What’s in store for HR in the new year?
The buzzword for 2024 is AI (artificial intelligence) and specifically generative AI.
It’s not new, but it has accelerated at such a rate that machine learning apps such as ChatGPT are all the rage.
That means HR teams all over the world are trying to figure out how best to understand and use them responsibly in the workplace amid a backdrop of economic uncertainty, a tight talent market, and hybrid working.
We picked the brains of HR and People experts to help shine a light on seven HR challenges and priorities they felt HR can expect in 2024.
Here’s what we cover in this article:
- 1. Remaining relevant in HR
- 2. Re-evaluating the employee relationship
- 3. Rethinking the roles of managers in an era of hybrid and remote working
- 4. Reconsidering talent acquisition and internal mobility
- 5. Maintaining wellbeing in a digital world
- 6. Redefining diversity, equity and inclusion
- 7. Doubling down on adopting the right HR technology
- Looking ahead in 2024
1. Remaining relevant in HR
In 2023, we saw significant layoffs not only of employees but also HR teams across every industry globally.
While this is a short-term solution to the economic downturn, HR leaders need to be hyper vigilant and ensure their function is relevant and strategic to their organisation.
“Leverage the impact of the HR role within the organisation,” says Veronika Birkheim, Director of People Experience at aurebus consulting. “Especially for HR leaders to step up into management, C-level roles, and leave the supporting partner roles behind.”
The way to do this is through technology particularly “through data literacy and communication”, she says.
Veronika adds: “HR should get used to work based on data, deriving their decisions and programmes from data combined with qualitative backups and employee feedback.”
Grant Weinberg, Vice President Talent Acquisition & HR Operations at eikon therapeutics, says: “Automation is not merely a convenience, it’s our avenue to elevate efficiency, ensure unwavering consistency, and create the capacity needed to drive real change in our organisation.
“By embracing AI solutions, we can liberate our HR team from administrative burdens, allowing them to concentrate on strategic initiatives.”
“Implemented and used correctly, generative AI will likely lead to a new take on HR processes like recruiting and development,” enthuses Patrick Amm, Principal Consultant at HRpepper Management Consultants.
“Companies need to get familiar with these new tools and identify use cases to integrate them in their daily work, which in turn will lead to the creation of new HR services, policies, and/or roles.”
These words are more pertinent than ever when only 59% of HR leaders say they’re adopting people analytics in their organisations today and as many as 40% of the C-suite feel that HR are too focused on paperwork and admin.
2. Re-evaluating the employee relationship
Hundreds and thousands of employees went on strike across Europe and the US in 2023 because of pay and working conditions, indicating that the employer/employee relationship had broken down.
“This is no coincidence coming out of the pandemic where people are asking themselves: ‘Do I like my job? Do I like these conditions? I’m not standing for this anymore,’” explains Christine Temple, Chief Consulting Officer at exaqueo.
“And so, the reckoning is employers cannot pacify. They have to look at their relationship with their employees, examine who they are and assess what kind of experience they’re trying to create, and then be authentic in that expression.”
Our research found that 83% of HR leaders said employee experiences will become even more of a focus for HR.
But Christine argues that it goes beyond what employers can give their employees to what their relationship looks like.
She says: “HR needs to proactively work with their executive teams to find ways to listen to their employees, and then authentically respond.
“Those employers who are genuine and trying to address it are going to continue to be attractive.”
Technology can help offer experiences such as flexible and remote working, and can facilitate communications with employees, but technology is just the tool.
The heavy lifting must be done first on re-establishing a strong relationship with employees.
3. Rethinking the roles of managers in an era of hybrid and remote working
Roughly 50% of hybrid managers report that they have less visibility into the work their employees do than in-person managers.
The reality is that the traditionally hierarchical approach to management made sense when jobs were fixed, workplaces were physical, and information flowed downwards, but this is no longer the case.
Julie Hodges, Professor of Organisational Change at Durham University Business School, explains: “Managers are facing increasing ambiguity in their role as they try to manage people and change in a world of advancing technology as well as hybrid and remote environments.
“At the same time, they are also trying to recreate the cohesiveness, collaboration, and camaraderie of the office through the freedom and flexibility of remote working.
“These demands are driving the need to reframe the role of managers. To do this, HR need to help in shifting the role and mindset of managers as well as working with them to identify the key capabilities they will need in the future.”
Grant Weinberg agrees: “Our focus must be on empowering our employees with direct access to the resources they need and enhancing our managers’ capabilities in people management.
“Let’s champion a culture of self-sufficiency while providing our leaders with the tools and knowledge to lead effectively.”
AI will have a huge impact on leadership asserts Sankalp Chaturvedi, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Leadership at Imperial College Business School: “With AI intervention, our understanding of motivation mechanisms will evolve.
“AI will impact all aspects of leadership such as applying fairness across the board and how we appraise employees.”
4. Reconsidering talent acquisition and internal mobility
The need for organisations to upskill and reskill their employees has never been more evident.
The World Economic Forum warns that more than 50% of employees around the world need to reskill or upskill by 2025 to stay competitive.
In addition, we’re experiencing a tight talent market in which employees are beginning to reshape where, how and when they want to work.
Rather than risk losing them, companies are beginning to look at their internal mobility and deploy their skills elsewhere.
In the past, talent acquisition was a supply chain issue and candidates were hired according to their profile and experience, but this is changing, says Bill Boorman, Founder of Tru.
Bill adds: “We are seeing talent management take over from talent acquisition. Internal retention will be more key than ever.
“Retention and skills mobility will be the number one priority, and we may even see the talent acquisition and learning development roles within HR become one.
