It’s that time of year when we try and don our Nostradamus hats on, look forward and try and predict what we think will happen in 2018. I can safely say now that England won’t win the World Cup in 2018 but in the ever-changing world of HR, what do I think are the key issues to look out for?

  1. Gig Economy

One of the key cases currently going through the courts is the Uber case. This involves a group of Uber drivers who are claiming that they are not self-employed but are in fact workers. If they win their case, workers, although not employees and do not have the full set of employment rights, do have certain rights like the right to receive minimum age, holidays, sick pay (SSP) etc. This has huge implications, not just for Uber but for others operating in the so-called Gig Economy like Deliveroo, Courier drivers like DPD, Hermes etc who use “self-employed” drivers. By doing so, these companies avoid not only the potential headache of employment rights, but also employment costs. Should Uber lose and after losing the Employment Tribunal and Court of Appeal it is a distinct possibility unless the Supreme Court disagrees with the lower courts decision, the implications for Uber and the whole of the gig economy is potentially huge.

Matthew Taylor was commissioned by the Government to review these new ways of working and has put forward some recommendations. Whether these are taken up by the government and new legislation is put in place is unknown, however with Brexit and because the government doesn’t have a majority, it could be difficult to get anything through parliament. In any case, the Uber case is likely to be decided first and if Uber loses it will be very interesting to see how this effects the gig economy which has been one of the reasons driving the high employment rates in this country.  Watch this space.

  1. Brexit

Impossible to avoid the dreaded B-word in 2018. A lot have people have strong opinions on this subject but whatever you think, there is no doubt that there will be an impact in 2018 and beyond. We have already seen some, with the lower pound feeding into higher inflation ( as an aside, some of us old folk remember inflation in the 20%+ and interest rates at 15% so have to smile at 3% inflation and 0.5% interest rates). The higher inflation is not been matched by wage growth and this is forecast to continue through 2018 and beyond. This has a knock on effect to confidence and economic activity which will start to affect some businesses. It is already been reported that some retailers are having a tough time and as our economy relies so much now on consumer spending and services, we could see more closures or downsizing in 2018.

One of the key drivers of economic growth in recent years has been the availability of labour from the EU especially but not exclusively, in the agricultural, hospitality, retail and health and social care sectors. It will be interesting how Brexit affects this even before we leave the EU and consequently how we in HR deal with that challenge in terms of training, development and recruitment and retention strategies. It will also be interesting to see if this has an impact at all on wage levels. At the moment there is no sign of this but it is a potential consequence of a tighter labour market.

It will also be interesting to see how businesses react to the on-going negotiations in terms of investment and where they put it. Much will depend on what is agreed next year and we should know by this time next year at the latest to give time for parliaments in the EU and the European Parliament to ratify any deal before March 2019. We won’t know what Nissan, Toyota, Ford etc plan to do for many years, but personally, I can’t see them making long-term investments in the UK if there are barriers and tariffs on parts and vehicles between the UK and the EU. It will be a death by 1000 cuts until plants are closed. For other businesses, they will need to know where to put their money and if there is continued uncertainty, it is less likely to be here. This will not help the productivity gap in the UK and will eventually filter through to employment levels.

  1. Health and Well Being

It is very welcome that the health and well being of employees is getting a much higher profile and I expect this to continue in 2018. In particular, how businesses deal with mental health issues which can be difficult and challenging, especially for smaller businesses. Also, as recent as yesterday, there has been publicity and a government initiative to try and get more disabled people into the workplace. Not always easy, but a challenge as HR professionals we should be championing. Do this well and a business can reap the benefits of having a committed workforce.

  1. Tribunal Fees

Earlier on this year, the government lost the argument about the fees it imposed on people if they wanted to make a claim against an employer. The supreme court decided that the fees acted as a barrier to justice and the statistics showing the significant drop in cases being brought to a tribunal since fees were introduced. Speaking with the employment lawyers I know, there is an expectation that the number of claims will increase, although everyone I have spoken to (granted this is not a representative sample) believe that although they expect claims to increase, they don’t believe they will increase to previous levels. However, for HR, it does mean that there is now an increased likelihood that if not handled well or properly, employees who are dismissed are more likely to take a punt and make a claim. Our advice to employers, therefore, has to be good.

On top of this, the recent high profile harassment cases have brought this issue into the public spotlight. It was disappointing, to say the least, to hear an ex-government minister say that what was acceptable 10-15 years ago no longer is. It wasn’t acceptable then and it still isn’t. If this means that women and men feel more confident about coming forward and businesses take this issue seriously then that is a good thing. It does provide challenges for HR but with fees being abolished, it also means that the chances of claims are higher with the cost attached. More importantly, however, businesses large and small must make workplaces safe for everyone and set up a culture that promotes diversity and respect.

  1. Skills and the Apprentice levy

As I’ve said before if the productivity gap is to be closed and the Brexit effect minimised, investment needs to be made by businesses in skills, both hard skills and soft skills. Since the apprentice levy has been introduced, there has been a significant drop in the number of apprenticeships started. The government seems relaxed about this and have said it was something they expected and that numbers will start to increase again. In 2018 we will see if this confidence is well placed. Now is not the time to cut back on skills training and apprenticeships. Again, I’m old enough to remember the short-sighted move in the 80’s which saw apprenticeships diminish to virtually none especially as heavy industry and manufacturing declined. This has left us short of skilled Engineers, craftsmen and office staff. I hope we have learnt our lesson on this.

  1. GDPR

The Data Protection regulations will change in May 2018 and will have an impact on HR Depts and businesses generally of all sizes. Although they are regulations originating in the EU, they will come in and remain in place despite Brexit. HR Depts should be planning now for the new regulations and informing businesses of the implications and they will change the way data is stored and handled.

These are just 6 trends I see for 2018. I am sure there are others and people will have other opinions. I recently went to a show by Mark Thomas where the audience had to predict the future and the one that the audience decided to go with, he would place a bet on and if it came true, the proceeds go to a charity. As you can guess, the predictions were many and varied. The one our audience went for was that To Omelette will become a verb as you boil an egg, you poach an egg, you fry an egg so you will omelette an egg. Get it? It shows that predictions can be many and varied. Which one of the above would you place a bet on?

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