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What to Expect from Wearables, Employee Engagement and HR Technology in 2015

When reading about the latest HR technology developments and which are likely to have the most profound impact on HR jobs going forward, certain “memes” come up repeatedly: Software as a Service (SaaS); wearables (e.g., Google Glass); system integration; and employee engagement.

One gets the impression that 2015 may turn out to be the year of the employee as much as the year of the Cloud or the wearable device. And this trend is being talked about as much in European and Asian organizations as it is in the U.S., which is interesting because these three global regions are in very different stages of economic development and/or recovery.

What could explain this renewed focus on the work force and how it’s being managed? For one thing, hiring in the U.S. is at pre-recession highs – 295,000 jobs were added nationwide in February, according to the most recent jobs report (handily surpassing economist and analyst expectations), and the unemployment rate ticked down to 5.6%.

After seven straight months of impressive private-sector job growth and, as the country once again approaches a level considered to be “full employment,” the job market is shifting in favor of “the buyer,” and employee retention becomes a priority.

As the SHRM article, “Global HR Tech Trends for 2015,” points out, innovative or even “out-of-the-box” employee benefits are starting to make their way from Silicon Valley (where much innovative thinking logically begins) to mainstream corporate America.

A prime example is Facebook’s decision last fall to begin paying for female employees to freeze their eggs, so as to give them added flexibility in balancing their careers with delayed parenthood. Numerous other household-name corporations took Facebook’s cue and followed suit after that announcement.

It’s Not Just the Economy These Days

But the SHRM piece makes some other interesting observations about global developments in HR technology.

Multinational corporations are looking for ways to integrate an increasingly global workforce, and the streamlined delivery of benefits information and integrated rewards programs are seen as important steps in that process. In the EU region and in many European companies (where job growth has been decidedly slower than in the U.S.), benefits-management software and SaaS-based solutions will help HR teams tackle the daunting tasks of engaging employees and creating a more transparent, user-friendly HR information portal in the face of varying country regulations and legal frameworks.

In addition, organizations in low-growth EU countries like Spain and Belgium will likely look to total rewards programs and enhanced mobile portability of benefits solutions on tablets and smartphones to offset the cost of negligible (or non-existent) salary increases this year.  

The Asian markets are another story altogether, but the global need to “put employees first” is no less prevalent in that part of the world. Many Asian companies now compete with multinationals for talent, which makes total reward communication and stronger benefits programs important recruiting and retention tools.

By contrast with the EU, some countries (notably Indonesia) are facing inflation challenges and are looking to offset wage increases, in some cases, with total rewards enhancements and employee allowances. Another trend on the rise on the part of multinationals will likely be regional shared-service centers incorporating global/regional HR, payroll and benefits software systems. Serious issues with computer system security and privacy concerns with third-party data management will make reliance on SaaS-centric processes that much more important in 2015.

Speaking of Privacy…

Worries about employee (and consumer) privacy and confidentiality are making headlines from Hollywood studios to retail giants like Wal-Mart and Home Depot on up to the U.S. State Department and other agencies where confidentiality is considered paramount.

Software hacking has gone from the level of prank to international incident in the past year, and that’s likely the tip of the iceberg. Enter the advent of “wearable” technology into the workplace, which is raising eyebrows about privacy and security in corporate HR departments even as it’s set to enhance many job functions in as-yet unforeseen ways across the employment spectrum, according to a recent articles from Human Resource Executive Online

As smartphone and tablet technology struggle with continuing to “wow” consumers and employees, smart glasses (Google Glass); smart watches (Sony, InPulse); and wearable health monitors (FitBit, Nike FuelBand) are capturing the imagination this year with job enhancements of seemingly limitless potential.

Intriguingly, wearables are adapting some of the best smartphone apps, connectivity and mobility features for interviewing, talent acquisition, wellness programs and general employee engagement and collaboration. Think of hands-free GPS contained in smart glasses for delivery drivers, or the ability of insurance claims professionals to take instant photos of damages while concurrently researching the cost of repairs of replacement parts for their clients.

Wearable biometric sensors could reduce the risk of injury on the factory floor, or act as a stimulus when truck drivers on an overnight shift start to become drowsy.

At the same time, HR personnel could more fluidly record and transmit interviews of potential hires or trainees so that hiring managers can see and hear a prospective employee’s performance and body language. And what about managers’ enhanced ability to monitor their staffers’ day-to-day job performance and the lengths of their lunch or coffee breaks when it’s suspected that employees may be abusing privileges? Right there, questions of illegal surveillance or monitoring raise immediate red flags, which will no doubt need to be worked through as wearable technology takes its place in the office environment. 

It’s All Good – Mainly

In the high-tech age of integrated software systems, interconnected economies and multinational corporations, and increased transparency through social-media outlets, companies have to move faster and faster to adapt their workplaces – in response to demands of their customers and employees alike. With technological advance and innovation inevitably come glitches (hacking, issues of security and privacy concerns, health care marketplace uncertainty, to name but a few).

One important byproduct, as stated in the outset, are the opportunities afforded by technology to improve employee engagement. Disengaged employees cost the U.S. as much as $500 billion annually in lost productivity, according to a recent article from Forbes

If that’s truly the case, HR personnel stand to gain much more than they’ll lose from implementing integrated software systems, total rewards and benefits programs – and even experimenting with FitBits or Google Glasses. In a few years, those will need to keep pace with new apps as much as last year’s smartphones or tablets already do.

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