HR Trends – Global & UAE Outlook

HR is experiencing a deluge of innovation and let’s see what’s in store in 2019. Towards the end of 2018, predictions for 2019 on different business areas seem to arrive into our various content feed. This is also true for the HR domain. The thought leaders and contributors share their thoughts on what the world of HR shall be in 2019? We embarked on a similar HR Trends Tour to bring you the top global HR trends and share our thoughts on the HR trends to focus here in the United Arab Emirates.

 Reflecting on 2018

HR has been disrupted in terms of demographic shifts, diverse workforce, process automation, data analytics and even questioning the benefits of performance management. There has been an increase in the adoption of HR automation and HRMS to increase efficiency and empower employees. Organisation workplace has seen transformations in terms of being agile, creating collaboration spaces for real team work. Talent has been the biggest driver for the year and HR technology played a key role in the way companies acquire and manage talent. Social media grew prominence in employer branding and engagement. All in all, HR technology played a pivotal role in 2018 and showed the business leaders the value in investing in technology.

 2019 – Where the worlds at?

HR disruption continues in 2019 as organisations aim to achieve their vision 2020 or 2025. In the midst, organisations are also reactive and responding to social movements such as #metoo and #paygaps. From talent being the focus; the trend is to focus on the employee and get in to the flow of work. Large organisations keep their focus on rightsizing and ensuring aged brands continue to thrive in the future. A revival of sorts.

While the trend in each country differs, our HR Trend tour visited locations where the UAE market draws its inspiration from a best practice point of view. One of the reasons for this is that the UAE market and HR community continues to have strong expat influence in leadership roles and large multinational companies have their headquarters outside the country. This combination brings global trends on to UAE’s doorstep and has a strong impact on the HR community. In this blog, we focus our attention on the 5 common trends from these locations.

Global Trend 1 – Employee Experience

CEO’s and CHRO’s are placing this on the top of their agenda. They understand that a sustainable workplace is the way forward to nurture creativity, innovation and retain talent. Jacob Morgan who wrote a book on the Employee Experience Advantage analysed 250 companies and discovered that companies who invested in employee experience are 4 times more profitable; thus, creating a real source of competitive advantage. Creating a positive employee experience through agile working policies, practices and spaces positively impact on cost particularly on real estate requirements. Studies have shown that by using agile working spaces, the need for office space reduces by 30 %. Similar to customer experience, companies are investing in the employee experience by looking at every single employee touchpoint to create that competitive advantage. Keep in mind that right now there are companies with multi-generational workforce with different work style and motivations.

Global Trend 2 – Wellness

Gallup study shows that in the US; employees work an average of 47 hours a week and staying connected to work during personal time is making it more difficult to switch off. According to Aetna International, 90% of an individual’s health is attributed to their lifestyle, choices and social determinants and only 10% is determined by the healthcare received. Employee burnout and increase in medical costs due to mental illness and stress costs the UK economy billions. According to European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, around half of all European workers report feeling stressed in their place of work, and the issue is responsible for half of the continent’s lost working days. Businesses are looking to tackle this through proactive measures and reducing such risks. Investing in positive employee experience with wholistic wellness solutions is deemed as the key to reducing the healthcare costs and absenteeism, increase productivity and performance. More and more companies prioritise wellness as part of their corporate strategy. Happy and healthy employees result in happy customers and healthy business.

Global Trend 3 – Gig Economy  

This has truly exploded and is here to stay and thrive. The statistics are staggering and has been rising since the recession of 2008. Over 35% of US workers are in the gig economy which is about 55 million. It’s also been said that half of millennials are freelancers in the US. There has been a 25% increase in the non-employer businesses within the UK’s private sector that’s amounts to almost 5 million individuals classified as self-employed. Companies like Upwork have seen billings go up by 200%. Millennials are ditching the 9 to 5 to a more flexible on demand, work life balance approach to life. Older generations are also embracing the gig economy since retirement funds have eroded and their ability to work has also changed. This is a rise of another talent pool and its vital to explore acquisition of this talent pool. Further efforts are needed to manage them, retain them, compensate and create a unique culture in such a fluid environment.

Global Trend 4 – People Analytics

This trend continues in 2019 and the HR world is still trying to mine employee data from diverse data sets. Harvard business review says that the challenge in HR is simply to use data at all. The reason being is that data resides in different and often incompatible databases. Thus compiling, analysing, while complying to regulations confidentiality remains a challenge in 2019. Through wearable devices and internet of things, companies track or measure employee’s activities, hours worked, sleep patterns, etc. It’s also being used in assessments and learning experiences. However, regulations also make it a challenge to move data across borders, GDPR and other legal ramifications make it a challenge for HR to share data. Although great strides have been made thus far but in comparison to the data collected, CEO’s expect CHRO’s to be better equipped with analytics to drive decisions, strategies and the overall business outcomes.

