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2024 predictions for HR: boosting engagement in a challenging climate

By Rachel Clough, UK Country Lead, SD Worx

November 28 2023 - From the ongoing 'talent drought', tightened budgets with the shrinking economy, and challenges in staffing for the right skills, the picture for HR in 2024 may appear bleak. However in reality, the evolving flexible world of work is presenting new opportunities for businesses to become the 'employer of choice', and firmly cement loyalty from their workforce.

It'll be a tricky road to navigate for corporate leadership, but what's essential is that companies re-invest back in themselves and their talent pool to weather any storms. This will create long-lasting foundations that make them attractive to current and future workforces. So, with this mind, what trends do we expect to surface in 2024?

1). Tackling the rise of the 'accidental manager'

The 'accidental manager' is a trend that has been emerging in HR. This is when career paths for results-oriented and high-performing employees become confused, and staff are suddenly promoted up the ranks, then given managerial responsibilities before they are ready or trained.

Across Europe, the rise of the accidental manager boils down to resourcing challenges. Half of companies do not have enough personnel to handle all their necessary tasks, according to our research. And with more than four out of ten (43%) European employers stating they have trouble attracting employees, it's no wonder that talent droughts within companies are causing aberrations in roles, contributing to the rise of the accidental manager.

Countering this emerging trend will come down to HR planning and foresight, where proper paths to management are set in place, and training and skilling around managing staff is explored and invested in. When there is clear strategy behind development of roles, then the accidental shifts can be avoided.

2). Combatting the epidemic of 'quiet quitting'

The subtle but growing trend of 'quiet quitting' involves employees disengaging from their work, often without overtly expressing their dissatisfaction or intentions to leave. Nipping employee concerns in the bud will prove vital for leaders who want to ensure staff are happy and healthy in their careers.

There is no silver bullet solution to fixing employee engagement, but tracking how employees feel by getting barometers in place can prove hugely informative. For this, organisations can conduct pulse surveys, or leverage digital tools with advanced data analytics to monitor satisfaction, allowing leaders to detect early signs of disengagement. Proactive HR strategies can be created off this, emphasising continuous feedback, career development, and wellbeing initiatives to prevent quiet quitting.

Companies need to meet employee demands head on. Research from SD Worx found that half (47%) of employees choose a company based on working times, working hours and a flexible work schedule. Knowing preferences for work style and acting on this accordingly will put leaders on the front foot. And by building open, transparent, and empathetic work cultures where employees feel valued and heard, companies can foster long-term career growth and commitment.

3). Accommodating new AI colleagues in the office

Generative AI tools have taken a premium spot in the limelight, as many companies rush to implement AI technology as part of tick-box exercises. An Accenture report from 2023 noted that nearly three-fourths (73%) of companies are prioritising AI over all other digital investments. With new AI tools fast becoming the next colleagues in the office, it's critical that leaders do not botch integration of AI, but rather consider proper business cases for AI and ensure that AI works harmoniously with human colleagues.

In offices across industries, the applications of AI can be nebulous, as AI can streamline whole processes, including many functions around data collation and handling, pattern-finding and even strategising. With the growing prevalence of AI, HR teams need to develop specialised training programs to educate employees on how to collaborate effectively with AI systems. This will include understanding AI's capabilities, limitations, and how to leverage it to enhance their work.

Accommodating new 'AI colleagues' depends on the ethical use of AI, ensuring fairness and transparency in AI-driven decision-making. In the face of concerns about job displacement, HR needs to emphasise reskilling and upskilling programs to empower employees to work alongside AI effectively, rather than fearing it replacing existing roles. Overall, accommodating AI will necessitate a proactive and human-centric approach, with HR playing a pivotal role in guiding this transformative process.

4). Scrutinising benefits packages during the wellbeing crisis

As wellbeing challenges continue to impact individuals, HR teams need to scrutinise benefits packages more closely in the coming months. It's clear people want flexibility, especially when it comes to things like booking leave. People research data shows patterns emerging around taking last minute leave, rather than planning it months in advance, with one in three employees (32%) requesting leave on the day itself, and more than half of (55%) within a week of taking it.

Of course employers must be careful that this leave isn't being taken last minute due to stress or burnout. To reduce stresses and concerns around work, there needs to be an open line of dialogue, where HR prioritises mental health support, as well as the delivery of solid benefits packages alongside fair salary.

To address the changing needs of a diverse workforce, benefits packages need to become more customisable. Employees will have the flexibility to tailor their benefits to suit their individual circumstances and preferences. In this evolving landscape, HR's role in reevaluating and adapting benefits packages will be crucial in supporting employee wellbeing, retention, and productivity during the ongoing crisis.

5). Meeting demands of the digitally native workforce

Offices across sectors are beginning to be staffed by digitally native employees born in the mid-noughties. As Gen Z and younger millennials make up an increasing portion of the workforce, organisations must adapt to their unique digitalised expectations and preferences.

Despite digitalisation trends emerging, four in ten (40%) employees in international companies report that they find it difficult to keep up with the complete landscape of digital applications. This is why implementation and then bedding of digital tools needs to be understood as a holistic process.

For an employee going from onboarding through all stages of their career lifespan, there needs to be a clear roadmap in place for digitalised HR tools being used across performance management, benefits access and payroll supply. User-friendly, mobile-ready HR software will be the norm, ensuring a seamless employee experience, and proper training across demographics on how to use these will be key.

Looking to the horizon

As we look to the next 12 months, an essential point to focus on for businesses will be opening up channels of communication between HR and business leaders. The role of Chief People Office has never been more important, as managing and taking care of its people is how a company will survive economic downturn.

Leaders at the board level should be leaning on HR to attract and retain the right talent. For HR this means a comprehensive strategy needs to be in place, which involves investing in technologies and policies that support remote collaboration and productivity. This ensures staff have proper paths to career progression, and that there is fair pay and solid benefits available.

Taking a holistic look at how a company cares for its people will help knit a solid work culture together. When employees are motivated to do good work, and feel like they are provided for, then this can put growth and development of the business back on the cards.



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