Considerations for HR leaders in the new decade

From ethics and AI, to tech talent, politics and new working practices, Brian Kropp has the lowdown.

Reading time: 5 minutes

The 2020 new year celebrations drew the curtain on a decade that featured unprecedented technological disruption across the business landscape.

In the space of just 10 years, mobile working became commonplace, data output increased exponentially, and companies started experimenting with technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing.

The result has been unparalleled transformation in the way employees operate, behave and communicate, and HR and L&D departments have evolved to help companies adapt to these new ways of working.

With technological advancements, political instability and climate activism all set to impact businesses in 2020, HR and L&D leaders need to continue to stay ahead of the curve to help their organisations shift with the times.

In anticipation of this, here are the top considerations for HR and L&D in 2020 and beyond.

New AI use cases will result in ethics scandals

Companies have substantially increased their use of AI in a variety of talent management processes. Just a few years ago, AI solutions were only used to manage candidate databases and assess CVs, but today AI is assisting and making decisions, and even determining how to distribute compensation.

The problem is that many of these technologies are still in relatively early stages of development, and the employees charged with using them are still working to understand how they augment and/or replace current decision making processes.

For instance, there are issues surrounding the use of AI in recruiting and gender bias. When AI makes decisions about compensation based on existing standards in the market, it’s likely that gender pay gaps will continue to be reinforced.

In the coming year we expect to see more examples of this, resulting in reputational damage through negative publicity, and fiscal harm due to punitive measures and loss of business.

Gartner predicts that in 2020 up to 50% of employees will work remotely

This type of AI-generated crisis could do substantial harm to an organisation’s reputation – and their ability to attract and retain talent.

Increased tech talent in businesses

Many businesses have suffered with a significant technology skills gap in recent years, as technology firms monopolise the best tech talent.

However, over the coming year, we expect to see greater availability of tech talent to non-technology companies.

From a financial perspective, global political uncertainty, trade wars, and economic instability have put increasing pressure on even the largest technology companies. Certainly, in the UK, the instability caused by Brexit has contributed to this trend.

In light of this, tech companies are expected to reduce headcounts and in doing so release an array of tech talent to other non-tech businesses.

In terms of the workforce, the surge of millennial tech talent that emerged over the past decade is now maturing. The average age of technology company employees is now 40 years – a marked rise since 2010 when the average age was 35 years.

As millennial tech workers move into middle age, they are inclined to move away from high-risk start-up environments in search of greater career stability.

Politics will further impact employee focus and productivity

Political events at home and abroad will continue to cast uncertainty over the UK economy in the coming year. The movement on Brexit, after the 2019 general election, will continue to dominate the national narrative for some time to come.

Meanwhile in the US, a contentious presidential election campaign that will unfold during the second half of 2020 will generate international interest.

Gartner conducted extensive research into the impact of political uncertainty in 2019 and found UK employees were spending around 30 minutes each day preoccupied by Brexit.



Gartner also looked into the potential impact of the US presidential election in 2020 and found that the drop in employee productivity will equate to a loss equivalent of US$30m for a firm with 5,000 employees over the coming year.

Employee engagement and confidence also suffered in 2019 as a result of Brexit, and HR and L&D leaders need to ensure they are providing the right support for employees as political uncertainty continues into the start of the new decade.

New working practices and priorities to emerge

Over the next decade, employees’ working priorities and expectations will shift significantly. Technology will continue to be a major factor in this, but employers will also have to adapt to the changing priorities of their workforce.

In recent years, technology has allowed more companies to offer their employees flexible working practices and remote working options.

While this has often been viewed as mainly an incentive to attract talent, in the coming years it will become an expectation of employees. Gartner predicts that in 2020, for the first time, up to 50% of employees will work remotely.

Alongside changing expectations in work, firms will have to respect the role of environmental activism in their employees’ lives. Companies will be forced to ensure their corporate practices align with the concerns of employees. This will extend into areas including employee travel, supplier relationships and office footprints.

Cultural, political and environmental realities will be subject to much change in 2020 and beyond, and businesses must be ready to provide the correct solutions to support employees rather than being resistant. HR and L&D departments will have a crucial role in facilitating these changes.


About the author

Brian Kropp is chief of HR research at Gartner


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