Global Trend 5 – Digital HR

Technology is transforming every aspect of a company and HR is no exception. HR is also being reinvented through digitally elevated HR tools making the HR management experience seamless and highly functional. The modern CHROs are creating roadmaps of change by seizing IT assets and driving consumer like experiences for the employee by digitisation of HR across the employee life cycle. Organisations are looking to be more agile and creating new structures and ways of work. Technology such as Software as a Service (Saas), cloud solutions, artificial intelligence, chatbots, virtual reality are all harnessed by HR to create the seamless experience. Consolidation of HRMS systems into one integrated system has also reduced costs and maintenance requirements significantly. HR can stay lean, decentralised and empower managers and employees to manage their HR footprint independently whilst still conforming to the culture and policies of the organisation. Digital disruption shall be a strong trend for 2019 giving HR teams the ability to do more with less resources.

2019 HR Trends – UAE

It’s an exciting time to be in the field of HR in the UAE as the country is driving transformation to support their vision of 2021As a global melting pot with the 10th largest expat population in the world, UAE is a showcase of success of diversity, tolerance and inclusion. More than 200 nationalities live and work in the UAE harmoniously; a true mirror of a diverse workforce driving prosperity. The city of Dubai is a huge tourism magnet; as established with the Dubai Airport welcoming its billionth passenger in December 2018. Abu Dhabi too announced a 50 billion dirhams stimulus package mapped over a three-year initiative on four pillars, namely, business and investment, society, knowledge and innovation and lifestyle. The expo 2020 is also making its mark and challenging norms and practices. The UAE government and the private sector have always created trends in their own way with a regional flavour. Let’s take a look at the trends to consider for the year 2019.


UAE HR Trend 1 – Digital HR

Year on year, Deloitte has placed digital HR as one of the key trends for the region. This year is no exception. The government sector is embracing HR technologies to empower employees and prepare them for the challenges of the future. In the banking world, the CEO of Mashreq reminded all when they celebrated 50-year anniversary by saying that what got Mashreq here will not be the same as what will help us remain a pioneer in the next 50 years. They are now working on agile transformation throughout their operations to be more flexible, collaborative in a fast-changing environment. SME sector is also looking towards digital HR solutions to move to an integrated digital platform supported with mobile apps, cloud technology and other readily available and easy to implement solutions. Their strategy is to do more with less and going digital will certainly help in maintaining a lean and responsive HR. This trend is also validated as SHRM (world’s largest HR Professional Society) in partnership with Kinect 365 (Organisers of Middle East HR Summit & Expo) is organising the first ever SHRM conference in UAE dedicated to HR technology in February 2019. They believe the region is ready for a technological shift as the talent trends challenges HR to modernise and stay current.

UAE HR Trend 2 – Artificial Intelligence

We have a UAE strategy of for Artificial Intelligence, the first in the world and HR departments of government sectors will play a pivotal role in driving this change. There will be a growing use of app- based capabilities, auto generated information and use of virtual support for repetitive transactions and much more. For the private sector, there may be changes in terms of government transactions of visas and work permits. The way to engage with employees (internal customers) will slowly change as chatbots take over management of standard HR queries and help desk support. The deployment of artificial intelligence will affect the way we work and live in 2019. It’s an exciting wait, watch and enjoy game.

UAE HR Trend 3 – Gig Economy

The UAE employment landscape does not naturally lend itself to such flexible working models. However, there are some experts that estimate more than 100,000 freelancers operate as freelancers either as solopreneurs or licensed freelancers. With private sector being more and more conscious of spending and increasing headcount, this is a trend that is poised to grow hopefully with the support of legislative change in 2019. Many freezones are leading the change by offering freelance permits in support of individuals with expertise in their domain. Emaar has just launched a development with home office and licenses.

UAE HR Trend 4 – HR Analytics

This is a trend of huge potential, but capability of systems and team skills hinder the full use of analytics, according to a CIPD research. There is a desire to build this capability and investment in HR teams are being evaluated. Hence in 2019 we expect to see significant gains in this area when organisations look to technology to help map their data and HR processes. The key is to harness integrated and single HRMS systems to create meaningful and compatible data that can be easily be accessed and analysed to facilitate business leaders and C-suite to influence business outcomes. With first generation corporates, there is an opportunity to emerge as a leader by building their analytical capability in an agile way without having to address legacy systems.

Final Thoughts

The world is truly global, and the trends certainly demonstrate that. Majority of the trends are technology driven. That in itself is a trend of its own. With over $14 billion investment in HR tech last year (SHRM), we are witnessing the beginning if a new era. The digital HR era. The main challenge still lies in selecting and implementing the right systems, platforms and other tools where the end user is in the center of it. Let’s not be misled by the term of end user; in the sense that the user just appears at the end. Working with all stakeholders, effective change management as well as integrating to other enterprise systems are all also key to generate short- and long-term return on investment.

In the UAE; over the years, there is a positive trend with companies investing in HR capability, technology and automation and benefiting from the results of such investment. HR in the UAE could make a step change through systemic adoption of new technology just like the leaders have done for the country.

Elrona DSouza- SHRM- SCP

Director – HR Consulting


Elrona DSouza is a certified senior HR professional with 18 years’ experience working and consulting in people practices across multiple industries, predominantly in oil and gas, aviation, technology, insurance and financial sectors.