Ultimate Software's Cecile Alper-Leroux shares her insights into the future of work and what HR leaders need to do to stay ahead of the curve
HR can’t exist in a vacuum. The forces that shape people managers are the forces shaping almost every industry today. That’s Ultimate Software’s view. As a leading global provider of human capital management (HCM) and employee experience solutions in the cloud, Ultimate keeps abreast of the forces shaping the working world to stay ahead of customers’ needs. Analyzing those forces is part of Cecile Alper-Leroux’s role.
As VP of HCM innovation at Ultimate, Alper-Leroux looks at the world, sees what major forces are shaping it, and translates them for HR leaders and organizations. In a webcast during January’s “prediction season,” Alper-Leroux explained how accessibility, the balance between data privacy and transparency, and adaptability are shaping the future of work today.
“They’re incredibly interconnected,” Alper-Leroux told HRD in an interview ahead of the webcast. “From an HR perspective, they reinforce each other.”
She explained that the three factors are tied to the ongoing, global labour shortage, the rise of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), and a global reassessment of who, or what, people are choosing to trust.
Focus on Accessibility for All
There’s a global labour shortage, and Alper-Leroux thinks accessibility is the answer. Her idea of accessibility, though, goes beyond the concept of physical access towards a holistic accessibility.
“Accessibility has to be more broadly defined,” Alper-Leroux said. “We’ve got to focus on how we make our workplaces available to some of the untapped labor sources out there.”
UN studies estimate one billion people live with disabilities. They show that unemployment rates for the disabled can be as a high as 80%-90% in developing nations. People with disabilities in Canada face much higher rates of unemployment and underemployment (26%)—more than five times higher—than the rate for persons without disabilities (5%).
To Alper-Leroux, that gap is an opportunity for organizations to bring in new workers. To do that they need to expand their ideas of accessibility to encompass geographic access, physical access, and cognitive access.
“About 85% of people who are on the autism spectrum who have a university degree or a diploma are unemployed or underemployed,” Alper-Leroux said, as an example of an untapped workforce.
“If somebody doesn't make eye contact with you, you’re less likely to hire them,” she explained. “Does that mean they’re not able to do the job? When I talk about accessibility, I mean that we have to change our idea of what a worker looks like and what we're looking for in a candidate. We have to be much more flexible and open to that.”
A flexible organization’sinvestments in accessibility initiatives will pay dividends as talent shortages grow.
Balance Transparency and Data Privacy
We don’t trust politicians anymore. We don’t trust the news media or institutions of state. We certainly don’t trust social media. With nobody else to trust, Alper-Leroux says people are putting trust in their employers.
The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer showed that 75% of people globally say their employer is their most trusted institutional relationship, well ahead of government (48%) and the media (47%).
Alper-Leroux thinks employers risk losing that trust if they don’t approach their employees with candour.
“Creating trust in an organization requires authentic, open communication,” she said. “But it also requires doing what you say you're going to do.
“You have to have open communication about what it is that you're going to do, and then actually measure that. If you say, ‘we listen to our employees,’ but if 80% of their accessibility requests are denied, you're not going to build trust.”
She explained that communication needs to be balanced against data privacy. Employees need to know that data they share with their employers as part of that “trust contract” is under their control.
“We need to think of our employees as customers more,” Alper-Leroux said. “And give them control of their data wherever we can.”
Build An Adaptive Workforce
“We've heard about organizations trying to be more adaptable, but we haven't - focused on how to make the workforce more adaptable,” Alper-Leroux told HRD. “We’re focusing on the wrong thing.”
She thinks adaptability will be key to any workforce’s sustainability in the face of automation. Change is a constant in today’s working world, but there’s been a lack of focus on hiring people who can learn fast, tackle new challenges, and change with the times.
The first of those changes is automation. Alper-Leroux thinks that, if HR leaders automate what can be automated, they’ll be better positioned to lead an adaptive workforce.
“HR is guilty of not embracing automation technology, thinking, ‘I'm going to lose my job,’” Alper-Leroux explained. But 50% of what an HR professional does today will be done by machines in the next three to five years. So, you can either fight it or embrace it.”
Leaving technical tasks to the robots means HR leaders can hire the critical skillsets they pay lip service to. The workforce can grow more self-aware, empathetic, and resilient. A culture of lifelong learning can carry through your organization, creating, in turn, an adaptive workforce ready for any technological change.
Keep Culture the Key
Building holistic accessibility will facilitate a more adaptive workforce. An always-learning workforce will better trust their employer. Earned employee trust will attract the best talent. Alper-Leroux’s three trends circle back on each other endlessly. They all point, too, towards the intangible in every HR leader’s purview: culture.
Alper-Leroux thinks culture will play an enormous role in how organizations manage these three trends. Culture will define holistic accessibility, adaptability, and trust and transparency. Every HR leader’s plan for these factors needs to take culture into account.
It’s Alper-Leroux’s view that HR leaders need to lift their eyes from the work of day-to-day compliance, ask where their culture is leading them, and find out how to steer culture on the right track.
“HR needs to be very aware of where people are and meet people where they need to be,” she said. “I think that HR has not had the chance to focus enough on that.”