The year 2024 looks to be one of amazing potential and ongoing challenges for HR. Talent, economic and supply chain issues are expected to continue, while myriad political views will take center stage during this election year.
The Great Resignation, the Gray Resignation, the Great Regret, the Big Stay, quiet quitting, quiet firing and so many other epithets have developed in recent years for good reason: While the economy is strong and talent scarcity widespread, some employers have embraced layoffs as the best way to manage their bottom line.
The erratic pressures and “polycrises” of global wars, labor strikes, technology disruption, stock market and interest rate gyrations, political turmoil, gun violence, immigration, climate change, and so many other social issues pervade the workplace. Simply put, many employees are exhausted, confused and overwhelmed. The pace of change will only exacerbate these problems, leaving workers constantly putting out fires, at work and at home. These realities pose both opportunities and threats to HR leaders of organizations large and small.
Likewise, 2024 will develop into a year focused on talent, from talent acquisition and talent management to talent development. Whatever way you look at it, talent remains the defining asset that drives a company’s business and the primary profit lever that differentiates superstar organizations from those that struggle to remain competitive. The pandemic shined a light on how critical it is to have the right talent in place to keep your company’s doors open and cash flowing. Sure, there will be pockets of upheaval that contribute to layoffs and downsizings. But talent scarcity will remain the law of the land through much of the rest of this century.
Emerging Labor Trends
The Baby Boomer generation was born in 1946 after World War II and continued through 1964, when the increased availability of the birth control pill ended the “boom” and resulted in the “Baby Bust” generation (Generation X). Over those 18 boom years, roughly 75 million babies were born—some 10,000 per day—fueling America’s growing need for talent. But then something happened in 2011: The first Boomers turned 65 and began to retire. Now, millions of Americans will retire between now and 2029—again, approximately 10,000 per day—fueling the need for retirement home accommodations but leaving the workplace lacking. Combine that with the fact that Gen X is only half the size of the Boomer generation, and you can see the talent gap widening as we move into the 2030s and beyond.
Generations are clues, not a box, of course, but we would be wise to track and trend what’s most important to our workers depending on their age and stage of life. At this point, it’s healthy to look to the priorities of Generations Y and Z—the Millennials and the Zoomers—to understand where to focus our future talent planning efforts.
Gen Y Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Gen Z Zoomers (born 1997-2012) are the most studied generational cohorts in history. Employers know their priorities and would be wise to direct their workforce planning and cultural enrichment efforts to accommodating their desires and goals, which include:
- Career and professional development.
- Diversity of thoughts, ideas and voices.
- Work/life/family balance, control and equilibrium.
- Corporate social responsibility and environmentalism.
- An ethical employer, meaningful work and a management team that cares about them personally.
These top priorities are clearly defined and relatively easy to build strategies around. Setting your strategic course around these core principles will help you remain relevant, aware and top of mind when attracting and retaining talent. Coming across as tone deaf, out of touch or otherwise apathetic toward workers’ needs can harm your organization’s reputation irreparably.
The labor force participation rate—the percentage of the population ages 16 to 64 that is either working or looking for work—fell from 67 percent in 2000 to roughly 62 percent today and is projected to remain at that lower level through 2050 due to an aging labor force. By 2050, advanced industrial countries will be losing population at a dramatic rate, making living with underpopulation a global phenomenon. By the 2040s, many industrialized nations suffering from declining birth rates will be enticing tax-paying foreign workers to enter their borders. Some, like Japan and South Korea, have already begun offering foreign workers financial incentives and fast tracks to citizenship.
Likewise, underrepresented racial and ethnic groups account for 30 percent of the total U.S. population today. By 2060, they are expected to reach 60 percent of the population. These groups have historically been overlooked but have a growing amount of buying power. As such, a diverse talent pool increases the range of human capital available to U.S. companies while also better reflecting the buying habits of a more diverse consumer base. This is likely the most critical benefit of diversity hiring: It represents a concrete and practical way of developing external talent pools going forward.
Combined with company goals of creating a greater sense of inclusion and belonging in the workplace—along with equality of opportunity—this organizational core value helps workers of all walks of life do their very best work every day with peace of mind. Despite the attacks on the inclusion, equity, diversity and belonging movement and programs, making inclusion and diversity core principles and organizational values not only meets Gen Y and Gen Z’s list of priorities, but it also expands the talent pool. Wise employers will seize that opportunity by developing a talent bench that reflects their customer base. They’ll garner kudos along the way for building new muscle when it comes to women in leadership, multiple generations in the workplace, military-to-veteran as well as disabled hiring, and so much more.
There’s definitely a lot on the radar of HR practitioners, including:
- Gen Z Zoomers are the youngest generational cohort in the workplace and identify as the loneliest, most isolated and most depressed generation on the planet due to the social limitations of technology. Reports of depression, anxiety and even suicidal ideations run high among this group, necessitating the need for mental wellness and mindfulness benefits.
- Remote work is here to stay. We’re continuing to learn how to make remote work work, but balancing autonomy and accountability remains a challenge, especially since they rarely teach remote leadership in business schools or corporate classrooms. Employees’ need for work/life/family control and equilibrium hangs in the balance with CEOs’ “productivity paranoia” about getting work done, managing the unseen and fostering a collaborative culture.
- Compliance relative to the many laws and regulations governing the workplace will remain at the top of HR’s priority list, especially for those employers operating in multiple states. Employment laws change quickly depending on who’s in political office and what they deem worth fighting for. And artificial intelligence in the workplace will no doubt create a whole new field of employment law, especially when it comes to disparate treatment, adverse impact and intellectual property violations.
In addition, mergers and acquisitions, private equity stewardship, professional employer organizations, the gig economy, international human resource expansion, flatter organizations, career plateaus and other challenges make it clear that our work is cut out for us.
The Future of Work
Finally, we can expect the future of work to revolve around technological advances that will exceed any of our current expectations. Generative AI, quantum computing, cognitive technology, machine learning and robotic-process automation represent some of the most advanced tools available to measure human capital as a true corporate asset.
As you move forward in your career, you can expect AI to unify data, build rich profiles, minimize unconscious and implicit bias, and build cognitive aptitudes that allow for meaningful conversations with employees and job applicants. AI will likewise select appropriate training recommendations that feed individuals’ career and professional development needs and build cognitive aptitudes around talent retention and development that dwarf today’s capabilities. Data metrics and analytics will drive future strategic recommendations and decision-making, undergirding talent planning efforts.
No doubt about it: Human resources as a discipline within corporate America has a tremendous future due to the scarcity of qualified talent that will be available over the coming decades. As HR practitioners, we’ll have the opportunity to train front-line operational leaders and build management muscle that will help leaders communicate more effectively, build stronger teams and positively influence organizational culture. Combined with the technological tools that are now or will soon be at your disposal, you’ll be able to influence your organization’s primary profit lever—talent—and measure and manage increases in performance and productivity that will create a significant return on investment.
Paul Falcone (www.PaulFalconeHR.com) is a frequent contributor to SHRM Online and has served in a range of senior HR roles at such companies as Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, Time Warner and City of Hope Medical Center. He’s a corporate leadership trainer, a certified executive coach and the author of the five-book Paul Falcone Workplace Leadership Series (HarperCollins Leadership and Amacom). His other bestsellers include 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees, 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems, 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire and 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews.