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TRENDS FOR 2023 – ROMANCING THE ROBOT – Issue 219 – JANUARY 2023 | Article of the Week

Heading into 2023 with challenges ahead and three years of disruption behind, in the grip of a cost-of-living crisis, ongoing war, energy price increases and political turmoil, the impacts on businesses and their people are inevitable. At the fulcrum is HR, struggling to balance the needs of people and the organisations they represent, in highly-dynamic and challenging areas – DEI, mental health, wellbeing and financial pressures – and the spectres of redundancy and failing businesses-lurk in wait for the unprepared.

Heading into 2023 with challenges ahead and three years of disruption behind, in the grip of a cost-of-living crisis, ongoing war, energy price increases and political turmoil, the impacts on businesses and their people are inevitable. At the fulcrum is HR, struggling to balance the needs of people and the organisations they represent, in highly-dynamic and challenging areas – DEI, mental health, wellbeing and financial pressures – and the spectres of redundancy and failing businesses-lurk in wait for the unprepared.

As Chief Platform Officer at a SaaS organisation, you would assume I’m biased in favour of tech – and that might well be true – but I believe that 2023 is going to be the year of increased reliance and innovation in the relationship between HR professionals and technology. Tech can’t fix the urgent problems the industry faces, but it can be leveraged to uncover solutions. I believe this will occur in five main ways. Increased reliance on tech to give HR more space to do the “human” work: In other words, the emotional labour and creative thinking. AI can sound scary to people, but as a tech professional, I’m excited about how AI can actually help us do more of the stuff that only people can do. HR teams are statistically the most burnt out and least happy in the workplace. This is because they spend a lot of time doing work they are not enjoying and don’t have time for the things that really matter to them and bring them joy – most of them prefer people to spreadsheets. In the next year, I expect HR will use increasingly more technology, automation and reporting dashboards, to take some of the grunt work out of manual tasks. Things like data entry, data analytics, managing large volumes of CVs or other personal data and so on, take up a lot of time for HR teams. Automating this, using AI and machine learning technology, will free them up to think about the areas they specialise in – wellbeing, diversity and people-first business solutions.

The looming recession will force HR to think more holistically about benefits: For too long, the focus has been on salary, but for many people, increased salary is not as much of a draw as more harmony in their work/life balance. This will be important against the backdrop of increasing financial pressure from organisations. Of course, pay and benefits will continue to be important, but HR will need to consider further support to make their offering more attractive to a workforce feeling increasingly oppressed by the rising costs of living, while future- proofing the bottom line. Here, tech can support – both as a platform for understanding what people want and need – but also as part of the solution, for example, wellbeing apps. No two people in your organisation are going to have the same wants and needs and this means listening to your team, in order to understand how to support them, but also offer a range of solutions, as there is, as the cliché often explains no “one-size[1]fits-all” solution.

all” solution. Hiring will move from cultural fit to cultural add: There have been substantial changes in cultural zeitgeist and the onus on diversity means ensuring that new hires add to the organisational culture, not just conform to what’s already there. Technology is invaluable in mitigating bias. We know that recruitment tech has had a bad rap when it comes to bias, but it’s important to remember that tech is built by people and people have biases. Despite this, there are clever and innovative ways HR can use platforms and algorithms to alleviate the impact of cognitive and implicit biases. It’s well known that, as humans, we have a personality similarity bias. This means that we’re more likely to hire people who are like us. Using AI can help us alleviate this bias, hiring a more diverse team. Consequently, technology that captures so-called “blind” CVs which have names and identifying features removed, will be an increasing trend in recruitment.

This year will see a more equal relationship between employee and employer: There have been a lot of power swings between the pandemic standstill and the great resignation, followed by more uncertainty caused by economic instability. Despite these changes, employees are increasingly used to having a voice, which means that, although people may feel like they can’t move on – given the financial and political climate – they will still want to be heard and their feedback acted on. This can be seen in the wave of industrial action seen at the tail end of last year, which looks set to continue. Organisations need to show and provide stability at an unstable time and this means listening and really understanding what your people are going through and supporting them throughout. Employers are uniquely positioned to do this, as research shows that they are the organisation employees most trust. Tech can help to provide channels for genuine two-way conversation and facilitate all-important compromise.

Employees will continue to demand a genuine move to work/life balance: The last few years have seen a seismic change in the way we view where and when work is done. Whether organisations move into the office full-time, continue remotely or find a hybrid alternative, will be down to individual circumstances. We all know that not all jobs are best done remotely or even possible to do outside of specific locations. However, one thing is for certain, many workers have become used to something closer to true work/life balance. Maintaining this will support not only physical and mental health, but also organisational performance. This means offering flexibility wherever possible, in terms of location, hours or schedule. Tech will play a key role in ensuring staffing levels remain appropriate and building trust between employees and their managers. Where possible I see it also lending a hand in creating a work environment that prioritises output over hours worked. As we consider the challenges that lay ahead, it’s clear that HR functionalities are going to be more important than ever. Having an accurate understanding of people throughout the business – their wants and needs and how they can be best supported – be key to weathering the storms that lie ahead. As an advocate of technology, the caring, human-centric values of HR can meet efficiency with empathy and on the dark and unpredictable road ahead, thoughtful and authentic interventions will make a significant difference to the lives of people under pressure employees they interact with. That HR teams gain the recognition, budgets and wider organisational support they need, is an operational imperative.

Looking further ahead, although it’s certainly going to be challenging, I see great opportunities ahead for HR and a notable trend for 2023 will be the continuing increase in how organisations and employees see even more value in the people function. Concurrently, investing more in technology will be extremely important in supporting HR teams and empowering leaders to shape the vision and strategy of organisations around the world through the people, skill and talent lens. HR was a light in the dark during the darkest COVID times and the function thoroughly deserves its rising kudos. In addition to the internal value of people functions rising, there is also increasing external scrutiny of people strategies from investors, customers, suppliers and potential employees under ESG agendas. Consequently, HR tech is becoming a critical component in evaluating how well organisations are meeting the people element of their ESG strategy and communicating this journey. There is no doubt that the increasing capability of tech and people-centricity could be a compelling combination on the road ahead.

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