The six most important HR trends for 2024
The HR profession is on the crest of a tidal wave. The world of work has shapeshifted at warp speed, and no function has felt this transition as strongly as HR. With all signs pointing toward another year of difficult decisions, savvy HR leaders are striving to get ahead of incoming curveballs, so the action plan is ready when the unexpected comes knocking. We uncover the trending areas to focus on in the year ahead – and beyond!
HR trends to watch in 2024
HR really hasn’t been given an easy ride lately. First came the pandemic and the mass migration to home-working, and just as the storm seemed to be calming, economic chaos, large-scale layoffs, a cost-of-living crisis, and worldwide political unrest came along to test human resources’ resilience once again.
"91% of HR leaders say HR’s role has changed dramatically over the past five years"
The new normal has been nothing but normal. Characterized by turbulence, flux, and unexpected curveballs, HR teams have been under the spotlight as the business looks to its people leaders to guide it through ceaseless disruption.
In this focal role, HR has shed the reputation of the police core of the organization. Today’s HR cohorts are working diligently to bring the vision of the employee-first workplace to fruition. The stakes are high, and the pressure is on, but the possibility of redesigning a brighter future of work has never been more tangible.
"60% of employees report noticing changes in HR’s role, including becoming more people-focused and strategic."
In our last set of predictions for HR, we hypothesized that the profession had a more ‘efficient and settled’ future ahead after a disrupted few years. Well... you can’t fault an optimist!
7 trends HR leaders should know for 2022
Attracting, retaining, and nurturing top talent will be crucial for enterprise resilience in the coming decade, but creating world-class employee experience today looks very different to how it did yesterday.
Complex disruption still abounds, with the future of work evolving rapidly around us. While Covid doubtless kickstarted moves towards a culture of adaptability and agility within human resources, the efficiency advances we’d hoped to see have stalled along the way in some cases. As a result, the search for the ideal hybrid model is set to continue throughout 2024, with an understanding that the optimal blueprint will be different for every business. HR leaders will be looking inward to find the solution that’s right for their people.
As these big questions linger, many HR leaders still find themselves mired in admin and processes. Despite recognizing the need to move into a more strategic, consultative role to make a significant impact within their organizations, space needs to be created for this to happen.
HR critics still surround us, but there’s no better time to show the naysayers than when you’re under the microscope. It’s time to cement the reputation of HR as a function that has earned its stripes putting people at the heart of decision-making.
The employee engagement conundrum continues
It’s no secret that ‘quiet quitting’ and wider disengagement have loomed large across the landscape of work in recent years. Leaders are looking for results, and with an EX winter forecast, the circumstances are set to be challenging.
Gallup recently uncovered that those psychologically disconnected workers know what they would change to improve their working environment, with ‘engagement or culture’ coming out in pole position when asked ‘“If you could make one change at your current employer to make it a great place to work, what would it be?”
"41% of employees would change the engagement or culture of their workplace if they could"
HR leaders will be focused on fixing this complex issue, but the battle will be uphill with more diverse working styles being introduced than ever seen before. How can you create a consistent culture with employees working in such different ways? This will be the question to keep HR leaders up at night.
The silver lining is that human resources leaders have a huge opportunity to set a bold agenda at the EX table, and these are the areas we think the pros will be focusing on to make the biggest impact.
HR trends for 2024
#1. AI as the springboard to success
Creating the space to redesign the bright future of work means HR needs to play the ace up their sleeves. HR leaders must let the robots take on the transactional work to enable more time to focus on the value-add tasks that have sat patiently on the bench in years previous.
"AI (and Generative AI in particular) is going to radically change the HR Tech landscape"
With the internet awash with contradictory opinions and a plethora of information on AI, it can be difficult to know where to start or what to trust. But those that stall on AI adoption will find themselves falling rapidly behind the curve in 2024.
"54% of HR professionals used automation technology to streamline processes in 2023"
The value of utilizing AI in the hiring process has been well established. Talent Attraction teams are using AI-powered tools to screen, filter, and onboard candidates with highly effective results already. But there are so many more AI use-cases that HR can benefit from.
IBM has already provided a shining example of AI in action for HR by saving a whopping $300million in retention costs with their “predictive attrition program.” This AI-powered wizardry can predict employee flight risk with a jaw-dropping 95% accuracy and recommend remedial actions to managers to hang on to affected employees.
While we’re not recommending every organization rushes to develop and patent their own solution (really, don’t spend your HR budget on building a tool, we beg), HR leaders should be evaluating and experimenting with AI advancements being introduced to existing technology. Vendors are racing to infuse the power of AI within their platforms, so leaders should be assessing how they can leverage the incoming features to their advantage.
One way HR can seize a low-hanging opportunity to turn the AI explosion into an EX opportunity is to lean into AI-powered employee experience platforms. AI assistants being developed by packaged intranet providers can help HR teams to better reach employees with much-needed resources and communications, without the need for burdensome copywriting or tedious audience segmentation. In turn, this answers the loudening call from employees for meaningful engagement with culture initiatives, without adding to the HR workload.
