10 HR Trends for 2022: From Adaptation to Transformation

Illustration: Studio Fee Overbeeke

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The HR Trend Institute was founded in 2014. In the last seven years every year in November we published an overview of the HR trends we sensed for the coming year.

2015: 9 emerging HR trends for 2015
2016: 11 HR trends for 2016
2017: 10 HR Trends for 2017
2018: 8 major trends for 2018
2019: 10 inspiring HR trends for 2019
2020: 12 HR trends for 2020
2021: 11 HR trends to take into account for 2021

This is our eighth edition, and the intention is to inspire you again!

The megatrends that shape HR

Of course, the long-term megatrends do not change every year. Below an overview of my Top-14 megatrends. Most of the current trends fit into one of these areas.

14 mega trends that shape HR


2022: From Adaptation to Transformation

In 2020 and 2021 many organisations have done a remarkable job. Many organisations showed resilience and were able to adapt their work practices to the Covid-19 crisis. Workers at the front showed their creativity and entrepreneurship and in many cases working from home had big advantages. What will happen now? Will we (both organisations and people) slip back in our old habits, or will we show that 2022 and beyond will be a period of real transformation? While society is learning to live with Covid-19, HR teams are considering the opportunities to transform the workplace and shape the future of work.

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10 HR Trends for 2022

Watch the video with a summary

10 HR Trends for 2022

1. HR Embraces Complexity (get rid of all those models)

In The Museum of HR you can find some great collections. Employee journey maps, Career paths, performance management cycles, HR models and many more. The biggest collection is of leadership models, nearly 120. All the leadership models force us in the same direction: look for rounded leaders that master the competencies in these 5-10 (sometimes 20 or more!) competency areas. And 120 is probably not enough as I know of various organisations that are developing their own model.

HR loves models. If I am chairing at HR conferences almost every presentation contains some kind of model (very often with three circles as the basis of the model). The use of MBTI is another example. Humans are complex animals and wouldn’t it be nice if we could categorise them in manageable groups (16 groups as in MBTI is still a lot, maybe two groups, for example introverts and extroverts, is even better).

Obsession with models

There is the obsession with models and there is the love for ‘best practices’ and benchmarking as well. When I am talking with HR teams I often get questions like: “What are in your view the organisations with best HR?” and “What are the best in class organisations doing?”.  The are many articles with titles as “Top 10 ways to retain your great employees”, “The five traits that define great leadership” and “Seven ways to work on your self-development”.

HR starts to embrace complexity

Of course models can help to deal with complexity. Of course we can learn from other organisations. But if I observe successful HR leaders and teams, I see that they embrace complexity. They realise that human behaviour is complex and not easy to predict. Also: the effectivity of HR systems and interventions are very dependent on the context and the current situation of an organisation. What they do is start by focusing on the burning issues of their organisation and their solutions start with a clean sheet, not with a template that just needs completion. HR starts to embrace complexity and this is not a frightening but a very positive experience.

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2. HR as Activists

In 2007 (maybe even earlier) David Ulrich and his team introduced the term “Credible activist” as one of the key competencies of effective HR professionals.

Credible Activist

In this 2013 video Dave Ulrich clearly explains the concept.

The credible activist is seen as a successful and effective HR professional. Driving business results. Has trust with the business leaders. Has a strong point of view. What is needed to become a credible activist, according to Ulrich in the video:

  • Earn trust (by doing what you promised to do)
  • Influence and relate to others. Also: “HR with an attitude”.
  • Improvement through self awareness
  • Helping shape the profession.

Are most HR professionals credible activists?

In the video Ulrich says that he met with thousands of HR professionals, and “most of them have mastered these skills”. This surprises me. If most of the HR professionals would have been “credible activists” (before and since 2007) the world of work would probably have been a better place. Maybe it is a matter of perspective. Ulrich always focuses a lot on business success. So HR needs to be credible in the eyes of whom? Probably mainly in the eyes of senior management. I have argued before, that HR in the past decades has focused too much on senior management and not enough on other stakeholders.

Where were the credible activists when they were needed?

