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Five Trends HR Leaders Need to Leverage in 2023

ILR Faculty identify developments impacting work dynamics.

The rapid pace of workforce transformation is pushing human resources leaders to adapt for employment trends that have earned catchy monikers — the Great Resignation, quiet quitting and stay interviews. Yet, other underestimated developments are already impacting the dynamics of work.

Expert faculty in Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR School) identified five HR trends that will drive change for companies in 2023.

Dog retrieving a boomerang

1. Boomerang potential

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s quit rate is at its highest in decades. Many workers are moving on to positions with greater compensation or flexibility. However, a recent survey from workforce management firm UKG revealed that more than 60% of job-changers have reported dissatisfaction in their new roles. Millions have returned to their former employers, signaling the importance of proactive offboarding approaches.

“Organizations’ growing alumni talent pools represent an often-untapped source of clients, referrals, and eventually, potential boomerang hires,” said Rebecca Kehoe, ILR associate professor of human resource studies.

Treating exits as occasions to invest in long-term relationships with parting employees can position organizations for future success.

"In order to make the most of employee departures, HR leaders will need to extend their efforts beyond exit interviews and take a more proactive role in the offboarding process – ensuring that employee exits don’t represent the end of an employee’s relationship with the organization,” said Kehoe.

2. Increased employee activism

Societal movements spark demand for sociopolitical and economic change that inevitably manifests in the workplace. A tight labor market has put employees in the driver’s seat, creating opportunities for them to be more outspoken on national and global matters,   and on what they want from their employers.

“In this environment, HR leaders need to be adept at listening to employees and responding to emerging issues,” said Bradford Bell, ILR's William J. Conaty Professor of Strategic Human Resources and director of ILR's Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies. “The annual engagement survey no longer cuts it. Listening mechanisms need to be more frequent, agile and organic.”

Changing the way HR listens to employees’ needs and values also results in more insights to inform the design of policies and practices, leading to organizational responses that can adjust to pivots in culture.

“The pandemic forced many organizations to re-evaluate how they structure work and manage the overall employment relationship. HR leaders will need to be savvy consumers and users of the inflow of information, not only helping frame questions and issues from an analytical standpoint, but also communicating findings and driving change based on the data,” said John Hausknecht, professor of human resource studies.

3. Adoption of a “whole person” approach

Research from the McKinsey Health Institute shows that 80% of HR leaders identify mental health as a priority for their companies. Beyond well-being initiatives such as work-life balance trainings or book clubs, HR should develop comprehensive policies that build inclusive environments in which each employee’s needs are met.

“Beyond managing performance and monitoring engagement at work, the evolving employment relationship requires employers to provide support for employees’ health, well-being and growth outside the workplace as well,” Kehoe said.

Employers should expand their scope of awareness and concern for employee stress — and the health issues that often follow. HR leaders can help their organizations beat burnout and support workers by encouraging the implementation of precise goals and achievement metrics and providing ample training and ongoing professional development. 

4. Coaching across generations

Multigenerational workplaces can present challenges in managing diverse experiences, expectations, and expertise levels. However, Christopher Collins, associate professor of human resource studies and director of ILR Graduate Studies, says that employees of all ages report that the best leaders are not only supervisors but also mentors and coaches.

“The real key to organizational agility is at the employee level, which means that employees need to be able to work autonomously without constant direction, increasing the need to have managers serve as coaches and mentors,” said Collins. “Most employees, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, seem to respond best to being led by managers who coach rather than tell.” 

Artificial Intelligence Graphic

5. Retreat from AI

Automation continues to redefine processes and positions in the workplace as nearly half of work activities could be automated with existing technology, according to McKinsey. Adam Seth Litwin, associate professor of labor relations, law, and history at the ILR School, cautions of the pitfalls that come with a reduction of an organization’s human labor force.

“It makes sense that we’re blown away when we see the capabilities of AI and other new technologies. But resist the urge to automate away your need to manage,” said Litwin. “Too often, managers dream of a world in which technology can slowly but steadily replace their workforce, which inevitably leads to frustration, disappointment, and a substantial hit to the bottom line. Go slowly, and begin by asking, ‘What do my people do really well, and how can we use technology to help them do that even better?’”

To help HR leaders stay on top of these trends, the ILR faculty who shared their advice have custom-designed online certificate programs on a variety of in-demand HR topics, including Strategic Human Resources Leadership, Building a Diverse Workforce, HR Analytics, Employment Law, Compensation Studies, Recruiting and Talent Acquisition and many more. Cornell’s ILR School also offers two professional degree programs, an Executive Master of Human Resource Management and a Master of Industrial and Labor Relations.