Think the job of an HR professional is easy? Think again. Our workplaces are in a constant state of evolution, so HR specialists must learn to be flexible and adapt. The workforce, its wants and needs, is also changing and they must know how to properly address them.

With this in mind, let’s look at the challenges you, as an HR professional, are about to face this year, as predicted by industry experts from around the world.

Leadership will be a top priority

According to the renowned HR experts at Bersin by Deloitte, leadership will be among the biggest concerns for companies this year. As part of their research on human capital trends (cited Predictions for 2014), they found that 60% of companies worldwide are experiencing “leadership gaps”. Another study, conducted by ORC International, found that 34% of HR professionals in the UK believe the biggest skill gaps are found among managers. The problem is further aggravated by the fact that a large segment of the Baby Boomers generation is expected to retire this year.

The CEO Challenge 2014, surveying top management professionals from more than a thousand companies worldwide, seems to confirm that leadership, indeed, is among the most pressing issues for employers this year. So what skills are necessary to tackle the challenge? As part of the same survey, CEO cited integrity as the most important skill, followed by “leading change, managing complexity, an entrepreneurial mindset and the ability to retain and develop talent.”

Retention is once again very important

In the years following the Great Recession of 2008, companies were more concerned with restructuring and optimizing costs. As the global economy is slowly emerging from the recession, the focus is once again shifting toward retaining talent. Demand for highly skilled workers is growing and competition for them is fierce, so those looking for work can afford to be a lot more picky.

And what does it take to retain talent? While this is a very broad topic, I will cite a CareerBuilder study from last year. Here are some of their main findings

  • 70% of workers said they would stay at their old job if their salary increased
  • 58% would be persuaded to do so by better benefits
  • 51% point to a flexible schedule as something that will retain them
  • 50% of respondents said they would keep their current job if they received more recognition in the form of awards, cash prizes, etc.

As for those employees who are planning to leave in 2014, CareerBuilder’s new survey will give you an understanding of their reasons:

  • 45% cite dissatisfaction with work/life balance
  • 39% think they are overqualified for their job
  • 39% want to change jobs because of too much stress
  • 39% think their boss’s performance is unsatisfactory
  • 37% felt they deserved to be promoted, but were overlooked
  • 28% are unhappy because they didn’t receive any pay increase last year.

Of course, if you suspect an employee is unhappy and planning to leave, it’s best not to assume, but talk to them and find out their reasons.

Talent acquisition methods will become more sophisticated

A natural consequence of competition over hiring skilled workers is that talent acquisition methods need to be refined in order to be more successful.

A 2013 survey on recruiting trends found that 82% of UK employers believe that the employer brand can positively impact attracting talented workers. According to Bersin by Deloitte, companies “need to build a globalized, integrated employment brand” and take their “entire employee value proposition seriously”. This is highly important because the rise of mobile technologies has made it very easy for anyone at your company to post information about its practices in social media and the Internet.

Another highly efficient approach is for recruiters to “manage talent networks, and implement candidate relationship marketing” targeted at “candidates at all levels of the career pyramid,” because this will later translate into better hiring opportunities.

Are there other ways to leverage talent acquisition efforts? Big Data tools and metrics are constantly improving, allowing HR professionals to target candidates with specific experience and skill sets. Here are some of the bigger solution providers cited in Bersin by Deloitte’s report: LinkedIn, Gild, TalentBin, Identified, Evolve and Burning Glass Technologies.

Finally, don’t forget about the rising power of mobile recruitment. A new survey found that 66% of UK employers have missed opportunities to hire highly skilled talent because their job application process was not mobile optimized.

Employee engagement has to improve

Another issue point, which is closely related to improved retention, is employee engagement. Much as been said about it in the industry literature, but the fact remains that HR professionals still haven’t pinned down the magic formula. A CIPD survey from 2013 shows that only about a third (37%) of UK employees are engaged in their work.

The lack of employee engagement is not an issue you can take lightly. A meta-analysis gathering information from 192 organisations in 34 countries shows that low employee engagement can negatively affect key performance outcomes such as absenteeism, turnover, workplace incidents, productivity, etc.

According to CIPD, low employee engagement is a direct sign for problems with internal communication. Thus, your first step should be improving both bottom-up and top-down communication channels. For more ideas, read these 5 tips on improving employee engagement.

Performance management needs renovation

According to the Predictions for 2014 report, many companies report problems with their performance management. While being able to assess everybody’s performance in reliable metrics is important, the tools being used seem to be of little or no value. Furthermore, the current method of appraisal can harbor a hostile environment and contribute to unhealthy forms of competition between workers.

The report suggests that the first step to remedy the situation would be to improve recruitment, so that low-performing employees have a smaller chance of getting hired. As for those who are already hired, HR professionals shouldn’t look for ways to kick them out, but rather to work on their development.

The same attitude should be adopted towards the rest of the employees. Instead of the pitting them against each other on the basis of metrics, a softer approach of coaching should be adopted – one which emphasizes their strengths and works to improve their weaknesses. A company should be a place where employees are allowed to unfold their potential.

To achieve this goal, efficient communication (in the form of regular and effective feedback) is a must. And we come full circle to once more reiterate the need to work on leadership skills.

This is an overview of some of the main challenges HR professionals can expect in the year ahead. Based on your experience in the field of HR, can you share some other predictions? We’d love to see your opinion in the comment section below.

Oh, and I forgot to say, if all the challenges start seeming too overwhelming, don’t forget you are getting a 10% raise.

Written by Lachezar Stamatov
Lachezar Stamatov is a recent Psychology graduate with interests spanning across various fields – health, food, technology, human relations, you name it. He loves blogging about HR practices and management, and he regularly contributes for the Off Limits blog.