In the past years we have seen many toxic organisations. Read about Uber, Facebook, Activision Blizzard, Booking.com and many others. Where were the credible activists in those organisations? The income differences between men and women (gender pay gap) is (in 2021!) still big in almost every country. How effective were the credible HR activists in closing the gap? Everyday new stories of sexual abuse appear, both in government and well established business. Where were the credible activists to support the victims of abuse? (Or were they earning credibility points with their bosses to cover up the stories?).

Many organisations are still not very environmental friendly. Tata Steel in The Netherlands, for example, is the biggest source of CO2 emission in The Netherlands and they are also polluting the environment around their plant in IJmuiden. Where are the credible HR activists in organisations that are polluting the world?

HR can help solve bigger problems

There are many stakeholders of organisations. Of course the workforce (including the flexible workforce), the candidates, the clients and the suppliers. But also the communities and the wider society. The problems in society are big, and the expectation that business and other organisations will contribute to solving the problems are increasing. Both in society and inside organisations. Time for HR to be credible activists in the eyes of all the stakeholders.


3. HR for the Ecosystem

Last week I had lunch with one of the best HR managers I know. She is leading HR in an organisation of around 1000 people. In a very pragmatic and business oriented way she has brought HR to the next level in her organisation. The HR team is small and flexible and specialised work is done by suppliers (more partners than suppliers). In a way it is a pity she and her team only work for this organisation. If you look at the ecosystem of this organisation (clients, prospects, suppliers, local community etc.) there are many organisations and individuals for whom the HR team could add a lot of value. With not too much effort they could not only do HR for their own organisation (the people on the payroll) but for other parts of the ecosystem as well.

A broader scope for HR

Earlier this year I met with the HR team of a big French multinational and their L&D team was helping schools to develop en deliver basic technology training for children aged 6-12. Of course on the long run the organisation could benefit from this effort as well but that was not the main objective. The starting question was: how can we help our local communities and the country with our core strengths (knowledge and experience in new technologies and an excellent learning and development team)?

Ask the question: how can we widen the scope of HR? What can we do for:

  • The employees
  • The flexible workforce
  • Management
  • The Supervisory Board
  • Former employees
  • Future employees (candidates)
  • The clients and prospects
  • Suppliers
  • Educational institutions
  • The local community
  • Refugees
  • Minority Groups
  • Any other groups you can think of.

4. The End of the Employee

In Merriam-Webster Employee is defined as: “One employed by another usually for wages or salary in a position below the executive level“. Some of the synonyms for employee on thesaurus.com: agent, clerk, member, worker, labourer and operator. Also mentioned are: jobholder, hired gun, hired hand and wage-slave.
Some organisations use smoother words: partner, associate, collaborators. Many organisations use: Human Resources.

The words we use are important

The wording we use often still reflects the view of employees as if they are owned by organisations (how to engage our employees, how to retain the talent). The 2021 BCG study “Creating People Advantage 2021” identifies “Put employees at the center” as the top priority for people management leaders. Maybe some employees don’t want to be put at the center ….

The workforce is already a lot more diverse than just employees. The rise of the flexible workforce is a long-term trend. During the Covid-19 crisis employees and teams have experienced that that they can function very well without too much control. More independence and autonomy was a positive experience and it tasted like more. For many people the last year was a good period to reconsider their position as an employee. Going back to the old situation, working in the office with a manager close buy was for many not a very nice perspective. The trend ‘Increasing risk of detachment’ that we outlined in our 2021 HR trend article certainly materialised (now sometimes called ‘The great resignation”).

HR should consider the concept of “the employee”

This is a time for HR to reconsider the concept of  “the employee” as well. How can we stimulate the developments that were accelarated  by the current crisis? How can we help people to be more autonomous and balance the lower between the organisation and the workforce?

Probably there will be employees for a long time but it its wise to anticipate the slow erosion and transformation of the concept.

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5. Metaverse

The metaverse is expanding! The metaverse is a kind of all-encompassing virtual world, where people interact using avatars.


