This time a year ago we did our first Organisational Predictions article, outlining what the future might hold for people, work and organisations in the 2023 year that was ahead. It was well received, so we’re finishing 2023 with our take on what 2024 might hold. Most are high conviction, some are already being openly predicted and discussed in the mainstream media, but others are absolutely our own read based on a wealth of client interactions over the last few months.
1. The R word – recession or not, the economy will be slower
Banks, car manufacturers, technologists, not for profits, building material producers, and many more are already experiencing, and predicting a slower economy in 2024.
While we may not technically be in a recession (2 consecutive quarters of negative real GDP growth), we are already in a slowing economy (we’ve had 4 quarters of a slowing real GDP growth rate).
And along with the overall economic conditions – the financial experience, and significant impact on the well-being of everyday Aussies, is well publicised.
A cost-of-living crisis – high inflation (13 rate rises in rapid succession off a low base), tight labour market and migration patterns, a continuingly hot housing market, and an increase in industrial relations and bargaining activity.
Some tougher times are upon us.
2. Workforce Transformation – the new word for the same old restructuring
As we alluded to in podcast this week, transformation is in vogue (and keeping with the fashion reference – Transformation is like an old fabric, revisited).
Over the years, we’ve gone through restructuring, downsizing, rightsizing, modernising, change, and now transformation. There’s been job losses, reductions, redundancies, reshaping, and a host of creative expressions for conditions that ‘trigger’ a redundancy.
While we deeply appreciate the evolving and complex current set of issues for organisations locally and globally, the callout in Transformation is when there is a lack of thoughtful organisational or work design in favour of more short-term approaches i.e., cost-saving or workforce reductions without the reasons beyond cost alone. It is not really a ‘transformation’ of anything except the wages line.
In these instances, we are hearing that cost decisions are being made high up, and then cascaded as aggregated workforce decisions, instead of empowering leaders and teams to be accountable for optimising the workforce more thoughtfully.
And that is pretty debilitating. People are feeling the pinch, and are much more receptivity to these measures when they are involved and empowered, even if the results still might land on big calls.
3. Work anywhere, but anywhere can be a disengaged and lonely place
In our 2023 predictions, we spoke about two-speed workforces. This pattern – of a cohort of people working harder and faster than ever, and the other cohort working more transactionally, with more tightly guarded of boundaries than ever, remains the case as we type these new predictions.
And as soon as you write about it – you ignite a battle between office lovers and remote-only workers, and over-simplified debates on ‘2,3 or 4 days’ rather than genuine conversations on potential work design
When you sit on a bus (to work, or otherwise) or train, or walk down the street or overhear strangers in a bar, you hear them talk about their hybrid work pattern.
What has become unfortunately less common are open conversations on purpose, customers, the work you do – what you love about that work (beyond the pattern), and how it might be best done. That’s a much more interesting conversation to join.
Way past that, but potentially related, is the new epidemic that is bubbling to the surface, in workplaces, with school students and retirees alike, and that is the loneliness epidemic.
Loneliness is multifaceted, but work – and the physical and social connectivity it provides – might be part of the solution. The way work has shifted and changed how our physical and social connectivity happens. The research is in progress, but, it’s a factor well worth considering thoughtfully.
4. Polarity and divide – society and work collide
All 3 of our Co-Founders here at mwah. have lived and worked in the USA, and the topic of polarity and divide there is one we regularly discuss. Not with judgement, but observation, we note that we are becoming more divided, polarised and vocal here as well.
This was apparent in the recent Edelman Trust Barometer.
It looked at two axes, how divided a country is and how entrenched those divides/divisions are. This leads to 3 key groupings: Less Polarized, Moderately Polarized and Severely Polarized.
For the first time ever, Australia is right on the cusp of ‘in danger of severe polarisation’.
It comes through attitudes, politics, opinions, and social media. We are divided, not united, and pulling further apart on every topic.
Amongst all this, workplaces are certainly not immune, and neither are People & Culture functions.
Right now, we are seeing the divide in People & Culture – between a whole range of things like:
- Proactive versus Reactive
- Control and hold; versus enable and empower.
- Confidence and capability building; versus cost reduction and insecurity
- Culture work (the ‘soft stuff’) versus Industrial Relations (the ‘hard stuff’).
- Critique while ‘admiring the problem’ and leaving it unsolved; versus getting a grip on the complexity and making a difference
Of course, the best people, cross the divides and polarity, are perpetually curious, listening, and empathising with others to find great ways forward – no matter how difficult the context.
5. Culture will be the 2024 battleground
Our last prediction is that Culture will be the 2024 battleground.
We are already starting to see this prediction manifest in many organisations.
Last year we said that COVID-19 showed people the value, and critical importance, of organisational culture (finally!). Some of the best organisations have since tripled down on culture as an organisational asset, a key lever to pull regardless of the economic conditions – but of huge value in a tougher environment.
Just as the best are ramping-up efforts, we are seeing others desperately trying to just hold culture as it was before covid, and others still are diligently measuring obvious cultural decay.
Against this backdrop, we are also seeing a great deal of the culture work lifted out of the People & Culture/Human Resources function, and put squarely into the strategy teams under Chief Operating Officers, Chief Strategy Officers and sometimes even Chief Financial Officers.
We didn’t set out to create a more sombre set of predictions, but, we are left with people peddling hard to end 2023 with some uncertainty ahead.
To summarise, our predictions are:
- The R Word – recession or not, the economy will be slower
- Workforce Transformation – the new word for the same old restructuring
- Work anywhere, but anywhere can be a disengaged and lonely place.
- Polarity and divide – society and work collide
- Culture will be the 2024 battleground.
In each of the 5 predictions, there is hope and opportunity, that can be shaped with genuine care, open understanding and transparency, and clear, deliberate actions.
If you need human (and technology!) support to think differently about culture, we will be ready for you after the break, please get in touch.