Business leaders need to be aware of the trends that will impact the operating environment in the future. Trends offer clues about how the operating environment will change. Understanding these shifts will allow smart CEO’s and managers to adapt and thrive. This is especially true in the area of Human Resources management since people are one of the most important resources to any enterprise. Here are five common trends in Human Resources management that business leaders will want to watch:

Leveraging Technology

Technology is ubiquitous. Whether you are in the industrialized world or developing markets, a growing number of people are connecting with mobile devices like smart cell phones and very portable computers like Apple’s iPad. This allows people to communicate across traditional boundaries within companies or externally across the world. They have instant access to information and to people. Smart CEO’s are thinking about ways to leverage this technology explosion. Many are already experimenting with virtual teams, non-traditional workplaces, and flatter corporate structures. How will your company leverage technology? Are there ways to connect more effectively with co-workers, customers, or investors? Can access to information help to run the company more effectively? Have you identified what information is important to your success and how it should be shared? Will you use an enterprise platform like SAP or Peoplesoft, or will you simply use basic services like email and the Internet? So, the basic question from a human resource perspective is how to use technology to connect people and information to your advantage. If you are not thinking about all of this, rest assured that your competitors are already experimenting with the new technologies. Make sure that you don’t get left in the dust.

Global Marketplace

As demonstrated during the recent downturn, worldwide economic activity is more interdependent than it ever has been in the past. Although trade has crossed borders even before the Silk Road was traveled by Marco Polo, in today’s global marketplace what happens in one country usually has a dramatic impact in another. The largest economies like the US, China, Japan, and Europe are so interdependent that their leaders meet periodically at the G-20 summits to discuss issues of mutual interest and common strategies. Smaller countries that were formerly called third-world countries are now called emerging markets because they have the most robust growth. It is now also possible to do business across borders more easily using global transportation services like DHL, FedEx, and UPS. Even small businesses have the opportunity to compete or buy supplies from outside their local marketplace. This is a growing trend and much of the growth will be outside of the developed countries. So, how is your company positioned to participate in this growth? Can you tap into new markets or find suppliers or contract workers at lower cost? Can you partner with other businesses or agencies in different markets at home or abroad? If you are looking for new customers, project workers or new opportunities, then it only makes sense to think about strategies that would allow your company to participate in the global economy. How can your company tap into the growth in the emerging markets? More specifically from an human resources perspective, can you leverage contract workers for projects or support staff? While this may not be feasible for every business, it might be more viable than you think. Workers who do their job primarily at a computer can do this just as well in another state or country. This is especially true if you have the right technology platforms or use cloud computing. While there are security, cultural, and other issues to address, don’t let the opportunities pass you by just because you haven’t thought globally about your business in the past. The future is a global marketplace. Think globally.

Rising Costs of Benefits

In the United States, health care and benefit costs generally have been rising at an unsustainable rate. Recent federal health care legislation may address some issues; however, it is still very likely that the costs will continue to rise. Thus, companies will be looking to shift the burden for the costs of benefits. Some of this will be shifted to the government, some will be shifted to workers, and still other benefits will just be cut because they are no longer affordable. Many companies have already cut their defined benefits pensions and retirement programs. Others have modified them to lower matching contributions when they aren’t making a profit. Others have shifted their health insurance to high-deductible plans which offer lower premiums, but also require workers to pick up much of the basic cost even when they use health savings accounts. Thus the trend for many companies is to be more frugal with employee benefit offerings; however, other companies will use their enhanced benefit programs as a recruiting tool to attract the top talent in their industry. So each company must analyze their benefits in relation to their overall strategy to attract and retain talent for their firm while balancing the overall costs of the programs. You must be able to answer the basic question, “What is our compensation and benefits philosophy and how does if fit into our overall business strategy?

Flexible Workplace

The workplaces in the future will be more flexible. Once again, technology might be one of the driving considerations that makes this possible; however it is not the only factor. Younger generations are not only more accustomed to being treated differently, but in some cases demand that employers are flexible so that they can balance work-life issues. Unless there is a compelling reason for workers to be on site during certain hours, such as a doctor in an emergency room or a shift manager at a manufacturing facility, then employers should think about how they can be more flexible in their workplaces. Allowing workers to tele-commute has both disadvantages as well as advantages, so there is not a simple right or wrong answer for every company. However, make no mistake; some companies are working through these issues right now so that they can offer flexibility for their employees that compliments their business strategies. This will be their key to attracting top talent.

Demographics

Demographics are definitely changing. In the United States where there is a tradition of immigration, there is a shift from the traditional white-male dominated workplace to a multi-cultural environment. This is happening at all levels from line-workers to management. Additionally, women will break through the “glass ceiling” and rise to more senior management ranks. Beyond ethnic and gender considerations, age is also likely to play into the equation of workforce planning. Many leadership and managerial positions are now occupied by aging “baby-boomers” who will be retiring over the next five to ten years. This will open up new opportunities for younger workers, but only if they are prepared. On the other hand, some older workers will be working well past retirement age either because they haven’t saved for retirement or because they will be retained as critical employees due to their job experience. They might be willing to stay if their employer offers some flexibility like job sharing or a four-day work week. Outside of the US, industrialized nations will also need to deal with aging populations while the emerging countries will have younger workers who are eager to share in a more affluent lifestyle. Thus, CEO’s and HR managers are thinking about ways that their workforce will change in the next few years. Will you have qualified leaders to replace aging baby-boomers? Will you need to train younger workers to transfer the institutional knowledge that is currently retained by your more experienced staff? How will your company take advantage of shifts to a more diverse workforce? These are all very important questions that must have an answer if your firm is going to thrive in the future.

Looking into the future is hard to do, especially in the 21st Century, but trends offer some clues. We live in a more complex and interconnect world. Events in one part of the world are quickly news everywhere over the internet, cable TV and mobile phones. Although it is an exaggeration to say that the gentle flutter from a butterfly’s wing in Asia can result in a hurricane on the other side of the globe, we see the far reaching effects from events in one place to other regions that would not have known about them in the past. Thus, it is important to look for trends that will impact our world. If you can capitalize on the changes that result from the trends, then you can prepare to either take advantage of them or minimize their harmful impact. These five trends in human resources trends are already impacting the way we do business. They will definitely continue to impact our world, and it is up to you to figure out how to leverage them to your advantage.