Employee engagement, retention, and culture. Those are the biggest issues facing American employers today, according to the just-released Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2015: Leading in the New World of Work; one of the largest-ever studies of talent trends ever undertaken.

The study includes research from over 3,300 companies representing 106 countries around the world. One thing most of those employers have in common? The struggle to adapt to this new world of work, where employees have more power in the job market than ever before, and demand more of their workplace.

A New World of Work

  • In this new world of work, according to the study, "the barriers between work and life have been all but eliminated. Employees are 'always on;' hyper-connected to their jobs through pervasive mobile technology."
  • Networking tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Glassdoor enable people to easily monitor the market for new job opportunities. 
  • Details about an organization’s culture are available at the tap of a screen, providing insights about companies to employees and potential employees alike. 
  • The balance of power in the employer-employee relationship has shifted—making today’s employees more like customers or partners than subordinates. 
  • Many of today’s employees work in global teams that operate on a 24/7 basis. 
  • An increasing number of skilled workers in this new world work on a contingent, part-time, or contract basis, so organizations must now work to integrate them into talent programs. 
  • New cognitive technologies are displacing workers and reengineering work, forcing companies to redesign jobs to incorporate new technology solutions. 
  • And more people, millennials particularly, are looking for meaning in their work, for the chance to grow and develop, and to work for a company with mission and purpose.
  • And they want greater flexibility in how that work is done.

All of these things have tremendous implications for human resources of course. 

The study says "this new world requires bold and innovative thinking. It challenges our existing people practices: how we evaluate and manage people and how we engage and develop teams; how we select leaders and how they operate."  

A Disconnect

But there is a disconnect, a gap, in terms of the working environment many employers are apparently providing. 

This is evidenced by the finding that 87% of the companies participating in the study cite employee engagement and retention a “high priority problem,” while 50% rate it “urgent.”

Yet, company readiness to deal with this issue has dropped by 43% year over year according to the report, and today approximately half the companies surveyed believe they are “unable to drive the desired culture in their organizations.”

Leadership is also a critical issue, again particularly among Millennials. 

Only 6% of companies surveyed said they feel fully ready to address their leadership issues, only 10% feel comfortable with their succession program, and only 7% said they have strong programs to build Millennial leaders.

Maybe that's why a big issue cited in the study is the need for HR itself to "reskill itself." 

Both HR and business leaders, on average, rated HR’s performance as low; furthermore, business leaders rated HR’s performance 20% lower than did HR leaders.

The study says this shows "how important it is to accelerate HR’s ability to deliver value, particularly as the economy improves."

Workforce On Demand 

In what will come as no surprise - and good news - to staffing pros, eight out of 10 respondents surveyed cited workforce capability as being either “important” or “very important” in the year ahead, indicating the demand for
skills that is driving a trend toward greater use of hourly, contingent, and contract workers. 

Researchers estimate that as many as 30% to 40% of all US workers today are contingent, and 51% of respondents in the survey report that their need for contingent workers will continue to grow over the next three to five years.

Typically, the need for such talent was considered to be a procurement problem, the study says, managed through vendor contracts and external staffing firms. 

Yet as these types of workers become more important, HR should now consider them an integral part of the workforce. It’s time for HR to consider all workers in its talent strategy, regardless of their contingent or full-time status, the report states. 

In conclusion, Deloitte says 2015 will be a critical year for HR and talent teams.

"As these forces gather momentum, we see 2015 as a time for creativity, bold leadership, and a fundamental reimagining of the practices HR leaders have used for years."