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5 Trending HR and Recruitment Topics in March 2024

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This month in the HR and recruiting world much discussion was had about the gender gap in the workplace. 

International Women’s Day and the release of new gender pay gap reports led to discussions about pay parity and the role AI can play in closing the gender gap. 

Psychological safety was another topic of interest with experts discussing its importance in the workplace and how leaders can start creating a culture of safety. 

The role of HR in building cyber safe workplaces was also discussed. HR and IT teams can partner to create more secure workplaces that put IT security at the forefront. 

In the world of benefits, companies around the world have started to give employees more paid leave to encourage wellness including better mental health. 

Xref branded green graphic with text that says Gender pay gap reports released 

Trend 1: Gender pay gap reports released 

HR professionals are closely monitoring and discussing the data released by new gender gap reports by Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) and the World Bank. 

In late February, WGEA released a report revealing the gender pay gaps for nearly 5,000 Australian private sector employers. It’s the first time a report like this has been published in Australia. 

The WGEA report results show that:

  • 30% of employers have a median gender pay gap between the target range of -5% and +5%.
  • 62% of median employer gender pay gaps are over 5% and in favour of men.
  • The rest (8%) are less than -5% and in favour of women.
  • Across all employers, 50% have a gender pay gap of over 9.1%.

In early March, the World Bank released a report called Women, Business, and the Law. Findings show the global gender gap is wider than expected with women earning approximately 77 cents for every $1 paid to men. 

As predicted in our January 2024 trends piece, the release of new data has boosted discussion about the gender pay gap.

ABC News noted HR teams were briefing staff on the gender pay gaps in their business and that the availability of new data may impact employee decisions about where to work. 

A study by HiBob revealed that 6 in 10 Australian women would leave a role due to a gender pay gap. 

Experts at The Conversation said Australians may see fuller use of The Fair Work Act which was amended in 2022 to include new tools to help close the gender pay gap. 

Prompted by World Bank data, CNN is launching a new series about women and work looking at industries that have wide gender pay gaps and exploring how differences can be rectified. 

Contributors to Forbes discussed how closing the gender gap makes sense ethically and economically as higher-paid women create greater societal outcomes like less poverty. 

Closing the gender pay gap 

To improve equality, HR teams must work to actively close the gender pay gap in their organisations. 

Closing the gap can start with reviewing current job roles and remuneration to identify current gaps and then creating plans to close them. 

Addressing gender pay gaps will help HR teams create more equality in the workplace and give leaders the tools to discuss the next steps with potential candidates and long-term employees.  

Xref branded green graphic with text that says AI and the gender gap

Trend 2: AI and the gender gap 

International Women’s Day and the release of the new pay gap data (discussed above) have sparked a host of discussions about equality in the workplace. 

A prominent topic has been the role AI can play in both widening and closing the gender gap. 

The role AI can play in widening the gender gap 

Last year, the UN formed a High-Level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence

An interim report released by the board identified the potential AI has to discriminate against groups of people (including women) by showing stereotypical depictions of skills and professions. For example, AI-driven image searches of higher-paid roles like judges and doctors yield mostly images of men while lower-paid jobs such as nursing or caregiving portray more women. 

Limiting bias in AI models starts at the beginning of development. If fewer women are in positions of influence, AI models may continue to discriminate because different opinions were not considered during the development stage. 

The role AI can play in closing the gender gap 

While, as noted above, AI has the potential to widen the gender gap, there are several ways it can help close the gap. 

Firstly, ensuring more women have a seat at the table when it comes to discussions about AI and decisions around its use, can help ensure new technology does not widen the gender gap and perhaps even works to close it.  Promoting fairness and non-discrimination when creating and developing AI systems is key to ensuring that the technology benefits everyone. 

Second, women are poised to take the lead when it comes to generative AI. According to IBM, generative AI is having a marked impact on female-dominated industries like customer service, marketing and HR. Women in these fields have the power to influence how generative AI is to used to both boost efficiency and set more equal industry standards.

HR teams looking to use AI to close the gender gap can do so by encouraging more women to upskill in the use of AI. Early data shows fewer women are using or learning AI-related skills even though generative AI is disrupting female-dominated industries first. 

