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2024 HR trends affecting what HR is and does

HR must become better at helping organisations measure actual productivity through smarter goal setting, monitoring output, and greater promotion of proven technology tools that increase productivity.

In today’s business landscape the role of HR is undergoing a significant transformation, and this means some of HR’s traditional frameworks need re-evaluating.

Different forces are driving this development from global environmental shifts to legislative changes and also broader societal movements. Moreover, as technology is integrated ever further into the workplace this has the potential to boost worker productivity, including those workers who have long been hidden or forgotten entirely.

The following four trends will dominate the next 12 months, making 2024 the year in which HR starts spearheading a significant charge toward a more sustainable, inclusive and solutions-focused future for work and in business.

Resolving the productivity paradox
Broadly speaking, apart from in manufacturing, we are no more productive in business than we were twenty years ago. Even though a tremendous amount of effort has gone into improving employee engagement, based on understanding the employee experience, in parallel. Put simply, we think this productivity paradox is being caused by companies not taking the relevant or right actions in response to their workforce insights. Action planning is the key.

2024 is the year where this needs to end. HR should take a more holistic view and double down on both focus (which parts of the workforce need the most attention and why) and better-quality action planning (with more purpose and immediate impact). HR must become better at helping organisations measure actual productivity through smarter goal setting, monitoring output, and greater promotion of proven technology tools that increase productivity. Then the productivity paradox could end.

Tapping into the forgotten workforce
The forgotten workforce accounts for 14-17 per cent of all U.S. workers and includes retirees who want to work, caregivers, neurodiverse individuals, people with long-term health problems, ex-inmates and people without degrees. They either already participate somewhat in the workplace but want to work more (and are often paid hourly) or don’t participate at all but would be willing to do so under the right conditions (which work for them and not just the employer).

2024 is the year in which HR has to stop overlooking this group because the shortage of available talent makes this self-defeating (About 77 per cent of employers report difficulties in filling roles – a 17 year high – while in 2030 one in six people in the world will be 60 years old or over). Nobody can afford to overlook those who could work for them, or who already do and want to work more.

One of the biggest barriers this forgotten workforce faces is in talent acquisition. 38 per cent of candidates in this group don’t hear back from an employer for a vacancy they applied for and 70 per cnet of companies don’t provide any feedback to hourly workers.

Improving these practices (and they are simple to fix) would pay immediate dividends. More inclusive job adverts, skill-based hiring, equal access to training and re-skilling opportunities, and recognising transferable skills over prior experience and qualifications would all make a difference.

Organisations that harness the potential of this vast forgotten talent pool will better address critical staffing needs that are holding them back, and gain a competitive advantage over those that don’t.

Reinventing EDIB
Equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB) is at a crossroads. DEI job listings dropped by 19 per cent in 2022, and churn was at 33 per cent for DEI professionals versus 21 per cent for all others. EDIB initiatives in their current form also seemingly alienate those they target. Gartner reports that 42 per cent of employees say their peers view their organisation’s DEI efforts as divisive and that they resent them.

We expect that in 2024 organisations will have to make changes to how they approach EDIB, with the risk that some may even abandon it altogether. The most viable way forward will be for organisations to stop making high profile public statements of support for minorities and then doing nothing, and instead take a more honest and systematic approach that is authentic and built up from within the organisation itself.

Such an approach requires having equitable practices as the underpinning organisation principle or value. This puts the employee voice right at the centre of understanding how well embedded these are (which requires workforce data and insights), before taking specific and targeted action on an ongoing basis.

Making climate change adaptation an urgent priority for business
While HR’s role in sustainability is relatively new, it’s quickly becoming crucial as companies strive to adapt to the challenges of climate change, ensuring their workforce is resilient, informed and prepared for environmental disruptions. Legislation is changing fast around the world. Leading companies are starting to adjust to the reality of climate change and so as well as trying to mitigate the effects they are having, they are now also looking to adapt to the looming impacts. This issue matters to the people you employ from both sides of the coin.

We see HR increasingly taking on the responsibilities for the sustainability brief inside companies. This means that HR will play a key role in managing talent, utilities and offices, and work to prepare the company for future climate disruptions and extreme weather events.

Setting-up HR to lead transformation
Tackling these four trends will likely mean organising HR a bit differently. The silos in traditional HR operating models often stop fast and effective action being taken. A more solutions-focused approach would need only four HR teams working more closely together. Here’s how to achieve this:

Strategy Advisory and Transformation – Focus on delivering business transformation and change initiatives inside the business to realise the people strategy. This pulls together Business Partnering, HR Strategy, Organisational Design & Development, Change Management and Workforce Planning.

Awareness and Attraction – Focus on delivering an integrated awareness and attraction experience based on the levers of employer brand, employee experience, and onboarding. This pulls together Business Partnering, Employer Brand, Talent Acquisition or Recruitment, Onboarding, Employee Experience, Talent Insights, Employee Communications and Marketing.

People Experience and Culture – Focus on designing and implementing positive work experiences that appeal to all employees and which create a productive and inclusive work environment so that people feel like they belong. This pulls together Business Partnering, Performance, Rewards & Recognition, Wellbeing and Health, DEIB, Employee Experience and Analytics and Sustainability/Climate Adaption.

People Growth and Enablement – Focus on motivating, developing and empowering employees to achieve their potential and capitalise on internal opportunities. This pulls together Business Partnering, Talent Management, Leadership Development, Learning and Development and Career Management.

Business Partnering is relevant to everyone in HR, as is Data and People Analytics. In the future, HR and EDIB would be one function and not separate teams too.

The challenge for HR in becoming more solutions-focused is three-fold. Firstly, if you want to improve the performance of any business, this needs data and insights from the people in the organisation first. Without this, the opportunities to improve will remain hidden. Then secondly, your people strategy needs to be both future-focused externally, and flexible enough internally to respond to what is being almost continuously learnt using employee insights.

Finally, HR will need to be organised differently to make more focus and impact happen and to make efficient use of all the available resources. The function shouldn’t be static. It has to keep adjusting to changing workforce priorities – as defined by your workforce as well as your C-Suite. Doing this will help HR become more solutions-focused in 2024.

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