Three Things We'll See in the 2024 Workplace
By Richard Hadden, CSP
Prognosticators are prodigious this time of year, telling us what we can look forward to, and what we can dread, over the next dozen months. Never one to be left out, I’m joining the parade with a short list of three things I think we can expect to see in the world of work during 2024.
1. Continuation of the Worker’s Market
The tight labor supply might ease up a bit, but not much, and certainly not enough for employers to get lazy, cocky, or stupid in their efforts to attract and retain the best talent.
The “experts” got it wrong, I mean way wrong, when estimating new job creation throughout 2023. Phrases like “defied expectations”, and “outpacing forecasts” peppered almost every month’s jobs report. The unemployment rate hit a 54-year rock bottom of 3.4% twice in 2023, and the economy added 2.7 million jobs for the year, more than in any of the handful of years leading up to the pandemic.
So what about 2024? I think we’ll see continued strong demand for talent, outpacing supply, especially in healthcare, the public sector, education, and hospitality.
And even though the rate of job growth is slowing a little (I mean, it had to, right?), it is growth nonetheless, and every little bit mounts pressure on the demand side of the equation. Analogy: If you’re hoping to lose weight, you’d hardly be encouraged by gaining 10 pounds one month, followed by only 8, and then 7.
The switch will likely flip at some point. Just not any time soon. There simply aren’t enough workers to go around for every employer, and, population demographics being immutable, there won’t be, by some estimates, for another 10 – 13 years.
But there ARE enough workers right now for the very best employers. And that’s where you have to be.
2. Generation Z will overtake Boomers in the workplace
Complain about them if you must, but the under-28 crowd is not only the future of the workforce, in large measure, it’s the present. Glassdoor’s population survey data has the youngest working cohort outnumbering the oldest by the spring of 2024.
Let’s have a contest. One team will sit around and gripe about Gen Z, and the other will adapt their organizations to optimize the productivity of the workforce we have at our disposal. I know where I’d put my money.
We can generalize about younger workers until the Contented Cows come home, and we’d all find plenty of exceptions. But there’s good evidence to suggest that this group is by and large smart, well-educated, and ambitious, even if their priorities are different in many respects from those of their more experienced colleagues.
We’d all do well to pay attention to what attracts, retains, and engages this group – things like social interaction, flexibility, and making a real impact through their work. They want to grow in their jobs, and if they’re not getting what they need at your place, they have no problem moving around until they find it. And what they don’t need is a helicopter “supervisor”, or to be on the job 40-plus hours a week, 50 weeks a year.
We’d better get good at leading people like this, because they’re a growing part of the workforce we have. We’re not getting another one.
3. The work “place” will continue to be redefined
Let’s get something straight. Remote work is not going away, managerial protestations notwithstanding.
Of course, lots of jobs can’t be done remotely. But for those that can, the market will sort employers into two houses. In one, management will collaborate with all stakeholders to evolve a setup that serves employers, workers, and customers, and that widens the organization’s recruiting net.
The other house will pour precious resources into fighting a losing battle, and in the process, miss out on some really good people, who by virtue of their talent, have lots of options. Too many people have been to the other side of the river. They’ve seen the promised land, and many aren’t coming back.
No, not everyone wants to work remotely all the time. But there are too many who DO want the option, at least some of the time, for managers to ignore them. Or defy them.
The more successful leaders of remote and hybrid workers will absolutely HAVE to sharpen (or in some cases develop from scratch) their skills around trust, performance management, holding people accountable, communication, and relationship-building.
And not only will work “place” evolve in definition, so will work “time”. Think more flexibility, non-traditional schedules, and the 4-Day Workweek (for 5-Day pay). Those are topics for another day, but one thing is certain: if you’ve not had to wrestle with these ideas already, count yourself lucky, because you will, just as surely as the comfortable temperatures here in North Florida will give way to the midsummer heat. Enjoy it while you can.
Here’s the bottom line for all of the above. It’s your business. If you can find enough people to play under your rules – go for it! If not, change the rules. Before your talent competition beats you to it.