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5 Trending HR and Recruitment Topics in October 2023

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It’s the last quarter of 2023, and the busiest time of year for many organisations. 

With holiday season preparations and annual planning for 2024 underway, topics like returning to the office and using artificial intelligence (AI) in processes such as performance management are under discussion. 

World Mental Health Day on October 10 generated dialogue about the future of mental health at work and the role HR plays in creating healthier work cultures. 

Discussions about mitigating burnout continue with experts focusing on the importance of appreciation and celebrating wins in the workplace. 

There’s also been rising discussion about the role of HR leaders in devising actionable sustainability strategies. With the onus on HR to communicate sustainability strategies, there’s an opportunity for leaders to help organisations define goals and work toward a better future.  

Xref branded green graphic with text that says Creating psychologically safer workplaces

Trend 1: World Mental Health Day: Creating psychologically safer workplaces

World Mental Health Day 2023 triggered a host of discussions about managing mental health in the workplace. The theme of this year’s campaign was, “Mental health is a universal human right”.

In HR and recruiting circles, discussions around this theme centred on how employees can experience more support and psychological safety at work. 

Across the board, workers have become more aware of mental health issues in the workplace. While greater awareness is a positive sign, there’s been a backpedal when it comes to discussing mental health concerns openly. 

In Australia, recent research revealed 68% of employees prefer to hide their mental health status from their employers. 60% say their reluctance is because they fear discrimination.

A US study by Mind Share Partners reveals similar findings with employees showing greater awareness around mental health but declining motivation to discuss issues with employers. Findings show comfort with talking about mental health with senior leaders nearly halved from 37% in 2021 to just 19% in 2023.

What can HR leaders do to help create psychologically safer work environments? 

Here’s a round-up of tips featured in BW People, Human Resources OnlineThe Harvard Business Review and HR Magazine

  • Focus on safety and community. 78% of employees believe a healthy and sustainable culture of work is critical to maintaining mental health. 
  • Ensure HR practices are empathetic. Leaders should strive to balance the physical, emotional and professional aspects of their employees’ lives. 
  • Create a multi-part strategy. Mental wellness can be fostered through training, open communication, employee assistance programs, flexible work arrangements and more. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. 
  • Encourage employees to use available services. Assess how many employees are using the mental health solutions your organisation has available and devise ways to increase uptake. 

Creating psychologically safer work environments will encourage employees to be more open about their own wellness and make them more likely to use the mental wellness resources available to them. 

Xref branded green graphic with text that says Returning to the office

Trend 2: Returning to the office 

Discussions about returning to the office (RTO) on a more regular basis have been in full swing this month. Since the pandemic, hybrid working has become the norm for most office-based employees. 

But now, leaders around the world are considering the benefits of RTO. The 2023 KPMG CEO Outlook survey found that 64% of leaders globally predicted a full return to in-office work by 2026. 

Collaboration and creativity are the top reasons CEOs would like to see employees return to work physically. Research from Gallup indicates two to three office days per week boost engagements and that fully remote employees have a declining connection to mission and purpose. 

However, as The Guardian points out, RTO plans may create tension as multiple employee surveys show most workers don’t want to return to traditional ways of working. Indeed, Gallup finds 90% of employees do not want to return to the office full-time. 

So the question is, should organisations return to the office? There is no definitive answer. 

RTO plans will look different for every organisation. Some organisations may desire traditional full-time attendance in the office while others may be looking to implement RTO strategies that have employees onsite three to four days a week.  

In short, every organisation must decide what works best for its culture and employees. For example, Atlassian will continue to offer remote work and create office spaces that focus on collaboration so large teams can meet as needed.

Tips for stronger RTO strategies 

Here are best practice tips for organisations looking to implement RTO strategies. These tips are collated from Gallup, Insight GlobalWellable, and HR Forecast

Engage in clear communication

Employees should know exactly what is expected of them when it comes to returning to the office. Clear communication could involve rewriting job roles to clearly indicate how many in-office hours are required and meeting with different teams to set expectations. 

Get clear about hybrid work

If your organisation offers hybrid work, be specific about what days employees are required to be in the office. Ensure managers and other leaders in the company are present in the office during those hours to set precedents and allow in-office cultures to flourish. Gallup suggests the best in-office days are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. 

Focus on manager training 

Hybrid work requires a new style of management and many organisations are still figuring out what works best. Invest in your managers and strengthen their performance to help employees get the most out of their time in the office. 

Offer benefits 

If your employees are resisting RTO try to understand their reasoning and see if you can offer solutions. For example, the cost of commuting and dining are big concerns for employees returning to the office. Some organisations may respond to said concerns by offering travel and food stipends. 

Overall, it’s important to remember our world at work has changed multiple times in the last three years alone. Remember to cultivate empathy and take the time to address concerns employees may have about changing their current work routines.  

Xref branded green graphic with text says Using generative AI to manage performance reviews 

Trend 3: Using generative AI to manage performance reviews 

Discussions about the way AI will help reshape human resource management continued this month. 

In September, experts were talking about using AI tools to onboard employees in the metaverse. Currently, discussions have centred on generative AI (artificial intelligence capable of generating text, images, or other media) and how it can be used in performance management.

Performance management is an important HR function but elements like performance reviews can tend to feel like a box-ticking exercise for managers and employees. 

With generative AI, leaders and employees can feel empowered to improve performance. 

Tools powered by generative AI can help highlight an employee's strengths and weaknesses and recommend upskilling programs. They can also automate processes like reminders and check-ins to help both managers and employees stick to agreed cadences. 

