The seven priorities for HR leaders this year

Last year was a turbulent one – both for employees and HR teams. With squeezed finances, global conflict and high resignation rates, the weight of the world was on our shoulders — and this affected our lives at work

The seven priorities for HR leaders this year

Last year was a turbulent one – both for employees and HR teams. With squeezed finances, global conflict and high resignation rates, the weight of the world was on our shoulders — and this affected our lives at work. 

Now, a month into the new year, people teams should be seeking to seize the opportunity to show employees in all generations that we are present, we are listening and we care. With a spotlight firmly on mental health, it’s up to HR leaders to support employees through tough financial times, battle burnout, tackle loneliness and psychological safety. 

Catering for all workers is trickier than ever, with hybrid work continuing and four generations in the workforce at the same time. Technology, including consolidating HR systems and weaving AI into tech stacks, will be vital to help people teams do their best work. 

Throughout this year, HR leaders must work to address the 7 priorities below, to make employees feel supported and level up their employee experience (EX).

Personalised financial support will prove vital as the cost-of-living crisis rages on

Although UK shoppers bought even less than expected in the run up to Christmas, the cost-of-living crisis and inflation mean that consumers are still facing financial challenges as we enter February. Following a long month of ‘Overdrawn-uary’, employees are feeling the effects of financial pressures not only on their bank accounts but on their mental health too. 

The reality is that most businesses don’t have the budget to give pay rises that match inflation. Working smartly with the budget they have, HR leaders can provide financial support that suits any employee’s circumstances. Whether that’s boosting financial IQ, promoting benefits, offering finance options on gadgets and white goods, or providing discounts on daily essentials, HR teams and managers are uniquely placed to relieve financial worries. 

For example, giving each employee a £50 net salary increase a month would give them an extra £600 a year. However, with a discount programme, each employee could save £1,149 a year, giving a much greater financial benefit. Simply, if employees are less stressed about their finances, they can be more productive and focused. And employees will remember how their company treated them in times of hardship for years to come.

Battling burnout will become a business priority

Employees are taking matters into their own hands to safeguard their mental health and avoid burnout. Internet trends such as ‘bare minimum Mondays’ and ‘lazy girl jobs’ show that employees, especially Gen Z, prioritise life over work. Meanwhile, our data shows that 38% of employees frequently experience burnout and over a quarter (26%) do not feel supported by their manager. We are looking to our managers to support us in all aspects of our wellbeing and help us to reduce the risk of burnout.

When it comes to wellbeing, a subsidised gym membership alone doesn’t meet the mark. This year, HR leaders need to level up their support to stand out from the crowd and make employees feel valued. A core part of mental wellbeing is feeling appreciated and respected. By supporting people to be good bosses and offering consistent, two-way communication, HR teams can drive an organisation-wide culture of recognition and affirmation.

As for avoiding burnout, this needs to become a core part of employee value propositions (EVPs). Not only do leaders have a duty of care to set boundaries and role model the right behaviours, but reducing burnout also leads to fewer sick days and improved performance. Listening to individual needs and having an open dialogue makes employees feel heard, and more connected. And when people with a social network at work are twice as likely to say they are productive and less likely to frequently experience burnout, it is hard to not make wellbeing a priority in 2024.

Confusing and disparate HR systems will become a thing of the past

How many times have your employees gone to access a work benefit, forgotten the name of an HR platform or your password, and then given up altogether? An average large company uses 15-35 different pieces of HR technology, bombarding employees with notifications across multiple platforms, making benefits inaccessible, and creating feelings of frustration and disengagement.

In 2024, consolidating HR tech stacks is vital to keep up with employee demands and improve employee experience (EX). Bringing the entire employee lifecycle into one platform will allow staff to have a single point of entry to all benefits and HR services. As well as providing easier self-service options for employees, this consolidation of HR data gives leaders a single source of truth to hyperpersonalise communications and benefits – for instance, putting the most relevant benefits for Gen Z-ers in front of them first. Realistically, your employees are only interested in the updates that are relevant to them. It’s like social media algorithms — the content is engaging because it is relevant to your interests, so internal comms must follow suit.

Eliminating silos and consolidating data will enable organisations to make better decisions and provide better communications for their people in 2024 — especially important when our research reveals that 76% of HR leaders don’t have the data they need to demonstrate ROI on HR investment. 