When such tasks are taken off the human plate, time and energy is given back to human resources pros to focus on areas where their uniquely human skills of empathy, ethical conscience, and nuanced business understanding can have an impact.
Unily & Ai
#2. Rethinking the HR tech strategy
It’s not just AI where 2024 will see a shift and uptick in technology usage among high-performing HR teams. In the year ahead, forward-thinking HR pros will overcome the disconnect between what they need from digital tools and what they’re achieving with them across the board. A move away from point solutions, toward integrated tooling will characterize this era.
Despite HR being an early mover in the days of SaaS and cloud tech and budgets being buoyed post-pandemic, today HR tech strategies are in danger of becoming siloed and disjointed. PWC reported that some 74% of companies intended to increase their HR tech spend back in 2021, but it appears that spending isn't equaling value on account of low adoption and employee frustration with too many apps.
Investment that focuses on department-specific tooling in particular, where human resources pick and use platform(s) from the stack squarely marketed to their profession without an eye on the organization’s wider tech landscape, is a significant barrier to HR’s tech success. We’d argue that the culture of everyone delving into their own siloed toolbox needs to be consigned to the trashcan of history this year.
"Truly adding value in today’s complex world requires integrated solutions rather than separate specializations."
Instead, we’d expect to see a closer collaboration between IT, HR, and other people-focused teams like Internal Communication, building on links forged during the pandemic which may have begun to tread water. We said it back in 2021 on the topic and we’ll say it again as it still rings true:
“The prominent role of technology in architecting the modern employee experience means that HR must become invested in digital transformation projects as a key stakeholder looking after the interests of employees from a human-centric standpoint.” 7 trends HR leaders should know for 2022 - Unily
HR should look to lead the charge on bringing together key stakeholders to create a joined-up strategy that maximizes the value of high-investment tools and limits the purchasing of narrow-scope tools that add to an already bloated digital landscape. Those that take on this task will earn high praise from IT, IC, and employees alike.
#3. Zooming out for the bigger picture
Sticking to the inter-departmental collaboration theme, 2024 should be the year HR leans into other evolving people-focused departments more than ever. Just as the pandemic spurred the strategic advancement of HR, so too have Internal Comms teams seen their function transform into a more consultative role.
Where HR remains the strategic architect of the employee experience, high-performing Internal Comms teams have evolved to become custodians of engagement, with effective listening mechanisms embedded across their tooling. But are these departments working together to maximize impact? In many cases, we find that siloes remain a blocker to EX success.
In the absence of clear remits and established ways of working, there is a danger of these two exceptionally skilled departments becoming muddled and competitive. On the flip side, working together toward common goals could create further space for both teams to deliver untold impact and evolve at the pace required in today’s fast-changing workplace. Taking a leaf from the CX blueprint, it’s time to identify allies and transform transitional organizational structures with a collaborative approach that sees teams united by a shared mission.
People-focused functions must work together to craft a model that plays to everyone’s strengths. HR must lead on establishing what this looks like. Ownership of the employee experience is not up for grabs. HR is the architect, with many levers to pull to bring strategies to success. But to ensure the execution of a coherent strategy, HR must provide clarity and guidance on the vision for the ultimate EX team.
"HR aren’t internal communications or IT experts, that’s not the value we bring, and yet these are critical elements of the employee experience. We must be proactive in leveraging the expertise of our talented colleagues at the earliest opportunity if we are going to redesign the future of work our employees need to be engaged and effective. Internal communicators, in particular, have a huge role to play in employer branding and should be considered one of our closest allies. They can help us talk to the workforce in a highly empathetic way, ensuring that key messages land in a way that builds trust and engagement."
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#4. Confronting the persistent trust problem
The idiom actions speak louder than words may not stand true in the case of the HR rebrand. Decades of HR being perceived as a litigious function have not been erased despite the overwhelming focus on people-centric workplace redesign. The incremental evolution of HR into a people function, sometimes accompanied by a corresponding name-change, has not been heralded with a big bang launch. Unjust as it may be, outdated perceptions of HR still persist and there are trust issues that need to be addressed.
According to research from Leapsome’s workforce trends report ‘Beyond the Cubicle’, conducted in partnership with YouGov:
HR significantly overestimates engagement levels. They estimate that over 50% of the workforce are engaged when in reality it's 33%.
1/3 of employees don't think they can talk to HR.
97% of HR leaders think they have a good feedback culture, but only 13% of remote employees agree.
The research points to a chasm between employee perceptions of HR and HR perceptions of employees. What can be done? The key to overcoming this disconnect lies in communication and listening. There is no doubt that HR policies are driven by a desire to support employees, yet employees are failing to make that connection.
HR leaders who accept this calling will throw themselves into shedding an outdated public image with vibrant campaigns that demonstrate deep empathy with employee needs. Rebuilding trust will require a consistent approach that amplifies the whys behind decision-making and puts faces to the teams behind the policies.
