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Employee engagement tops polls as HR’s biggest challenge in 2019

An annual study commissioned by Cascade HR has revealed the topics most likely to keep Human Resources professionals awake at night in 2019.

And employee engagement has topped the list for the second year running, with 40% of the 423 respondents believing it will be their biggest challenge over the next 12 months. Recruitment and retention were a close second and third (37% and 36% respectively), followed by absence management (29%) and wellbeing (22%).

It appears similar themes have posed the biggest headaches as 2018 has unfolded too. When asked to reflect on their toughest encounters from the last year, HR directors, managers and executives ranked recruitment as the clear front runner (45%), followed by absence management (36%), with retention and GDPR compliance in joint third place (35%).

There have, however, been reasons to celebrate it seems. The research revealed that whilst retention may have been difficult, 35% of HR teams believe they’ve excelled in that area, with successes also experienced in wellbeing (32%), L&D (32%) and diversity (30%). Thinking about GDPR specifically, 66% of respondents admitted the legislative overhaul has been problematic, yet manageable.

It is perhaps unsurprising that Brexit featured throughout, although it was not the most common topic. 52% of HR professionals admitted that they are a little worried about the ambiguity and impact of leaving the EU, but only 19% went as far as to say they are extremely concerned. When considering employment legislation, 63% said they couldn’t comment whether it feels easier or harder to navigate.

When asked for his commentary on the findings, Cascade’s CEO Oliver Shaw said: “It’s been an interesting year for UK businesses, with Brexit, compliance and employment tribunals dominating the headlines.

“But I believe some of the most pivotal developments have surrounded the future of work debate. This year, the HR landscape has seen employees push back on the traditional 9-5 more than ever before. Flexible working has really stepped up a notch, and organisations that bury their head in the sand when it comes to what colleagues want from employment, will be those that struggle the most with recruitment and retention in 2019.”

As the head of a technology company, Oliver was particularly interested to read HR professionals’ thoughts about automation. Almost half (46%) of respondents believe that automation is imperative for their HR department to become more effective and efficient next year, and 29% said it will have a partial role to play. Only 2% said they don’t believe automation is necessary within their business.

“Human Resources has embraced automation and machine learning on varying levels this year,” continued Oliver. “But there is a clear desire to know more about the power of tech.

“How every HR team can use artificial intelligence was one of our most popular webinars from 2018, with our head of Sales Marc Greggain subsequently asked to present a session dedicated to the topic, at the CIPD’s Annual Conference & Exhibition in early November.

“It is important that HR professionals can cut through the AI hype and understand how to benefit from things like automation, predictive analytics and workforce planning, without losing the ‘human’ from ‘Human Resources’. Their existing HR software will invariably hold the answer.”

The complete findings from Cascade’s omnibus survey can be seen in the full-length report – The 2019 HR landscape: What’s in store?