What to expect in HR in 2018

Jess Fuhl
Published on 16th January 2018
5 min read

New Year new challenges? Or is it going to be more of the same in the world of HR and People Teams over the next 12 months?

The war on talent is certainly not going anywhere and our own research backs up the IMF’s claims last year that we are in the middle of a global productivity crisis.

Over a third of employees surveyed in our ‘Why your workforce isn’t working’ report admitted that they are productive for less than 30 hours a week, meaning most people were only productive for four days out of five.

However, 78% of respondents claimed to be more productive at work when their working experiences are positive.

So creating great workforce experiences and finding ways to engage with employees are clearly two areas that are going to remain a focus for HR and People teams this year.

But what other changes and challenges are on the horizon this year?

We spoke to a range of leading global HR and People experts to find out what the key challenges are facing the sector during 2018.

Some of the themes are new, some of it you may already be aware of and even tackling, but all of it is key to positioning HR as a core function of the business and helping your organization truly become a People Company.

Outbound hiring

Let’s start with a new trend.

According to Aadil Bandukwala, founder of predictive outbound hiring solution Belong, the best candidates today don’t apply. They discover new opportunities through personal and social networks, respond to companies that value them for more than their skills, and expect personalized experiences – not transactional engagement.

‘The emergence of analytics, social, personalized marketing, and an increased recognition of talent as a CEO concern have all enabled an intelligent, business-aligned approach to strategic recruitment called outbound hiring,’ says Aadil.

‘Outbound hiring fundamentally flips the inbound recruiting funnel. Instead of waiting for the best talent to wander in, outbound recruiters are proactively engaging the right people at the very start by using social talent data and predictive analytics.

‘Businesses save hundreds of recruiting hours that are otherwise wasted on marketing, filtering and screening unqualified candidates. And because outbound hiring delivers a personalized candidate experience at every stage, recruiters and hiring managers see far higher engagement and join rates from candidates.’

While the early adopters have latched on to the outbound hiring bandwagon, 2018 will see far more resonance with outbound hiring, predicts Aadil.

Further reading: The 7ps of People Marketing


The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force on 25 May 2018 for all EU member states, and essentially means that companies are going to have to be really strict about how they manage their data. HR and People teams are responsible for huge amounts of personal and sensitive employee information so it’s going to be a big challenge for our sector.

‘In 2018 a big challenge facing HR leaders is the data privacy of employees, especially in a global workforce. Linked to this is also ‘what should be the ethics of using employee data in the age of facial recognition software and fitness tracking apps’?’ asks Gautam Ghosh, consultant for talent advisory services at VBeyond Corporation.

To keep abreast of guidance and what to expect and when, bookmark this GDPR page of the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Further reading: 8 things HR leaders need to do to be GDPR ready

Intelligent use of technology

‘There has been an explosion in tech for HR. The accelerated pace at which new solutions are introduced is exceeding our capacity to understand and make sense of them, but especially differentiate the snake oil from those that truly add value,’ says Shally Steckerl, founder of the Sourcing Foundation and chief sourcing guru and founder at the Sourcing Institute.

‘With all this noise, we will inevitably see a rising need for consultants to aid us in objectively making sense of the choices, and implementing them intelligently so we don’t negate their benefits by driving our employees mad,’ he adds.

Susan LaMotte, founder & CEO of employer brand firm exaqueo, also sees technology as a challenge for HR leaders in 2018.

‘Technology has now overtaken strategy. We’re so enamored by technology and the promise that it will solve our problems, we forget that it can’t create the strategy and plan for us. It can’t drive buy-in, or help manage culture or politics. I hope in 2018 people will come to use technology wisely. It is such an important part of the employment experience. But without a foundation, it’s a flash in the pan,’ says LaMotte.

Jon Ingham, HR and organisation development consultant at Strategic Dynamics Consultancy Services, says industry is waiting for the new breed of technologies to start being implemented more widely so ‘we can understand what the practical opportunities might be’.

‘The challenge for HR is about keeping up to speed with these developing opportunities so we can be quick off the mark once the opportunities become clearer and more widespread. Conducting small experiments is a really useful way of providing this insight and seeing what the different technologies can do,’ he adds.

Further reading: It’s time to move to cloud HR. Here’s 4 reasons why

Evidence based HR

Many of the experts we spoke to highlighted evidence-based HR as a key challenge for HR leaders to focus on during 2018.

Rather than relying on gut instinct, evidence-based HR involves using data and other solid evidence to support your decisions.

But getting it right is key, as Perry Timms, founder and chief energy officer at PTHR (People and Transformational HR), points out.

‘In the push to acquire more evidence based practice, HR has been guilty of overly jumping on fads and on vague but exciting-sounding thought leadership.  It’s with this in mind that we’ve become a little too easy to dismiss or push around corporately when things haven’t quite worked out as planned.

‘Now I sense we could be able to get a stronger voice through evidence-based practice and more things (like employee engagement) that have a stronger base of data, examples and narrative that gets us to a better advisory and applied advantage point.’

David D’Souza, head of engagement and London at CIPD, is hoping to see an ever greater focus on evidence-based HR in 2018 to ‘make sure that we are making as intelligent choices as we can do about our activity to try and maximize our impact’, while Gemma Dale, co-founder of The Work Consultancy, says there is ‘an increasing understanding of the need for evidence based practice and the benefits that deeper knowledge of neuroscience can bring to our practice’.

HR blogger Ben Eubanks has written a good post about this topic with examples of evidence-based HR.

Further reading: People Science: What if companies knew their people as well as they knew their customers?

Proving HR’s worth

Getting HR recognized by the board and having a seat at the top table would no doubt be at the top of most HR and People leaders’ wish lists. But our experts are banging this drum for 2018 and believe the technology to measure and prove HR’s worth are all in existence and ready for you to utilize to the fullest effects.

‘Measurement. This has been my rallying cry for years and the coming year is no different. If you want to be taken seriously and have a powerful impact on the business, it’s time to get serious about measuring the value of the service you provide as an HR leader,’ says Ben Eubanks, blogger and principal analyst at the Lighthouse Research and Advisory.

‘Regardless of your role, from the assistant all the way up to the CHRO, we need to be measuring the outcomes and outputs of HR in a way that adds credibility to our efforts and insights we can offer the business,’ he adds.

Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and co-founder and principal at the RBL Group, adds: ‘The HR field is moving to recognize that HR is not about HR, but about delivering business value.

‘The focus of HR is not just about talent (competence, employee, workforce), but also about organization (capability, culture, workplace).  We have found that organization has four times the impact on business results than talent, so, HR can create value for employees, customers, investors, and communities through talent, leadership, and organization.’

Perry Timms’ prediction of what HR teams will be asked to provide in 2018 clearly proves it has value as a business function.

‘HR being asked to design a company for any eventuality and build skills and adaptability across the people who work there will likely be the major ask during 2018,’ he says.

So embracing and utilizing technology in the most valuable way to help inform decisions, engage with your people and prove the value that HR and People teams deliver to the business are going to be core areas of focus for 2018.

Whatever role you have in the sector, the traditional admin function of HR is long gone. Employees expect great experiences and HR and People teams are well placed to generate these positive workforce environments to create great people companies.

What are the biggest challenges facing the sector? Download our research from 500+ HR and People leaders on how their fast-tracking growth.

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