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Meet the New Normal—Same as the Old Normal?


Meet the New Normal—Same as the Old Normal?

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Fourth annual MindEdge/HRCI survey examines “HR, AI, and the New American Workplace”

By Frank Connolly
Director of Communications and Research, MindEdge Learning

Everything old is new again. Well, sort of.

A new survey of Human Resources professionals suggests that, three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, American workplaces are beginning to return to normal. But while this “new normal” looks, in some ways, like the “old normal” that prevailed before 2020, in many ways it is not.

“HR, AI, and the New American Workplace”—the fourth annual joint study conducted by MindEdge Learning in conjunction with the HR Certification Institute—surveyed the attitudes of 1,030 HRCI-certified HR professionals. Among the top findings: American businesses are returning to in-person work and they are performing more HR functions in-person, as well. But remote and hybrid work arrangements are still very much with us, creating new challenges for the HR profession.

What Is “Normal,” Anyway?

As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes into memory, more organizations are embracing a return to in-person work. A majority (55%) of respondents say most employees at their organization are now working in-person, while only 17% say most employees work remotely; another 28% say most workers are on a hybrid schedule.

Last year, in response to a different question, 78% of respondents said their organization had instituted hybrid work schedules for at least some employees. While not directly comparable, this year’s results suggest a significant movement back to in-person work.

In-person work is most common in the Manufacturing (82%) and Healthcare (63%) sectors, and least common in the Technology (24%) sector.

Three-of-five (60%) respondents indicate their workplaces are at least “mostly back to normal.” But perceptions of “normal” are qualified: only 25% of respondents say that “almost everything is like it was before the pandemic,” while the same proportion (25%) report that their organization is fairly different or extremely different from what it was like before the pandemic.

One-of-three (33%) respondents say conditions at their organization are better than before the pandemic, while 16% say conditions are worse. Another 31% say conditions are about the same, and 20% report that they were not at their current organization before COVID-19 hit.

The Rise of AI

With artificial intelligence (AI) taking hold in many American workplaces, HR professionals have yet to figure out how the new technology is likely to affect workers.

While 44% of respondents say that AI represents an opportunity for workers, freeing them up to do more satisfying work, 33% consider AI a threat that could eliminate many jobs. Fully 23% of respondents are still unsure about AI’s effect on American workers—a high proportion that suggests the jury is still out on this key issue.

Regardless of what they think of AI, HR professionals believe that government should do more to regulate the new technology. Fully 73% of survey respondents favor stricter government regulation of AI research, including 29% who strongly favor such a move.

Among respondents who say they follow news about AI closely, a majority (51%) see AI as an opportunity and just 30% see it as a threat. Among those who do not follow the issue closely, a small plurality (38% to 34%) sees AI as more of a threat than an opportunity.

Significantly, survey respondents are much more sanguine about AI’s impact on their own job situations. Fully 62% see AI as an opportunity for them to take on more satisfying work, and only 17% view it as a threat to their own job security. This perception is even stronger among respondents whose organizations are already using AI: 81% of these respondents see AI as a personal opportunity.

Strong Interest in Online Learning and Certificates

The survey also found strong interest among HR professionals in continuous learning—particularly online learning and certificates.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (85%) report that their organization offers continuing learning to employees. Almost as many (79%) say that they, themselves, take courses on specific HR topics outside their general certification.

Four-of-five (80%) respondents say they would be interested in taking online courses to earn a certificate in a specific HR topic outside their general certification. Fully 43% say they would be very interested in taking such online courses.

Respondents are most interested in earning certificates in People Analytics (83% very or fairly interested) and Employment Law (82%). Large majorities also express interest in earning certificates in Compensation (72%) and Benefits (68%).

Remote HR Continues to Pose Challenges

Remote HR is not quite as prevalent as it was a year ago, but many organizations are still performing HR functions remotely. Two-of-five (40%) respondents say their organization conducts HR functions remotely “all” or “most” of the time—down a bit from last year (52%). Another 35% say they practice remote HR some of the time, and only 23% do not perform any HR functions remotely.

With so many organizations conducting HR functions remotely, respondents are experiencing at least some challenges in hiring new talent:

  • 52% indicate that recruiting is harder than before the pandemic, and only 8% say recruiting is easier.
  • 35% say remote onboarding is harder than in-person onboarding, and just 17% say remote onboarding is easier.
  • 30% indicate that remote interviews are less productive than in-person interviews, compared to 24% who say they are more productive.

To download the survey report, click here.

For a complete listing of MindEdge courses offered in conjunction with HRCI, click here.

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