Leaders can close the AI-skills gap by: 

  • Teaching AI and STEM skills early in their careers making a particular note to make women feel comfortable learning these concepts. 
  • Removing financial obstacles to further education so learning is more accessible to women. 
  • Building support systems like female mentorship programs and networking opportunities for women in AI. 
  • Fostering a supportive work environment by creating a workplace free of gender bias and discrimination. 

By addressing the AI skills gap early, leaders can set all staff up for future success and work to close the gender gap overall. 

Xref branded green graphic with text that says Psychological safety in the spotlight

Trend 3: Psychological safety in the spotlight 

Is your workplace psychologically safe? This month, psychological safety is in the spotlight with experts across industries discussing its importance in the workplace. 

Psychological safety refers to the belief that you won’t be punished or shamed for making mistakes, providing ideas and feedback, asking questions or raising concerns. In the workplace, it means employees do not fear interactions with colleagues or managers and feel supported to take risks and own the outcome, whatever that is. 

According to experts at Neuroleadership, there’s a common misconception that psychological safety means sugarcoating the truth and only allowing positivity and good vibes. 

But, psychological safety is less about being positive and more about allowing employees to be honest and open. Psychologically safe workplaces produce healthier and higher-performing teams because everyone feels safe enough to share their ideas, concerns and feedback.

Why psychological safety matters 

In some workplaces, employees may not want to raise concerns or flag errors due to fear of repercussions but this can lead to bigger issues. 

HR leaders are focused on creating safer cultures so issues can be brought to light and solved promptly. For example, in industries like accounting, mistakes and concerns must be raised quickly so one numerical error doesn’t lead to a bigger discrepancy. 

In the world of cybersecurity, creating a culture where mistakes are identified earlier  can help prevent bigger data breaches, which is essential for organisational resilience.  

IT Pro notes psychological safety is an essential building block for creating strong security cultures. Individuals and teams must know they can raise issues safely and have them addressed instead of hidden to prevent perceived repercussions.  

Building psychological safety at work 

Building psychological safety at work is an ongoing process. A report by global HR research and advisory firm, McLean & Company, explains psychological safety is not a universal experience for employees because different backgrounds and life experiences impact feelings of safety. 

To build psychological safety leaders can: 

  • Ask for feedback. Use an engagement survey to discover how employees currently feel about raising concerns in the workplace and pinpoint areas for improvement. 
  • Create a culture of learning and growth. A culture that normalises mistakes and prioritises solutions over recrimination helps build safety. 
  • Practice open communication. Leaders who own their mistakes publicly and with grace can set the tone for employees to do the same. 

Creating a culture with psychological safety empowers employees to speak up and rectify errors, all steps that help create stronger organisations. 

Xref branded green graphic with text that says HR to be a leader in cybersecurity

Trend 4: HR to be a leader in cyber security 

HR teams have the power to harness IT knowledge and help train employees in cyber safe practices.

Human error and lack of awareness are usually the top causes of cyber breaches. Most employees don’t intentionally want to compromise cyber security. However, small acts like clicking compromised email links, sharing data and connecting unauthorised devices to company networks can heighten vulnerability. 

Better awareness and education can help prevent cyber breaches caused by employees which is why experts at Forbes urge HR teams to partner with IT and take the lead in cyber security. 

Creating a cyber safe culture 

HR can take steps to strengthen cybersecurity by:

  • Initiating tabletop exercises and creating solid training plans so employees are prepared to spot and react to cyber threats. 
  • Have personnel changes flow through HR so HR teams can terminate former employees' access to emails and servers as soon as employment decisions are made. 
  • Reduce friction with IT by partnering with them to create cyber security training exercises, security workflows and policies. 

As noted in our trend about psychological safety, it’s also important employees feel empowered to speak up about cyber threats and incidents. Mistakes happen, what’s most important is to create a space where employees learn how to spot potential threats and know how to report them. 

The specific risks of IoT devices 

When it comes to cyber security, HR teams are being called to pay specific attention to Internet of Things (IoT) devices. IoT technology is on the rise and has been identified as a key cyber threat facing HR teams and organisations at large. 

