staff turnover? Are higher levels of productivity possible? Can we measure the risk level in the different parts of the organisation? The benefits for the individual employee get less attention.

The issue of data ownership also needs to be addressed. Most employees do not work somewhere for life. They move on. What happens to the data that was gathered about the employee? Will it stay with the organisation, or will the employee be able to take his or her personal data file? Our expectation is, that the expectation of employees will move in this direction.
This creates an opportunity for a “My Personal Data” solution. The employee can use the data in the personal file in several ways. Plug it into personal people analytics solutions (e.g. for career advice) or sell it to providers who are keen to analyse and use longitudinal people data.

7. Less = More

The realisation that HR is doing too much, and that the list of HR initiatives is far too long, is slowly dripping into organisations. What employees and senior management are looking for: more impact, with less effort.

impact effort matrix

Read: HR – Keep it Simple.

8. Big = Beautiful

The big players in HR business solutions are getting bigger. LinkedIn bought Glint. LinkedIn launched Talent Insights. SAP buys Qualtrics. Workday announced Workday People Analytics. In the past we have been skeptical about the ability of the big players to incorporate new technologies and to be flexible enough to cater the different needs of organisations. Our skepticism is decreasing, and our expectation is that especially the big players will be able to help HR to make the transformation into digital. The creative and innovative small players, and there are many, will increase their chances of survival if they are bought by one of the big players, if they work seamlessly together (as a plug-in) with the big players or if they have been able to capture a truly unique niche area.

9. HR Innovation Labs

Experimenting with new technologies and new innovative HR solutions can be enhanced by installing an “HR Innovation Lab”. Big innovative organisations, as Deutsche Telekom and RABO bank, are investing in teams that focus on HR innovations and the possible applications of HR Tech. We consider this as a positive development. It is good for the organisations, as they increase the angle of the learning curve. HR tech providers benefit, as they can work with and learn from sophisticated clients. It helps HR to change the image of HR, from slow and traditional to fast and innovative.

10. HR is about People

The expectations of workforce analytics and technology are often too high. Three elements must be considered. In the first place, human behaviour is not so easy to predict, even if you have access to loads of people data.
Even in domains where good performance is very well defined and where a lot of data is gathered inside and outside the field, as for example in football, it is very difficult to predict the future success of young players.

Secondly, the question is to what extend managers, employees and HR professionals behave in a rational way. All humans are prone to cognitive biases, that influence the way they interpret the outcomes of workforce analytics projects. Some interesting articles on this subject are why psychological knowledge is essential to success with people analytics, by Morten Kamp Andersen, and The psychology of people analytics, written by myself. The third element: AI developments are going fast, but there are many task where AI has great difficulty to come close to the performance of human beings. MIT’s Josh Tenenbaum in one of his articles show a hilarious video of psychologists Warneken and Tomasello, who studied altruism with young kids. The type of behaviour as shown by the toddler in the video is not so easy for an intelligent machine.

HR is about people, and HR can add a lot of value, because HR is specialised in people, people behaviour, and how people can benefit from technology. Let’s not underestimate our important profession!

Also consider…

More than 2000 words for a blogpost is a lot, and my Yoast readability score has already turned to red. Some of the topics that were on my initial list, but did not make the Top 10:

  • Learning in the flow of work (already extensively covered by Bersin)
  • The breakthrough of Organisational Network Analysis (still too much wishful thinking?)
  • Too high expectations of technology (covered a bit under 10)
  • Blurring of virtual reality and real life (real reality?)
  • The un-makeability of organisations
  • The Internet of Humans (IoH)


Watch the video “10 Inspiring HR Trends for 2019”




Read the Dutch version of this article/ Lees de Nederlandse versie van dit artikel


Read the Russian version of this article/ Прочитайте русскую версию этой статьи


Ask Tom Haak to talk about the HR trends for 2020

  • Tom Haak, director of the HR Trend Institute, can be booked to give a keynote, or discuss the implications of the 2020 HR trends for your organisation. Contact Tom at tom@hrtrendinstitute.com.

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