Generative AI in day-to-day performance management

According to the team at Ernst and Young, AI tools can become embedded in organisational structures and perform a constant analysis on key performance indicators for employees. Tools can identify red flags and offer solutions. 

For example, an AI performance management tool could be integrated into your work management platform and customer service software. 

The AI tool may detect an employee responding to fewer customer queries over time and suggest ways to improve time management or resurface training modules about expected call rates and times. The tool could also survey lagging employees and ask why work is slower than usual. Responses might highlight deeper issues like under-resourcing or the need for clearer help centre articles. 

Experts agree that while AI can help improve the performance management process, human management is still essential. 

AI tools can help managers better understand employees and use data to make more strategic decisions. Tools can streamline admin and collate data so managers can focus on goal setting and coaching, two important elements of the performance management process. 

Xref branded green graphic with text that says The power of appreciation and celebration

Trend 4: The power of appreciation and celebration 

We are in the middle of a burnout era and organisations around the world are continuing to discuss ways to mitigate the stress and overwhelm employees are feeling.  

Last month, microbreaks were a popular topic with experts emphasising the importance of small breaks throughout the day as a way to boost wellness. This month, the spotlight is being shone on the power of appreciation and celebration in the workplace. 

Appreciation is the cornerstone of a healthy work culture. Studies find a reduction in giving and receiving recognition leads to increased odds of burnout by 45% and 48%, respectively. When there is no consistent organisational strategy for recognition in place, the odds of burnout increase by 29%.

How to ensure appreciation is part of your work culture? Celebrate wins big and small. 

When you celebrate wins at work you help employees feel appreciated which boosts morale and increases engagement. 

It’s a simple solution to add to your toolkit but one that can be easily forgotten when work gets busy. That’s why it’s a good idea to design appreciation programs that can kick into gear even in your busiest periods. 

Tips for boosting celebration and appreciation in the workplace 

Here are 8 ways to boost appreciation and celebration in your workplace. 

1. Give thanks more often. Don’t wait to thank an employee for a contribution or job well done. Give thanks as soon as possible and then follow up with rewards or public appreciation if merited.

2. Offer rewards. Design a reward program in your workplace or focus attention on existing programs that may be underutilised. 

3. Offer perks. If your organisation is able, offer a perks program where employees get access to exclusive deals and discounts. 

4. Share success stories. Share employee and team success stories in your work chats, on social media, during group meetings and in any other forum that makes sense. Open celebration helps foster a culture of appreciation and can help people feel seen and valued for their contributions at work. 

5. Rethink bonus structures. Year-end bonuses are great but they don’t always make employees feel appreciated. Think of ways to inject appreciation and delight into bonus programs. For example, you could create a quarterly bonus structure for more regular giving or ensure year-end bonuses come with a personalised note from managers.  

6. Throw parties and host team lunches. If something great happens, celebrate it with a small party or team lunch. Small celebrations can go a long way in fostering appreciation. 

7. Organise award ceremonies. Celebrate success with award ceremonies. Ideas include a special meeting to announce Employees of the Month or quarterly celebrations that celebrate individual employee contributions toward company goals. 

8. Get the small things right. Make sure to celebrate work anniversaries, birthdays and other special events in your employees' lives. Don’t underestimate the power of remembering milestones! 

Xref branded green graphic with text that says HR to step up for sustainability 

Trend 5: HR to step up for sustainability 

Employees are increasingly critical of their organisation's sustainability strategies. In fact, statistics show 42% of Gen Zs and 41% of millennials would switch jobs if their employer did not take action on climate change.  

A study in New Zealand revealed more than two-thirds of workers say their employers aren’t doing enough towards sustainability and caring for the environment.

The growing number of employees holding their organisations to account over sustainability commitments makes an HR leader's job more critical. 

It’s up to HR leaders to attract and retain talent by making sustainability strategies clear and creating a regular communication cadence with employees about progress and initiatives. 

The important role HR has in communicating sustainability objectives also gives leaders the power to shape strategies from the outset. With more employees keeping an eye on their employer's actions, it’s imperative the strategies organisations commit to are feasible.  

Writing for HRD, academic Marjo Lips-Wiersma, says “HR can be a powerful force in helping turn the tide to create environmental wins that can make a real difference to the planet.” 

HR leaders can help create stronger sustainability strategies by: 

  1. Soliciting employee input on company sustainability goals to increase engagement. 
  2. Communicating goals clearly and transparently and providing regular updates. 
  3. Encouraging employee-led initiative groups that promote sustainability. 
  4. Actively seeking new hires with credentials in sustainability to boost internal expertise. 

Sustainability is an issue that will only grow in importance so it’s vital HR leaders help shape strong strategies and ensure cultural buy-in so employees feel connected to and approve of future goals. 

Final thoughts 

As the year's end quickly approaches, it's clear many organisations are focused on boosting employee wellness across all areas, exploring ways technology can help, and creating sustainable goals for the future. 

Improving psychological safety at work and increasing appreciation can help reduce burnout and build healthier work cultures where employees feel validated and empowered to be honest about inner struggles. Similarly,  cultivating empathy is crucial when it comes to devising and implementing return to work strategies. 

Generative AI offers a solution to optimise performance management so leaders can focus on connecting with employees rather than excessive administration.  

Employees also increasingly want to work for organisations with strong strategies for sustainability making it more important than ever for HR leaders to help shape and communicate strategies in this area.

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