Workplace loneliness demands attention

An often-overlooked element of HR and wellbeing is loneliness. In a world where we’re overconnected digitally, we are starting to feel disconnected on a human level. With working from home, the cost-of-living crisis and increased mental health pressures, employees are feeling lonelier than ever — with our data highlighting that the younger an employee is, the lonelier they are. The figures are higher than you think, with almost a quarter (24%) of people frequently experiencing loneliness at work.

The key to reducing the impact of loneliness in 2024 is to offer meaningful and authentic appreciation of employees. Recognition is the top way to feel more connected at work and HR leaders must recognise that people crave this affirmation in different ways. Finding opportunities to recognise employees and adapt to their needs will help to reduce the impact of loneliness at work, and minimise sick leave and burnout.

By spreading awareness of the risks of loneliness and reducing the stigma associated with it, HR teams can create a safe space for two-way communication between managers and employees. Going even further, appointing wellbeing champions or mental health first aiders can help to communicate the support available and encourage connection — an important next step in 2024.

Authenticity and psychological safety will become core elements of EVPs

Everyone should feel safe and secure at work. However, 21% of HR managers say that their company environment is not trusting and open, with just 37% of employees saying that they can bring their authentic selves to work. This period of conflict and disruption around the world has us feeling more divided than ever, but HR teams must be able to provide open and transparent environments where employees feel safe to be themselves. 

This year, psychological safety is becoming a vital part of EVPs. Achieved through open communication, authenticity and vulnerability, HR teams and managers need to educate employees on available support, have a more rounded view of wellbeing, and encourage a sense of belonging with diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. Engagement surveys can help leaders to keep their finger on the pulse at a basic level. However, as we move into next year, we need to look at employee resource groups and forums that accommodate all demographics and encourage employee voice.

This inclusive environment also extends to benefits. For instance, offering ‘pawternity’ and ‘grandternity’ leave for new pet owners and grandparents on top of your usual paternity and maternity policies. Providing a wide range of benefits such as ‘get home safe’ that allows anyone to expense their journey home if they feel that they’re in a vulnerable position, menopause support, or bonuses for those buying a new property shows your employees that you care about every stage of their lives. For instance, in the 100 years since the UK’s first female minister, Margaret Bondfield, took office in 1924, the role of women in the workplace has changed drastically. Having an inclusive culture and employee benefit scheme goes a long way in making everyone feel accepted and appreciated.

Gen Z climbs the ranks and Gen Alpha is coming soon

It’s no secret that Gen Z is shaking up the world of work. What we wear, where we work from, and our route into careers have changed, and we are reassessing what is truly important. With more Gen Z in the workforce, demands for wellbeing and affirmation have skyrocketed. And with Gen Alpha entering the world of work in 2026, businesses can’t afford to rest on their laurels.

Moving forward, a multi-generational EVP has never been so important. Meeting Gen Z requirements is a start, and with Gen Alpha on its way, there is not long to make sure that your HR house is in order. For example, is your ESG mission up to scratch? Our data shows that Gen Z is the generation most likely to throw in the towel if an employer’s missions and values don’t align with their own. Think of your company’s values and brand and assess whether younger generations will want to be linked with them. 

Being a modern workplace is also about the practicalities. Can you guarantee flexible working long term? Do your internal systems and tech setup match the ease and functionality of what younger generations expect outside of work? Ensure that workplace systems are as smart and seamless as possible to meet increasing technological demands.

Whilst the key levers, such as benefits, recognition, reward and learning and development, can remain the same at their core, the details within them should flex with your changing workforce to become multi-generational. Personalising rewards and recognition for employees of any age will be key.

Weaving automation into the HR tech landscape

With dwindling resources, both in staffing and budgets, it can be difficult for HR leaders to keep on top of things. Rewards and recognition can often be pushed lower down the priority list as teams struggle to keep up with day-to-day demands, leaving employees feeling undervalued and underappreciated.

This year, businesses must look to do more with less and make automation a core part of HR strategy. Weaving automation into consolidated HR platforms helps leaders make the most out of employee data. For instance, this technology can be used to automatically segment company communications and change benefits recommendations to ensure that employees receive relevant information for them. It can also be used to identify areas of concern and flag any issues to managers that employees may need some extra support. 

To give employees the recognition they deserve, automation can lighten the load on HR teams, automatically sending out eCards and rewards to employees on their birthdays, work anniversaries, and other special occasions — ensuring that no milestone is forgotten. In 2024 and beyond, automation will play a vital role in HR infrastructure and recognition.

Nebel Crowhurst
Nebel Crowhurst

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