Employers have faced endless human resource management challenges in recent years, and each year seems to bring more than the last. This year is no different, with the continuation of many HR challenges from last year and several new ones.
Dive into some of the biggest future trends and challenges in HR management, and discover the opportunities that lie ahead for HR leaders in 2024.
Reimagining wellbeing as a work practice, not a perk
Employees have let employers know that they aren’t happy through their actions, such as quiet quitting and social media posts about their jobs.
One of the main issues contributing to employee burnout is the feeling of being mistreated, underappreciated, and lacking proper development. Similarly, employees don’t like being forced back into the office without the choice of remote or hybrid work arrangements.
Workplace wellness programs do little to help, one study finds, noting that such programs, including resilience and stress management training, aren’t effective and can even have a negative impact. “If employees do want access to mindfulness apps and sleep programs and well-being apps, there is not anything wrong with that,” says Dr. William J. Fleming, the author of the study and a fellow at Oxford University’s Wellbeing Research Center. “But if you’re seriously trying to drive employees’ well-being, then it has to be about working practices.”
To truly address employee burnout, HR leaders need to examine the work environment and consider whether it empowers and enables employees. Are you providing a sense of autonomy and responsibility, along with a strong support system for getting work done?
Employee wellness is often tied to purpose and motivation. “If employees cannot understand or see their work’s tangible impact on the organization’s overall goal, their motivation will wane,” wrote Betterworks CEO Doug Dennerline in an article for HR.com.
Employees need to feel supported in their career growth, too. “Failing to connect with employees around skills, career growth, and development opportunities can take its toll over time by demotivating people and making them feel stuck in their roles,” Dennerline wrote.
Managing the debate over remote, hybrid, and in-office work
Many employees want to be consulted about their work preferences, especially when they’re trying to attend to life needs, such as caring for children or older relatives. Employees want flexibility, not a one-size-fits-all work policy. And when they can’t find this flexibility domestically, more U.S. employees are seeking remote work with foreign employers. According to Deel’s 2023 State of Global Hiring report, the share of U.S. workers hired by international companies grew 62% in 2023.
To attract and retain talent in this environment, HR teams need to emphasize flexibility, including remote and hybrid policies. Clarify which roles require in-person attendance, and how often. By focusing policy on roles and outcomes, rather than physical presence in an office, HR can make fair, defensible decisions related to who works where and when.
Rethinking the employee value proposition
Work has fundamentally changed, and so have worker expectations. They still want competitive pay, strong benefits packages, and training and development, but that’s not enough.
Since the pandemic, employees have been rethinking what work means to them. This means HR needs to rethink talent acquisition. People increasingly expect a holistic value proposition encompassing career growth, skills development, inclusion, belonging, fairness, trust, authenticity, purpose, a supportive company culture, and wellness.
Your employee value proposition must also account for changing worker needs and expectations. Younger employees, for example, are more likely to expect from the workplace high connection, more transparency, work-life balance, and relationships that matter. The challenge facing HR managers is to deliver an experience that provides value across a spectrum of employee needs.
Develop an agile approach to organizational culture. Use surveys, interviews, and focus groups to learn what your workforce needs. Be open to changing culture, processes, and norms to help employees remain engaged and working at their best.
Managing many generations at work
Managing generational diversity continues to be a challenge for HR departments in 2024. There are distinct trends suggesting what different generations want from work, even as we shouldn’t make blanket assumptions based on age.
“Generations are never a guarantee of behavior, but they’re a clue that can help us understand people’s shared experiences and likely expectations,” said Lindsey Pollak, author of “The Remix: How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace” and People Fundamentals webinar speaker.
Look to take actions that align generations across shared expectations. Although Gen Z employees tend to be more vocal about their expectations, for example, what they want from work isn’t remarkably different from what employees of all ages want.
Research finds that most employees across generations want meaningful work, real connection with colleagues, and a sense of purpose. These priorities can help you isolate what each of these elements means to your workforce specifically.
Strengthening managers and their relationships
Fostering manager-employee relationships remains a critical HR focus. These relationships power the modern workplace and are especially important for hybrid and remote employees. HR professionals must provide managers with intentional support, training, and tools. This requires putting more emphasis on the soft skills that comprise emotional intelligence, such as listening, empathy, and communication, as these remain essential components of human-centered leadership
Unfortunately, research from RedThread Research shows a decline in organizational support for managers, with many left to figure things out by themselves. In 2024, HR must reverse this trend, supporting managers in coaching employees for growth and career advancement.
A clear priority for HR is improving communication and expectation-setting with managers. Emphasize the importance of building relationships with employees through frequent check-ins and feedback. Train managers to interpret business goals for their teams, which helps each worker understand their purpose within the organization. Reward managers for building strong teams and reinforcing the company’s culture and values.