#5. Accommodating the ultra-diverse hybrid workforce
The big question of how to make hybrid work, work remains front and center. We’ve trialed fully remote and noted the impact on collaboration and innovation. At the same time, we recognize that flexibility is now an expectation:
"71% of workers view a flexible working pattern as important to them when considering a new role"
Today, the most effective hybrid model appears to be one where decisions about where and when employees work are made at a team level. While this is a win for individual autonomy, for HR leaders it means dealing with the most diverse workforce ever seen.
Devising strategies and policies to ensure a consistent and cohesive culture and experience across a workforce with limitless working styles is the big downside of this approach. How can you create a culture that works for everyone when everyone is working in different ways?
The reliable solution is a digital one. In place of the office, a digital HQ must be cultivated that can be accessed by employees of every ilk at any time; where they can tap into culture and community in a way that works for them. HR teams must also build close relationships with managers, who will be their trusted envoys, and work with them to devise scalable processes for accommodating and monitoring the new ultra-diverse working styles across the organization.
A continued focus on incentivizing social meetups and networking events combined with a keen mindfulness around how to include employees unable to attend in-person activities will set HR in good stead for navigating this challenge.
#6. Owning HR’s seat at the intranet table
Recognizing that the digital workplace has superseded the physical one is nothing new, but one key tool that may have been overlooked as the de facto home of the digital employee experience is the intranet. As HR navigates the challenge of rebuilding a culture fit for the new, complex world of work, the intranet could be just the secret weapon HR needs.
Intranet software isn’t what it once was. As the workplace changed, the intranet stepped up to become the cultural unifier and communications hub that allowed many businesses to weather the remote-working storm. Today, modern employee experience platforms are being used by leading enterprises to improve collaboration, culture, and engagement across dispersed workforces. So, who exactly owns this culture defining tool?
Traditionally either owned by Internal Comms or IT, there is a big opportunity here for HR to play a bigger role in architecting the intranet, and, as such, the employee experience. In our digital-first workplace, engagement barriers are often digital barriers. Whether it’s employees being overwhelmed by emails and competing notifications, or the hundreds of confusing tools they’re fighting to navigate to get work done, the issue of digital friction is having a significant impact on engagement levels. The right intranet can fix this, so it only makes sense that HR is invested in its success and consulted as a key stakeholder.
"One of the big barriers both to employee productivity and satisfaction is excess noise and too many systems. HR teams that understand how the right intranet can solve for this, and take on a guiding role in ensuring its success, can really begin to make progress in simplifying and streamlining the workday."
Furthermore, the intranet stands to solve a pervasive HR problem: the waning adoption of nifty HR tools, from knowledge tools to reward and recognition platforms. With the intranet as a gateway to these applications, employees will find them embedded in the flow of work instead of floating in a multi-click-away ether.
For these reasons, the days of an organization’s intranet being the domain of Internal Communications or IT, to be left to them and not fiddled with by HR, must be axed this year. When human resources arguably have more of a stake in employee engagement than any other function, and undoubtedly more expertise in the individual journey each employee takes with an organization, it’s time for HR teams to seize the opportunity to stake a meaningful claim.
The big vendors are already introducing features specifically designed to solve HR pain points. Unily’s Employee Journeys capability is a great example, helping HR teams to design and orchestrate repeatable journeys that guide employees through every stage of the employee lifecycle, from onboarding to promotions. With capabilities like this, HR can begin to bring consistency back to the employee experience against the odds, while leaning on state-of-the-art automation to reduce manual labor.
"HR leaders should get curious about where the intranet can add value at different moments of the employee lifecycle. The ability to craft journeys can really elevate key moments from onboarding to upskilling without adding to the HR workload. Not every business is afforded the luxury of a defined internal comms department, and in those instances, the value of an intranet that can take on the communications load through automated capabilities is a significant game-changer both for employee engagement and HR productivity."
Unite 23 - Getting started with Employee Journeys
Get up close and personal with Unily’s latest innovation: Employee Journeys. Learn how to identify common journeys in the employee lifecycle and design meaningful and repeatable experiences that elevate the employee experience to enable your employees at every stage of their career.
Helping employees feel seen and supported across key moments of their career, including personal milestones like maternity and paternity leave, work anniversaries, and the like - is a sure-fire way of elevating employee experience we’ll be seeing a ton more of in 2024.
Make 2024 the year of HR transformation
We know without doubt that employee experience will be a critical differentiator in 2024, and all eyes will be on HR as the business strives to embed stability in tumultuous times.
"83% of HR leaders say employee experiences and satisfaction will continue to become more of a focus for HR—as the function moves away from admin towards a more strategic and people-focused role"
With an eye on savvy innovation, and with the support of AI and partner functions, HR leaders can grab the opportunity to evolve their function and solidify their business value as sleek changemakers. By 2025 we hope to see the transactional, administrative past far behind them, and a new era well underway that relegates outdated perceptions of HR to the history books, where they belong.
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