Five culture trends to watch out for in 2019

Doug Hewett and Emily Castle, Jan 09,2019

New year, new trends! Prepare for a new dawn as soft skills become as important as tech skills and Gen Z joins the working population. Here’s a look ahead to some of the key trends that are emerging from the partners and clients that we work with. Some have been bubbling under for a bit, but 2019 is set to be the year when they become a headline priority.

1. Hyper flexibility becomes the norm

According to Mercer, 72% of full-time employees say they would consider working on a contingent or contract basis. We’re already seeing permanent employees expect greater freedom to work when it suits them, yet businesses aren’t going far enough. 2019 will be the year where we see companies look beyond flexible working arrangements, to ‘complete career flexibility’.

What does this mean? Goodbye to traditional career ladders or linear pathways, hello to real career customisation – allowing employees flexibility in terms of varied skills and roles, career breaks and changes, phased retirement and much more.

2. The Gen Z floodgates begin to open

Gen Z joined the workforce in 2017 and they are here to stay – ManpowerGroup predicted by 2020 they will occupy 24% of the global workforce. The companies that quickly work out how this impacts them, and how they need to adapt, will win the next war on talent.

A generation of digital natives who have grown up with new technologies, Nielsen claims they are used to being bombarded with messages from social media – which means they are able to quickly detect whether or not something is credible and relevant to them.

For businesses this means it’s even more important for communications (and the strategies that lie behind them) to be authentic and meaningful. Being purpose-led and living a brand-led culture will be essential if businesses are to create a connection to their employees and customers.

3. Soft skills will come to the fore

At a time where technology has enabled us to sort nearly all functional workplace tasks, 2019 is the year when we realise that soft skills need the spotlight – particularly in the middle tier of management who make and shape the culture of an organisation. For this to happen, priorities need to radically shift – from the old world model where technical skills ruled, to a new dawn where the ‘how’ is as important as the ‘what’.

To truly overhaul career development pathways, companies will need to re-evaluate the criteria around the kind of people they promote and find new career options for those high-performing individuals who lack people leadership potential. Rather than being a problem, this will become more open, transparent and a positive choice in career direction.

4. Culture becomes a bigger C-suite priority

Nothing shouts ‘C-suite priority’ like legislation updates. At the beginning of 2019, the UK Corporate Governance Code comes into place for FTSE100 companies – making it essential that businesses build strong relationships with key stakeholders based on honesty, transparency, and how they conduct themselves. All in all, boardrooms across the UK will be focused on engaging with company culture – with clear facts that point to how it builds long-term and sustained growth.

What does this mean? A big opportunity for those within organisations to raise the profile of culture programmes, and really make a play for how they can answer to what ‘the Code’ needs.

On a practical note, it means boards establishing a corporate culture that is aligned you’re your company purpose, business strategy, and that promotes integrity and values diversity. Boards need greater engagement with employees to understand their views and to be truly immersed with their culture – so they can lead by example.

5. Inclusion becomes the new diversity

Businesses are already bought into Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), the business case is widely understood; it is no longer a ‘check box’ initiative or an HR’s issue, but instead a Leadership priority that is owned from the very top. Despite all that, there’s much more to do – Deloitte found that while over 70% of companies believe they are advanced in this area, only 11% truly understand the depth of the problem.

In 2019, we’ll see a key shift whereby ‘inclusion’ becomes the new buzzword and strategy. We’ve already seen it with pioneers and successful brands that have built a reputation around their ‘inclusive cultures’ – but in a post #MeToo workplace where the boundary lines are being drawn every day, this trend will continue to impact companies globally. Building an inclusive culture means changing behaviours, adapting performance management, and supporting learning and development in a new way. In short, it’s about rewiring your culture.

In summary, there’s lots to be excited about in 2019, particularly when it comes to culture and its role in an organisation. The brands that really move on these will shape a better reputation, a stronger employer brand, and ultimately a stronger consumer brand too.

This article first appeared in HR Grapevine, December issue.