People Profession 2030: how people managers will play a central role in the future world of work

Good line management will strengthen organisations as they prepare for the changes to come

We’ve witnessed some rapid shifts in the world of work over the last year, but it continues to be important to look ahead. Not only to anticipate what’s coming next, but to influence and shape the modern workplaces of the future. For people professionals, this is about being front and centre, leading the people agenda within their organisations in response to business demands, external drivers and disruptors, and changing employee expectations.

Our People Profession 2030 report is the start of our collaborative research that seeks to build our understanding and shape the future world of work. With input from people professionals across the globe, we surfaced five key trends that are influential for future workplace and therefore, central to future people practices. These are:

  • internal change: evolving organisational models, structures, and processes
  • digital and technological transformation
  • changing demographics and I&D strategy
  • diversifying employment relationships
  • sustainability, purpose and responsible business.

In an earlier insights article, we’ve discussed how the organisational ecosystem can facilitate or inhibit the five key trends. Our findings suggest that the organisational ecosystem – specifically, culture, leadership and people management – is central to people strategy and practice within organisations. As part of our insight article series, focusing on the findings from our hackathon and senior leaders’ roundtables, this article focuses on the people management aspect of the eco-system.

What do we mean by people management?

People professionals are rightly, at the heart of developing and implementing people strategy and practice. However, our hackathon participants and senior leaders felt strongly that people managers act as an important gatekeeper when establishing people practices across the workforce. One hackathon participant beautifully captured the significant relationship between people professionals and people managers: ‘People managers are the rocks on which our greatest plans are dashed or the wind that fills the sails. They remain, for me, the greatest asset and ally to HR or its worst enemy.’

Hackathon participants highlighted the need for people managers to recognise the importance of focusing on the people side of their role and avoid prioritising operational needs above people needs. However, in practice, this isn’t always the case. Business in the Community’s Mental Health at Work 2020 report found that 62% of managers say they have had to put their organisation's interests above the wellbeing of their colleagues. Positively, some participants felt that this sentiment was shifting, with some line managers showing a willingness to focus on the people element of their role: ‘Managers have a greater appreciation and understanding of their role – a greater responsibility for the people side.’

Managers can have a significant influence on people outcomes, both positive and negative. They are often responsible for carrying out people management practice, which in turn can influence employee outcomes. But managers cannot fulfil this aspect of their role without the support and guidance of people professionals. Management literature has found that managers’ perceptions of successfully enabling HR practices is positively linked to receiving good quality HR training and support from people professionals to implement HR practices effectively. These findings highlight a symbiotic relationship with people professionals and the support that they offer line managers to successfully enact people practices. All in all, our hackathon and senior leader roundtable findings appear to be in line with management literature, specifically, that people management remains integral to people strategy and practice.

But how does people management influence our key trends? Although people management will influence all five trends, we focus on two examples, and consider the influence of people management in closer detail below.

How is people management integral to diversifying employment relationships?

Our People Profession 2030 report explored the changing nature of employment relationships and the external drivers that impact such relationships. External factors include economic instability and political upheaval, for example, both of which may cause dynamic shifts between professional relationships within modern workplaces. The many drivers that influence employment relationships raise several important questions for people managers and how they effectively and fairly manage hybrid or multiple tiers of workers within the same team or department. While people professionals will need to lead on developing good quality employment relationships that are consistent and appropriate for the context of their organisation, managers are the professionals who influence day-to-day employee relationships.

Most recently, working through the COVID-19 pandemic has considerably shifted employment practices for many businesses, and will likely influence consumer demands and employee expectations for the foreseeable future. We’ve already seen that employee expectations are shifting. Findings in the CIPD’s Embedding new ways of working report suggest that regular homeworking is expected to rise to 37% following the pandemic – an expectation which has doubled since the crisis (18% pre-crisis).

More permanent remote and homeworking will raise several challenges for people managers. For example, managing remote teams that are geographically dispersed, will require different management strategies from leaders to ensure productivity, engagement and motivation remains stable. Additionally, people managers will be responsible for maintaining the organisational culture and values across the team, which can pose new challenges when managing a team remotely instead of face-to-face. Our evidence review on Developing effective virtual teams provides some evidence-based insight and practical recommendations to support effective virtual teams.

With employment relationship norms changing, career development and learning approaches will need to adapt to accommodate new career models: ‘people won’t be having “a career for life” like in the past, but our whole work life and career will be built based on a number of different cross-sector and cross-functional experiences and skills’ (hackathon participant). Managers will need to be confident and competent in development conversations with a range of employees and different employment relations. This may involve navigating development opportunities with atypical workers, such as gig and portfolio workers and employees with zero-hour contracts.

How is people management integral to employee wellbeing?

Although not one of our top five key trends for the future, employee wellbeing was talked about throughout the hackathon and will be a significant focus as we move through the COVID-19 pandemic. Our People Profession 2020 survey found that wellbeing is currently a top priority for organisations, and people managers have a key role to play here.

Positively, one report from BITC found that close to six in ten employees feel their manager recognises that providing emotional support to their team members is part of their role. This is of utmost importance as we continue to navigate the pandemic. With around four in ten workers saying their mental health has worsened since the onset of the pandemic, we can’t underestimate the long-term impacts on wellbeing.

Managing employee wellbeing and engagement alongside operational demands is no easy task. People managers have a huge role to play in employee experience, and we need to recognise the importance of developing managers and supporting them to thrive.

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