IoT devices are physical objects like watches, smart devices and keyboards that have sensors and software that collect and convey data. 

For example, IoT devices can track keyboard strokes and call activity giving insights into how productive employees are in a workday. IoT devices can also track activity like kilometers travelled in a day which is insightful information for logistics companies. 

Taking advantage of IoT devices opens HR teams to a host of new vulnerabilities. IoT devices extend an organisation’s digital footprint, creating more access points for cybercriminals intent on breaching security. 

For example, IoT devices do not always offer encryption, secure boot capability or regular security updates, all elements that can leave devices open to misuse. 

HR teams can limit the risks of using IoT devices by understanding weak points and then training employees in ways to spot compromised devices. Employees should also be made aware of the risks of connecting unauthorised devices like smartwatches, to company networks.

As the use of technology evolves, we will continue to see IT security issues overlap with HR responsibilities. It’s therefore important for HR teams to partner with IT to create robust processes that protect organisational and employee data in the short and long term. 

Xref branded green graphic with text that says Healthies on the rise 

Trend 5: ‘Healthies’ on the rise 

The importance of mental health days has come under discussion recently as employees continue to battle burnout and are feeling additional stressors like the rising cost of living. 

Recent research by Vitality revealed Britons are losing at least one day of work a week because of mental health problems. Additionally, the study showed mental health issues had the greatest negative impact on productivity. 

Additionally, a report by Calm Business revealed 7 in 10 US employees said their mental health stayed the same or worsened in the past year.

While mental health or wellness days are not a cure-all, they can provide much-needed leeway for employees who are struggling.

As a result, more companies are reviewing policies so they can provide extra paid time off outside of regular sick days. 

Rise of the 'healthie'

In Australia, a sick day from work is referred to as a ‘sickie’. In an attempt to reverse the number of ‘sickies’ employees take, an Australian company, FutureBrand, has started giving employees a ‘healthie’. 

For FutureBrand, a ‘healthie’ is an extra day off work every quarter. All employees get the same day off so they can enjoy the benefits of their day off together. LinkedIn shared the news which generated lively discussion from a variety of leaders about the benefits of wellness and mental health days.  

Meanwhile, IKEA Canada has recently granted full-time employees 12 wellness days per year, while part-time employees receive 8 days annually. Employees can use wellness days when they have personal needs like appointments, community events, illnesses or injuries, caretaking duties or even spending time with a new pet. 

Mental health days, wellness days and other forms of additional paid time off are not always mandatory. But, they can be an attractive benefit and help employees maintain balance. 

HR teams can help support employee wellness by: 

  • Assessing leave policies and identifying potential areas for improvement. 
  • Creating a supportive culture that encourages employees to rest and prioritise wellness. 
  • Providing additional mental health and wellness resources like free counselling and health stipends.  

Supporting employee wellness is a long-term strategy that can help individuals manage their life challenges and improve organisational outcomes as healthier employees are more productive and supportive of others. 

Final thoughts 

This month saw discussions centre on creating inclusive, supportive and secure workplaces. 

International Women’s Day and the release of the two gender pay gap reports fuelled discussions about equality in the workplace with HR teams called to take steps to help close the gender gap in their workplaces. 

The role AI can play in widening and closing the gender gap was also heavily discussed. HR teams can help close the gender gap by ensuring female staff are actively upskilling and that diverse groups are helping make important decisions about the use of AI in their workplace. 

Psychological safety was also a topic of discussion. Psychologically safe workplaces can build stronger teams as employees are more likely to speak openly and honestly about setbacks and mistakes. 

Increased psychological safety is of particular benefit to organisations looking to become more cyber secure as employees feel more empowered to report and acknowledge IT mishaps. 

HR teams can also boost cybersecurity by partnering with IT teams to boost awareness by creating robust training plans and limiting the risks posed by IoT devices. 

And finally, the rise of mental health and wellness days was highlighted as companies around the world attempt to respond to the growing pressure facing employees. Mental health days can provide extra time for employees to decompress so they can return to work feeling stronger and more productive.

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