Beyond communication and training, managers also need help managing their workloads so they can prioritize time for building employee relationships. According to Gartner, the average manager has 51% more responsibilities than they can effectively handle. Rethink the managerial role and seek ways to reduce or eliminate low-value activities. Look to help managers prioritize their responsibilities, including how they can apply artificial intelligence in the flow of work.
For instance, intelligent performance management software, like Betterworks, can generate end-of-year performance review feedback based on data that managers and co-workers input throughout the year and that the manager can then review and adjust if needed. In this way, generative AI can reduce manual labor and contribute to data-driven results that are more fair to employees.
Refocusing on outcomes: productivity vs. activity
In 2024, HR leaders need to rethink performance metrics and distinguish between productivity that yields desired outcomes and activity. Not every work task is equally valuable, and PwC’s annual CEO survey reveals that 40% of CEOs view time spent on routine tasks as inefficient. Meanwhile, 60% of these CEOs view generative AI as creating efficiency.
The HR planning process should look to refocus workloads to prioritize outcomes and value-adding activities that support strategic business needs. For example, consider an employee tasked with two projects, each 20 hours in length. One is identified as critical to a strategic business goal, and the other is lower-value work. It’s clear which should be prioritized as part of the HR planning process.
When your primary focus is on achieving work outcomes, it’s easier to gain clarity around processes. Performance management shifts to performance enablement. Instead of managing employee tasks, managers assess performance based on agreed-upon metrics.
Frequent conversations help managers discover roadblocks to performance or whether employees are stuck in low-value work. If an employee is struggling with a task, managers can quickly diagnose and address such issues rather than letting the situation fester and bring down productivity.
Ongoing conversations also allow managers to determine whether an employee’s goals are driving the right strategic outcomes. The goals might need to evolve along with the business strategy.
Leveraging AI for greater efficiency and productivity
One of the top ways businesses will drive efficiency in 2024 is through greater adoption of AI-driven tools. According to a recent Betterworks report, 47% of employees believe that generative AI will help make their jobs easier and improve efficiency.
AI will “profoundly change the way that people work and the way that they innovate,” said Betterworks CEO Doug Dennerline during a People Fundamentals webinar session. Many employees are already using AI tools to support a variety of work, including strategic tasks, creative brainstorming, and technical work according to a recent study on generative AI in the workforce commissioned by Betterworks.
As HR leaders, you can help define your organization’s strategic use of AI. “Work with your leadership to come up with your own language around how you’re going to use AI, how you talk about it externally, how you’re going to protect people that use it,” Doug said. “And have models for what your expectations are for when people interact with it.”
Building skills for an AI-enabled world
The half-life of skills continues to shrink because of technology. The hard skills we learn today are likely to become outmoded within five years — and even less in some industries. In this fast-paced environment, upskilling isn’t enough: you need to reskill your entire workforce.
Reskilling initiatives are more than employee training. They require cultivating a workplace environment with the right mindset and behaviors from employees and managers. Ultimately, reskilling should be treated as a change management project.
Keeping the workforce relevant is important for employee retention. Workers without access to robust reskilling programs will worry about becoming obsolete and losing their jobs not just to technology, but also to better-skilled humans. “The greatest worry shouldn’t be about AI replacing people, but people without AI skills being replaced by people with them,” Doug said.
Emphasize the human elements of work that AI can’t replace. For instance, introduce AI-related projects and tasks that align with employees’ existing roles and responsibilities. This allows employees to apply new skills in the flow of work.
Keeping DEI top of mind
When circumstances get tough, companies are quick to pull back support for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. Companies might reduce DEI budgets, deemphasize corporate communication, and give less attention to it in the C-suite.
DEI practitioners, particularly those well-versed in navigating this cycle, are revisiting their strategies to safeguard the progress they’ve made. Even as they continue making the business case and preserving the progress made, they must continue to make the human case for DEI, too. This requires embedding DEI practices throughout the employee experience.
Companies with inclusive cultures will attract and keep top employees, encourage innovation, appeal to customers, and increase profit in the long run. According to McKinsey, diverse and inclusive corporations are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors, while diverse management teams can lead to a 19% increase in revenue says a study by Boston Consulting Group.
Investing in data-driven decision-making
The abundance of HR data has transformed HR from an administrative role to a strategic partner, allowing for data-driven decisions on talent management, workforce planning, and organizational performance. HR leaders who embrace AI tools and analytics can use all sorts of workplace data to make intelligent decisions that drive business success.
The wealth of data highlights the need to organize and prioritize this data in a single system. HR will need to become comfortable working with data — understanding what data exists in the organization, the metrics it needs to evaluate to address organizational goals, and cross-correlating data to reveal patterns, potential trouble spots, and bright spots, and to spot areas for improvement.
Overcoming HR challenges in 2024
This year, look at how leading HR trends can help you redefine your HR strategy and the fundamentals of work.
HR professionals are redefining work by redefining how we work — and by placing people at the center. As you address HR challenges in your organization, consider how you’re building your organization’s future and enabling the success of your workforce.
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