HR Disrupters in 2019: A Mid-Term Report

7/25/19

The first two weeks in January of this year I made my top 10 predictions for HR disrupters in 2019.  As people get back to work from the 4th of July weekend here in the U.S., I thought I’d take a look how I've done a little over halfway through.  

Let me know what you think!
   
1. Leaders behaving badly: I said, “Expect an increase in the number of issues and contagion across borders. 'Hoping and responding' won't work—it’s time to change behaviors.”
 
This was an easy pick, given #MeToo, #GoogleWalkout, and “a strange year at Uber” hitting the headlines in 2018.  Employees drawing attention on social media to leadership behaviors—whether harassment or generally bullying—has continued.  Senior executives in companies like Snap Inc., Wall Street’s TCW, and Monster made the news in the ongoing drive to change leadership behaviors.  Still, there is much to do.

2. Made in Mexico—Margarita cocktails available in red, white and pink: I said, “2019 will see new laws on trade union recognition and collective bargaining in Mexico put an end to the country’s unique employment laws that have led to the proliferation of so called 'white unions' and 'protection contracts'.” 
 
New Laws were passed on exactly the day I predicted—the 2nd of May.  The games in Mexico have commenced in urgency. White unions are fighting for their life, red unions are targeting companies to achieve the 30% approval rate required to secure bargaining rights, and Susana Prieto has followed her success in the mass 20/32 strikes in Matamoros with the formation of the new “Manufacturing Industry 20/32” union.  The laws are in place, but the institutions required to police them are not.  “Manana,” I guess.  Companies in Mexico are still under-thinking this.

3. Trade wars will hit US employers in China: I said: “As we watch the escalating 'tit for tat' tariff war of words and actions, U.S. employers should get prepared for a rockier road in their Chinese businesses.”
 
We have all seen the escalation of tariffs—the current pause is to be welcomed, but I predict may be short-lived.  Meanwhile, just a month ago, the American Chamber of Commerce in China (AMCHAM) reported that “Three-quarters of American companies and four out of five manufacturers operating in China are feeling the impact of 'tit-for-tat' tariffs."  Their survey data looks like the below—if you don’t recognize the data, maybe it’s time to talk to the folks on the ground.


4. Brexit—home thoughts from abroad: I said, “There are a few weeks for common sense to break out—but don’t hold your breath.”
 
Well, we all got to breathe again.  A prime minister lost her job and Boris Johnson will probably step in and “solve it all over a cup of tea in Brussels”—and before Halloween.  But will it be “Trick... or Treat”?  For sure it will be a “trick”—but will it be one that leaves the UK in Europe.  Nevertheless, HR folks still need to get to grips fast with data protection, work visas, and European Works Councils—just in case stupidity prevails.     

5. A new kind of data breach: I said, “I think [a big employee data breach] is well overdue, and 2019 will see a new 'poster child' for employee data security."
 
I still haven’t seen “the big one”—but we have six more months to go.

6. Employment and the internal combustion engine: I said, “Companies will have to invest in retraining and relocation at a rate and pace never seen before—and resist the temptation to pay severance and move on.” 
 
If my conversations with major clients in the U.S. and Europe—and digital feedback on my blog—can be regarded as evidence, then the “from replacement to renewal” agenda is catching fire.  My prediction: even more of the same. It's time to fix a broken and wasteful system.  If this is not on your forward agenda, maybe it should be.

7. Employee Activism and modern forms of protest: I said, “ Strikes are 'out'—but modern protests are definitely 'in.'”
 
Well I certainly under-cooked this one.  Not only have we seen the continuation of what I’ve started to call “pop up protests”—the employee relations equivalent of "pop up" stores that open and close quickly selling a particular product and without long-term infrastructure.  This is industrial action without the need for formal organizations, membership cards, and fees.  It’s also cheap and fun.  This year we’ve seen employee social media challenges not just on working conditions, but also on the products and services companies sell, who they sell them to, and political stances of their bosses.  The latest in a stream of cases is Wayfair employees opposing the sale of furniture to U.S. facilities on the Mexican border.  If you haven’t yet, read my blog on ethics and e-mocracy for some do’s and don’t’s.

8. Offshoring hits the buffers: I said, “New nationalism [and IA] has started to put the brakes on the massive offshoring of manufacturing and services that took place in the 25 years between 1990 and 2015.” 
 
Just as Prime Minister Modi’s BJP party won a landslide election victory, unemployment in India ticked up to worrying levels given the country’s reliance on job creation to reduce poverty levels.  The job losses experienced in 2018 and the associated publicity of 2018 has stabilized, and graduate recruitment looks healthy for 2019.  I’m still predicting this as an issue as the year goes on and those graduate hires are absorbed into the productive workforce.  In the last two weeks, Chinese manufacturing production has gone down as the tariffs start to hit.  The good news for Western Europe and the U.S. is that work may be coming back home—the question is, are the jobs coming with it?

9. Wages and hours in many flavors—none of them good: I said, “The experience of those countries (like in the EU) that sought to modernize working time rules resulted in a mess. That didn’t matter so much when no one complained.  But a series of new trends is emerging.”
 
The wages and hours issue is still very much top of the agenda in the countries predicted—India, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Korea, and the U.S.  I hit the jackpot on this one when the European Court of Justice found that employers had to measure the actual working time of virtually every employee in the EU.  We now await how every country will implement laws to comply with this judgment.  This confirms my belief that the next time a judge enters a modern workplace (or probably any workplace) will be the first.  Unless countries and companies ignore this, it will not go well.
 
10. Populism goes left?  I said, “We’ve seen recent populist victories in elections in the U.S., Brazil, Italy, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Mexico.  The Brexit referendum is another example of populism at the ballot box—and may yet lead to a new government in the UK.”
 
Although the UK has gotten a new prime minister in Boris Johnson—and may get a new government—I got a word wrong here.  I should have talked about the continued surge of nationalism.  In the world’s biggest democracy, Prime Minister Modi took a landslide victory not on the basis of economics, but on Indian nationalism. 

Self-assessment and ratings-free appraisals may be the norm today—but go “old school” and give me your views