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UPDATE: Looking into the Crystal Ball

2023 has hurtled along to its halfway point, making this the perfect time to take a look back at some of the trends we anticipated as the year got underway. How are the year’s biggest workplace trends – and our predictions – going so far? Let’s take a closer look at where we were spot-on and which trends have surprised us.


AI Brings Both Caution and Optimism

Let’s start with one trend that no one predicted would explode the way it has: AI and chatbots. Artificial intelligence is here to stay – it’s been the defining workplace trend of 2023 so far. Its use is being greeted with both interest and wariness, and HR teams will need to move fast to ensure that it functions as a tool for human-oriented functions, not as a replacement or excessive automation.


Experts in Forbes suggest that AI could be most helpful in HR by automating repetitive tasks, streamlining onboarding and training, and engaging employees at various checkpoints to answer questions or assist with career development. The key is using AI to handle time-consuming and low-energy tasks, thus freeing human experts to do the truly “human” aspects of “human resources.” AI cannot, and should not, be used as an attempt to replace human creativity, thought, or hands-on expertise but rather as a tool to make work processes more efficient for everyone.


Employee Experience Trickles Down

At the start of the year, we predicted that employee experience would top the list of HR priorities this year. Not only has that come true, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that employee experience is just one side of a coin – and customer experience is the other.


The Harvard Business Review points to research from PwC and MIT, finding that companies that invest in and deliver superior experiences to both consumers and employees can charge as high as a 16% “premium.” Plus, companies ranked in the top quartile of EX were found to develop more successful innovations and earn twice the amount of revenues from said innovations. These studies are just the tip of the iceberg, proving that investment in EX is inextricable from CX and revenue-building.


Expanded Benefits Can Make or Break an Offer

From the beginning of the year – and even before then – we’ve noted that employees are looking for more than just the standard benefits package. Today’s employees recognize more than ever just how fast the world moves and how precarious life can be, and they’re looking to join companies that offer flexible and robust benefits to meet those challenges.


According to Forbes, the top five benefits that employees want are, in order: employer-covered healthcare, life insurance, pension, and retirement plans, mandatory paid time off, and mental health assistance. Within each of these umbrellas, it’s essential to consider that employees will be looking for something to set your company apart. For instance, that could include reproductive care in your organization’s healthcare package or building a more robust parental leave package in addition to “regular” PTO. It’s a benefit for companies, too: when their employees are happier, healthier, and more confident, they’re more productive and more satisfied and less at risk for turnover.


Employees Seek Meaning and Purpose

Academic researchers have learned that a sense of “purpose” can help keep us steady in uncertain times, so perhaps it’s not surprising that more people are seeking more meaningful work in 2023. At the start of the year, we predicted a few things in line with this, from a push for more career development to an increased focus on purpose – and so far, things seem to be playing out precisely that way. Employees are prioritizing career development opportunities, and they’re willing to depart roles or companies as a whole when they aren’t getting it.


Research from McKinsey has found that when employees find their work meaningful, their performance improves by 33 percent, and they are 75 percent more committed to their organization. They are 49 percent less likely to leave their jobs. And yet, some organizations are still playing catch-up. At the beginning of the year, Gartner reported that 44% of HR leaders don’t think their organization has compelling career paths for employees. It indicates that we’re on the right track, as HR leaders recognize what needs to be done, but it’s certainly a work in progress.


It’s Time to Deal with DEI Leader Fatigue

As organizations have pivoted to improve their DEI approach, it’s become commonplace to see big announcements about new initiatives or splashy hires for “Chief Diversity Officer” or similar roles. At the start of 2023, we noted the turnover rate among these leaders, and it’s a challenge that HR teams continue to face throughout the year.


Research compiled by Human Resources Director paints a picture of a DEI field in need of some real support. Leaders need more resources, including time, money, institutional support, and data. DEI-centric roles are being left unfilled, and the “never complete” nature of the work has led to fatigue among leaders who have to explain the need for continued efforts, not one-and-done checklist items. Addressing DEI fatigue and giving these leaders the genuine support they need will be critical to proving that DEI statements weren’t just a “jump on the bandwagon” but a real commitment to a brighter and more inclusive future.


Employees Want Financial Awareness

Headlines every day herald economic uncertainty. Are we headed into a recession, or aren’t we? Is inflation still skyrocketing, or is it cooling? As a result, we predicted that more employees would be asking their employers to do more to help them better understand their finances and the state of the world. Research by Morgan Stanley at Work found that 96%

of HR leaders say that “their company needs to do a better job helping employees understand how to maximize the financial benefits offered to them,” and 89% of employees agree.


Along with understanding financial benefits, employees want to understand their financial situation at work, period. We predicted a continued rise in pay transparency priorities, and the trend seems to be steady this year. In a study from ResumeLab, four out of five employees said they wouldn’t apply to a job that doesn’t list a salary range. 77 percent also said it should be illegal not to include a salary range, while 80 percent said employers should always explain how pay is determined. It’s another clear indicator that employees aren’t backing away from insisting on transparency; if anything, they feel even more strongly about it.


Turnover Reaches Leadership, Too

 At the beginning of 2023, we noted that leadership development would likely be a top priority this year. A survey from Gartner found that 60% of HR leaders see leader effectiveness as a top priority, but only 24% think their current approach prepares leaders effectively. As the year has progressed, we’re seeing efforts in that realm, but we’re also noticing something else: turnover has been hitting the C-suite, too.


Research from Altrata uncovered a notable uptick in turnover in C-suite roles: CEOs saw turnover rise by three percentage points to 13.2%. In contrast, CFO turnover increased to 15.9%, and turnover rose to 27.2% among COOs. A combination of factors, from delayed retirements to pandemic-era hasty hires and more, have led us to this point. The fact remains, however, that developing an excellent leadership pipeline is more important than ever, and it’s vital to ensure that excessive turnover doesn’t remove talented leaders from the running before they even have a chance to make a difference.


By Ruben Moreno


About the Author

After a 25-year career in Corporate Human Resources and HR Executive Search, Ruben Moreno and his two partners co-founded Blue Rock Search based on a simple but ambitious vision of creating a firm that would “Change Lives and Organizations One Relationship at a Time.”  Ruben leads the Blue Rock HR and Diversity Executive Search practice specializing in the identification, assessment, recruitment, and onboarding of Chief HR Officers and Chief Diversity Officers and their respective teams — inclusive of leaders in Talent Acquisition, Total Rewards, HRBP’s, Learning & OD, HR Technology, HR Operations, and HR Analytics. Ruben has helped place hundreds of HR Executives and built deep relationships within the CHRO community across multiple industry verticals. His clients consider him a trusted partner who takes the time to understand their business and add value beyond executive search.


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