I’m far from a specialist and I refer to the articles below if you want to learn more. Although the metaverse is not new, it is clearly, powered by the technological developments, going to create numerous opportunities in the world of work.

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6. Forgiving Technologies

End of 2017 Trenwatching.com published their consumer trend forecast for 2018. Number four on their list: “Forgiving by design”.

I quote from their article: “Consumers are already sky high on expectations – fueled in part by their digital lives – of constant service upgrades and seamless personalization. One consequence? In 2018 they’ll expect all kinds of products and services to forgive them when their past – the product they selected, the size they chose, the service they wanted – doesn’t match their future. How? By near-magically adapt around their changing needs, wants and whims.
Remember, consumers don’t have to experience the most innovative forms of digital adaptation to have their expectations reconfigured. They just have to know about them. ‘The Apple HomePod reconfigures its sound depending on where it’s placed in a room. Why doesn’t my new car adapt around the changing weather!?’” A nice example: the Petit Psi clothes, that are designed in such a way that they grow when toddlers grow.

HR technology and other technologies in the workplace are often not very flexible and forgiving. People are forced into workflows that don’t take their preferences and capabilities into account. The opportunities are numerous.

Example: a performance management workflow that takes the seniority and experience of the manager into account (the less experienced manager gets more triggers and support).

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7. Recruiting for Diversity

We never get tired of  The War for Talent. The economy is growing again and The War for Talent is back. Organisations are crying that they cannot find the people. Most recruitment efforts are still very traditional. Organisations recruit for jobs, and the list with job requirements is often very long. For many of the requirements one can doubt that there is evidence that the requirement is really necessary for the job.

Some groups have difficulty in finding work

At the same time: for various groups it is difficult to find employment. For example: people older than 50, people with a disability and refugees. Many of the people in these groups have skills (or can learn skills) that are in high demand. Instead of looking for the full stack employee that exact fits in the job profile, organisations could look for people with a specific skills set, disregardless their background.

The current mainstream trend to look more at the required skills than job profiles, and redesign the HR practices with skills as the main currency, is very promising. The hope is that this will lead to more diverse (and unbiased) recruiting.

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8. Time for some real Empathy

Many organisations are saying it these days. People first! Employees at the center! Do they really mean this? Or is it just window-dressing?

This week, in The Netherlands, the ultrafast on demand delivery services, like Gorillas, Flink, Getir and Zapp were in the news. They are (most of the time) able to deliver very fast, but they pay their deliverers very slow. Capturing the market (winner takes all) has the highest priority, treating the people who work for them with respect comes last.

These companies are probably the worst examples, but there are many other organisations (like Amazon and Uber) that always put the organisation first and the people in the workforce last.

Design Thinking starts with “Empathise”

The design thinking process starts with “Empathise”. More and more HR teams are learning agile methodologies and Design Thinking. Putting people first is not just a slogan, but requires a lot of hard work that starts with some real empathy.

Design Thinking

Empathy X Autonomy

Have look at the “Empathy x Autonomy” matrix. How would the people in your organisation position the way you treat them? High on empathy and high on autonomy is the place to be.


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9. Life Coaching provided by Employers

There was a time when the view of most employers was that they had no dealing with the life of the employees outside work. With the increasing blurring of the boundaries between work and private life and the increased attention to work-life balance this is changing. Organisations are increasingly offering the people in their workforce life coaching support. With this more holistic approach they help people to cope better with the various aspects of life, at work and at home. Areas could include health, finance, sustainability and housing.


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10. The Split of HR

The split of HR will continue in 2022. HR will be spilt in three parts:

A. Operations. Most of what HR does, can be captured under the label HR operations. World class HR operations are key, and many organisations are carving out and centralising HR operations. Outsourcing or partially outsourcing is certainly an option. Centres in Poland, the Philippines and India are delivering high level services at low costs.

B. HR Strategy/ HR Advice/ HR Architects. A small group of high-level top HR generalists, working on HR strategy and the HR interventions that drive organisational transformation.

C. Employee (or people) success. Helping employees and other people in the workforce to utilise their potential. People first, not the organisation.

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10 HR Trends for 2022

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