“Training and learning will become the employer brand, so HR really need to think about what the employee value proposition is.”
HR will have to figure out how to assess people’s skills rather than look just at their profile or CV, which has been the traditional way for external and internal recruitment.
Bill says: “Using data for workforce planning, skills and career pathing will be increasingly important, and proprietary knowledge will become key,” as automation and AI become capable of doing more work.
Employers will be looking for people with the knowledge and soft skills that machines don’t have. In this vein, learning management systems will also have to change to address the changing workforce.
5. Maintaining wellbeing in a digital world
Gallup reports that worker stress is at a historic high, costing the global economy $8.8tn (£7tn).
Digital transformation has brought many benefits, but what’s unprecedented is the incredibly past pace at which it has accelerated.
The truth is that no one really knows what it’s capable of yet.
David D’Souza, Membership Director at the CIPD, says: “A wave of generationally significant technology will be landing against a backdrop of a difficult economy, a pandemic, a volatile geopolitical situation and a shift in the way many work.
“Unpredictable territory after an unrelenting period of turmoil means that time to think will be at a premium. Taking care of your own wellbeing and your team’s needs will also be paramount in terms of having a platform to help others navigate change.”
Julie Hodges says: “Integrating wellbeing into the design of transformations is far more likely to build change that is sustainable, with workers feeling and performing at their best.
“To achieve this, there is a need for practices that help to ameliorate the negative impact of transformation on the health and wellbeing of people.”
Sankalp Chaturvedi says: “It’s about expectations management as we transition and adopt AI.
“Organisations need to do more in providing guidelines. Mental health needs to be part of their strategy and not just an add-on.”
6. Redefining diversity, equity and inclusion
Today, amid economic uncertainty and corporate belt-tightening, the push for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has slowed.
Many companies that pledged to build equity in the past few years didn’t really create the infrastructure to support the implementation of new initiatives, so little progress was made.
Now, more than ever, it’s time for organisations to recommit.
“Even in times of budget constraints and reduced hiring, our commitment to DE&I remains unwavering,” says Grant Weinberg.
“Let’s integrate it into our change management strategy, fostering inclusivity not just in external hiring but also by nurturing our existing talent to be more inclusive and equitable across the entire spectrum of our operations.”
Ben Brooks, founder and CEO at PILOT, adds: “As efforts to advance board and C-Suite-driven diversity, equity and inclusion commitments languish, technology will increasingly be leveraged to accelerate progress in all aspects of DEI, which are now closely linked to ESG [environmental, social and governance] reporting and shareholder awareness.
“The flexibility that technology provides to employees will be closely linked to fostering a more inclusive workforce to retain top talent.”
However, Sankalp Chaturvedi argues that it’s not just about the tech. There is an important step to take first, which is to change the defaults so everyone feels they belong.
He says: “DEI is not for the selected few. It’s about awareness of everybody. It cannot be a tick box exercise but rather be embedded in processes because principles are too vague.
“We need to change the way we select people, appraise their performance, and promote. We have to talk about values where differences are normalised.”
7. Doubling down on adopting the right HR technology
HR leaders will be under pressure from their boards to adopt the right technology in 2024.
Ben Brooks explains: “Many organisations declared 2023 the year of efficiency. HR leaders should expect an elevated level of scrutiny for existing and new technology spending in 2024 and beyond.”
He elaborates: “Platforms will need to provide clear usage and value metrics that prove in numbers that the technologies meet a clear and data-driven business case.
“Many legacy HR technologies lack clear and easy-to-access metrics, and HR will be well-served to upgrade and replace vendors who haven’t kept up.”
Andrew Johnson, Employee Benefits Advisor at Bolton, agrees. Technology has enabled remote working but that has brought with it another set of challenges.
Andrew says: “In the US, employment law varies wildly from state to state, and it is continually changing.
“It requires a full-time team just to look after benefits, for example. The challenge for HR departments going forward will be to adopt the right technology that will be able to support them simply in keeping up.”
However, Ben Brooks argues that it might be some time before HR experiment with such core HR responsibilities as compliance.
He says: “HR’s work, including protecting sensitive personnel data, complying with employment laws, administering payroll and benefits, and other mission-critical efforts are not areas that organisations want to experiment in.
“I suspect we’ll see the most HR tech innovation in areas that continue to be persistent challenges for organisations, such as culture, succession, internal mobility, engagement, feedback, performance management, learning, DEI, and hybrid and remote work.”
Patrick Amm agrees: “If you look at the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies in 2023, you notice that there are a lot of inflated expectations as to what’s possible.
“But I expect that in 2024 many companies will experiment more with tech, get a better understanding of how to effectively use these new tools, and integrate them into their daily practice or products.”
Looking ahead in 2024
There you have it – those are the top priorities the experts say HR will likely face in 2024 and how technology can help you tackle them.
Our experts fully embrace the opportunities fast-evolving AI offers.
Patrick Amm explains: “With the advent of generative AI, there is the potential for a complete new market for digital HR assistants for data management, knowledge management and development, to name a few, that will change the way HR functions.”
However, all warn that HR leaders must understand how to use this new technology responsibly and train their workforces to do the same, especially in the absence of industry regulations because, says Bill Boorman: “Machines have no morality other than the morality that we teach them.”
With that, we’ll leave you with David D’Souza’s parting sentiments: “We can make leaps, but we need to make sure they are in the right direction.
“Our work needs to be done with one eye firmly fixed on the long-term implications of our choices, as we strive to better understand the benefits that technology can bring.
“We can’t let the risks blind us to the opportunities and vice versa.”
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