2012 HR Trends Report

By Ian J. Cook, CHRP

The results of the 2012 HR Trends Survey shows strong similarities to those of the 2011 Trends Survey, demonstrating continued economic optimism with 22% of organizations expecting no change in revenue and 54% expecting a slight to significant increase.

At the same time, organizations are continuing to make adjustments to operate in an environment characterized by the need to adapt and be responsive to economic uncertainty with 26% of HR departments adding organizational restructuring to their areas of responsibility within the last 12 months – making this the most common addition to an HR function’s scope.

While organizations shift and make structural changes to help drive the revenue that they are projecting, they also see a need to ensure that the right people are in the right roles now and in the future, and they recognize that challenges exist with regard to this requirement.

HR Priorities: 2012
In the next 12 months, managing change will be a key area for HR as will increasing leadership capability. Leadership capability will be an area of focus critical to setting a strategic vision and executing a strategy that will continue to support business growth in the fast paced and ever changing reality in which organizations do business. Top priorities will also include a focus on staffing for present and future needs, managing performance, and building engagement. For the public sector, negotiating collective agreements will surpass all of these to be the top priority.

HR Investments: 2012
At the top of the list of HR areas that will see the largest increase in spending or time during 2012 is recruitment and selection (16%). A wise investment given that 48% of organizations are seeking to grow their workforce in 2012 – a further indication of a positive outlook for the economy.


Leadership development (11%), labour relations (10%), performance management (9%), and learning and development (8%), followed by engagement and succession were also among the priority areas for time and / or financial investments in 2012. These areas reflect those areas of concern for HR both now and in response to long term trends of concern such as the aging workforce and the gap between required and existing skills.

Commentary further stressed that organizations are moving to prioritize areas such as succession planning and workforce planning; optimizing recruitment practices and identifying new recruitment methods; and retention and development.

Critical to ensuring HR’s success in driving these areas of focus and / or change is to be resourced appropriately from a financial, staffing, and leadership support perspective. HR budgets are increasing in 30% of responding organizations, remaining stable in 40% and declining in 17%. Overall this represents budget stability and some optimism. That being said, it should be noted that when the data is analyzed by sector, the decline should be noted to be 25% in the public sector, and concern regarding reduced operating budget is of note for this particular group.


HR is aware of the need to build skills within themselves and their department. Of keen focus are skills related to recruitment and selection, effective onboarding, measuring and managing performance, facilitating learning and development (coaching, mentoring, facilitating, etc.), communicating effectively (including having difficult conversations), and understanding the business and managing change. The later will be of particular importance as HR will take on its priorities for 2012 while undergoing change themselves (65% of HR functions have changed in the last 12 months and / or are preparing to change in the next 12 months).

In 2012 HR has the opportunity to demonstrate change leadership and play a critical role in successfully supporting people in the business to understand their new realities, their performance requirements and their own performance, to be engaged, to learn new skills and close skill gaps, work with others in new ways, and support business growth.

A global citizen, Ian J. Cook, MA, MBA, CHRP (ijcook@bchrma.org) has chosen to make his home in Vancouver where he heads the growth of BC HRMA’s research and learning services.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Jan OBrien says:

    Of the changes from year to year, which are statistically significant?

    • Ian Cook says:

      Hi Jan

      Thanks for the question.
      The trends survey is delivered to the same group of people every year and our participation rate is high approximately 1000 out of 4500 people. This means that when we are comparing one year to the next the affect of chance is limited.

      Calculating the statistical significance or variation due to chance is different for each question. However, on average, across the whole survey anything that varies by more or less than 2% should be considered “significant” or not solely based on chance.

      For example with regard to budget changes the drop from 23% expecting a reduction in 2010 to only 15% expecting a reduction in 2011 is not likely influenced by chance. This makes it statistically significant. The increase to 17% in 2012 should be considered as the same or a similar result to 2011 as it is within the plus or minus 2% range.Hence it could be due solely to chance.

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