5 positive HR trends for 2017

Let's not kid ourselves: 2016 was a difficult year. HR departments faced tangled legal regulations, harassment charges and widening skill gaps, among other issues.

The solutions to these problems weren't always readily available, but the people and organizations who made progress deserve to be highlighted. In celebration of the new year, we've compiled a list of trends that we believe will shape 2017.

Better benefits for new parents

We predicted last spring that 2016 would be the tipping point for paid parental leave. In many ways that turned out to be accurate, with notable gains made in the way of giving new mothers and fathers proper time to process both births and adoptions.

Employers like Patagonia made headlines for incorporating family time into the workplace long after the addition of new arrivals. The company has been lauded for its on-site child care program. Chobani brought paid leave benefits to a segment of working parents who generally would not have seen such perks in the past.

Expect more organizations to recognize the value of supporting workers' families by offering more paid time off, fertility benefits and other random perks (like paid dinner delivery).

Employers made progress with LGBT, diversity initiatives

The Human Rights Campaign reported in its annual Corporate Equality Index that more top employers in the US support LGBT inclusivity than ever before. The group gave 100% ratings to a record 517 businesses, many of them Fortune 500 companies.

LGBT employees also have access to more favorable benefits in most states, with a number of cities covering the costs of hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery incurred by municipal employees. On the legal front, a group of former Walmart employees won settlement on a class action suit over benefits denied to them because they were in same-sex marriages.

Employers enter 2017 with a measure of optimism and anxiety around this issue, however. Diversity both in hiring and in the workplace continue to remain a challenge, and the industry is still waiting for the results of a landmark Title VII case to update LGBT workers' protections.

Minimum wage increases and pay gap measures

Income inequality was a central theme of the 2016 Presidential election. The extensive gap between most workers and top-earning executives still remains, but a few municipalities began to respond to this trend by tackling CEO pay, instituting new policies to spread the wealth within their organizations.

Minimum wage increases spiked this year as well. The Fight for 15 movement gained ground in a number of new states, capping its efforts off with a victory for airport workers in the New York/New Jersey area. And thanks to the results of local ballot initiatives, four states approved minimum wage increases.

A new administration leaves sufficient room for doubt about fighting the wage gap at the federal level, but experts don't believe President-elect Donald Trump has decided against increasing the minimum wage once and for all.

The rise of eLearning, flexible organizational training and mentorship programs

In the realm of corporate learning, LinkedIn's headline acquisition of Lynda.com cemented the future growth of video learning as a pioneering HR technology. Employees have already established in multiple studies that they want access to training that is available across platforms and devices, and they want to go to training modules on their time schedule.

Companies also experimented with mentorship programs, apprenticeships and MOOCs. And beyond routine corporate training, employees from multiple age groups are asking their employers to provide financial guidance and tech tools to prepare for retirement.

Increased attention to mental health/wellness, inclusion of mental health benefits

The evidence is clear: Supporting employees' mental health has a positive ROI and can significantly improve employee productivity. In 2016, industry observers recognized the importance of conditions like depression and anxiety disorders, charging HR departments to do more to help affected employees.

In conjunction with these developments, the Labor Dept. stepped up compliance checks to ensure employees aren't skipping out on maintaining equal treatment of mental health problems compared to other conditions.

Employers can and should do more to break down societal stigma surrounding mental health issues in 2017. Experts suggest encouraging openness and awareness through personalized healthcare platforms as one of many solutions seeing success.

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Filed Under: HR Management Comp & Benefits Legal