First and foremost, before I peek into my HR crystal ball and make predictions for HR and the world of work at large in 2024 – I want to point out that I am not a betting man. And generally, gambling in the workplace is frowned upon, so don’t put any money on my predictions. No predictions can ever be certain, especially after 2023 turned out to be such an unpredictable year for human resources professionals. But, based on our firm’s experience, anecdotal evidence, and HR news updates, here are some HR trends I think we can expect in 2024.
It seemed like every day I logged into LinkedIn to post some thoughts about HR trends and the world of work, someone new was posting they were laid off. Companies were completing reductions in force in the double-digit percentages, and the green “Open To Work” banners were popping up everywhere. We went from a job market where companies were throwing gobs of money at workers in order to hire them to one where those same workers were being let go in one fell swoop. In researching the reasons for these massive layoffs, the story was the same; companies overhired without strategic workforce planning. They hired in the moment to meet changing consumer behaviors and didn’t evaluate if they could sustain that headcount long-term if customer behaviors changed (which they did) and if there was economic uncertainty (which there was.)
So, in 2024, I anticipate companies will be more intentional in how they hire. Hopefully, they’ve learned their lesson and will only go to market and actively pursue filling a role if they know they have the money to sustain the salary and benefits long-term. I also anticipate companies being more intentional in negotiation and sticking to their guns when it comes to salary. During “Great Resignation” times, companies were bending over backwards, offering indiscriminate signing bonuses to other perks to job seekers in desperation to fill a role. Into 2024, companies will not be as free with their money. They may consider small signing bonuses, but I believe the focus will shift back to annual base salary, benefits, and PTO as a way to entice workers. And in those cases, companies may be open to some wiggle room, but I don’t anticipate employers being as willing to work outside their established salary structures to attract top talent.
This may have a downstream impact on workers, as they may find themselves doing more work with the same pay. As companies become more reticent to fill roles, employees may be taking on more responsibility without a change in status or pay. Companies walk a fine line between being cost-conscious while not burning out their current workforce.
Return to Office Debates
To be completely honest, I never thought on the eve of 2024, we would still be having the return to office (RTO) debate. But this year, we saw a number of companies completely reverse their policies about remote work, forcing a number of their employees to make difficult decisions about their employment. We are talking about people who uprooted their lives and moved far away from their office location, only to have a new CEO come in and mandate in-person work. I doubt the majority of workers in that position made the choice to relocate again only to maintain their employment, especially because there are a number of companies who still support flexible work and give workers the choice of where they want to work.
Into the new year, I still firmly believe that companies that offer remote and hybrid work opportunities are better positioned to attract and retain talent. By offering remote work, employers have greater access to a wider talent pool. By mandating a return to office, companies are limiting their options to a specific geographic area for hiring. And employees who have been productive remotely but are now being required to report to an office five days a week may begin searching for employers who offer remote and hybrid options.
I really believed that some of the changes the pandemic forced on us would stay permanent, but the continuous debate about RTO demonstrates the world of work is at an inflection point. We have an older generation of workers, who generally are the decision-makers, and they are used to reporting to and working from an office. So, when it seemed like the pandemic was behind us, they wanted to go back to the way things were. The newer generation of workers want flexibility and the ability to work from anywhere. There is this natural tension that exists. It requires companies to think about the type of employer they want to be, the type of worker they want to attract, and how they can remain competitive as how we work evolves.
Increased Attempts to Unionize and Strikes From Union Workers
I’m a geriatric millennial and 2023 is probably the year where I was most aware of union workers and attempts to unionize disrupting industries and society as a whole. We saw UPS workers negotiate significant short-term and long-term wage increases and fight for better working conditions in their vehicles. If you are someone who consumes media like I do, you woke up every day hoping the studios would meet the requests of SAG-AFTRA and the WGA as actors and writers fought for their rights and protections. Starbucks employees made headlines in their attempts to unionize, and corporations across the country came under greater scrutiny for how they treat workers and their actions in response to unionization attempts.
These aren’t isolated situations and they didn’t exist in a vacuum. Workforces everywhere saw that workers do have the power to change their working conditions. Moving into the new year, the union movement will continue to gain momentum, and threats to strike and actual strikes will continue to make the headlines.
Rise in AI
Log into any technology tool and social media site, and they are all offering AI enhancements. My Gmail and Outlook accounts want to write my emails for me. LinkedIn is encouraging me to have AI write my posts. I’m loving the Instragram AI background tool. So, it’s no surprise we will continue to see AI influence the work we do and we will continue to debate the ethics of its use.
I was speaking with a colleague about how I see AI influencing recruitment. She was curious to know if I see it impacting recruitment. For example, will job seekers use it for their cover letters or resumes? It would be naive for me to say it isn’t happening already but it will grow in prevalence into 2024. The one challenge here is that I’ve played around with AI tools, and generally, the answers all seem relatively similar. So, if two different people ask ChatGPT to write a cover letter for an accounting firm, there’s a likelihood they will be relatively identical. The hiring manager reviewing those two resumes will find themselves in an interesting conundrum, and will probably learn very quickly that the candidates are using AI as part of their application toolset. It’s up to companies, and specifically, HR to decide how they see AI influencing their work and develop policies and approaches to managing its use in the workplace.
As we’ve navigated a unique year in human resources and the employment landscape as a whole, it’s become increasingly apparent that employees – and how they feel – are critical to company success. A company’s ability to retain its workforce, meet business goals, and maintain a positive reputation is all intrinsically tied to employee experience. And in a world where we are all deeply connected because of technology and social media, how an employee talks about your company has a greater impact on your business. News spreads fast, and LinkedIn was loaded with people pulling no punches when talking about their former employers. And, more and more, the courts seem to be siding in employees in these cases, so if a former worker feels they were treated poorly, and make it known to the public, employers have limited recourse, if any at all.
So, I do foresee employers trying to create workplaces where employees and their experiences are at the center of how they operate. Employers who want to remain competitive and maintain a positive employer brand will take creative and innovative approaches to employee benefits. They will recognize the changes we’ve all experienced in the world of work and make the conscious decision to keep pace with trends, rather than try to shoehorn their workforce back into the way it’s always been done. I hope to see a greater emphasis on leadership teams partnering with human resources to develop actionable core values that help build a strong company culture, which in turn, creates a more positive employee experience. And if employees talk more positively about your company, more people will want to work for you. So, an employee-centric workplace culture is a win-win for everyone involved.
Start the New Year on the Right Foot With an HR Consultant’s Help
So, why not move into 2024 confident in how your company is going to face the anticipated HR trends and associated challenges? The team at Red Clover helps small businesses transform their HR function while working directly with business leaders in scaling the business. Our experience equips us to be a true business partner, and we want to help you enter 2024 confident in your ability to face the year head-on. Ready to go? Reach out and let’s talk!