As people become more comfortable leaving roles that do not address their needs, well-being, culture, and inclusivity are no longer simply tick boxes that look good in an annual report.

Ivan Hollingsworth, founder and director of Centric Consultants shares the emerging trends that businesses must take note of if they want to create environments for people to thrive in 2024 and stay ahead of the pack.

1. Tech-driven human connection

The advancements and widespread adoption of generative AI will mean a decrease in busy work and a drop in mundane, repetitive tasks for some teams. While this is a positive opportunity to focus on creativity, innovation, and being truly human, leaders must be aware that it will leave some colleagues questioning their purpose. In 2024 leaders should embrace advancements in technology and AI as a chance to free up space in their team for real human connection, creativity, and big conversations and pivot their role into being a ‘culture curator’, rather than micromanaging every step of the process.

If advancements in tech are lessening the load on leaders and managers, they can spend more time empowering others to reach their goals and make high-quality decisions. A great leader is inclusive, compassionate, courageous and authentic and having more time to focus on these attributes will have a tangible effect on those around you.

2. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

Most organisations will say that they are committed to increasing diversity and inclusion in their organisations, and now that this has been on the table for a few years we are starting to see an increase in more diverse voices around the table, and that is when the hard work starts. This year leaders need to embrace what an equitable environment looks like within their team and get comfortable with the fact that some of the conversations you have to have to get there might be a little, well, uncomfortable. If as a leader you are asking people to be ‘authentic’ at work, but then shutting down conversations or opportunities when they express opinions or needs that are new or different, then you are not asking people to be authentic, you are asking them to be like you, which defeats the point entirely.

There are tactical ways that you can start addressing equity in your business today.

• Leadership Awareness – The role of the leader is crucial during this process and they need to lead by example when it comes to expressing humility, admitting where things may not be perfect currently, and being prepared to have open and honest conversations. A leader who is wracked with guilt about where culture is currently imperfect is more likely to ignore the problem in favour of smaller, more comfortable issues. Create space for open conversations where people can share questions or admit that they don’t have a full understanding without fear of judgment. Forward-thinking business leaders show a visible commitment to making positive change, and are deeply curious about those around them, seeking to lead and understand with empathy.

• Create structure Go beyond good intentions and big promises and formalise a process or network that can be championed by senior leaders in the business. Team members should be a diverse group from across all levels of the organisaion and should be invited to participate, sharing ideas in a safe space and feeding learnings into the network champion and create real change. The senior leader championing the project should participate in 360 feedback to showcase what real-world changes have been actioned on the back of these conversations. It’s also important to note that this should not be something that you volunteer to be part of on top of your day-to-day role, as this often puts an extra burden on people from minority groups and heightens inequity. Not only will this approach challenge actions, but it will also broaden awareness across the organisation as colleagues see time, money, and resources – not just words – being allocated to making change.

• Reverse mentoring Creating equity is not a top-down project, it needs the voices of people from marginalized groups to be given a platform to be heard. Reverse mentoring pairs leaders with a mentor from a background that does not reflect their own lived experience. Active listening, showing empathy, and honest conversations are crucial during these sessions. Leaders should feel comfortable admitting when they don’t have all the answers and asking for help in developing their understanding of certain topics.

While taking these steps is an important part of the journey towards creating equity, this is not a problem that can be solved overnight. Investing in equity and building psychologically safe cultures is a long game – but it is worth it if you want thriving teams delivering their best work while maximising the talent pool that you can recruit from.

3. Challenges outside of work will continue

As we head into another turbulent year, outside of work there will continue to be challenges that your teams will have to navigate, this could be anything from the cost of living crisis to family break-ups, caring responsibilities, or childcare issues. Asking your team to be ‘resilient’ in the face of these challenges doesn’t help anyone and leaders should focus on creating supportive, understanding environments that help people bounce back as quickly as possible when life throws them a curveball.

A culture that holds psychological safety as a core principle is crucial to problem-solving innovation and creativity; basically, the harder it is to voice problems, the harder it is to solve them.

4. Culture driving business evolution

As Satya Nadella, managing director of Microsoft put it, “The C in CEO now stands for culture. The CEO is the curator of an organization’s culture and anything is possible for a company when its culture is about listening, learning, and harnessing individual passions and talents to the company’s mission.

A thriving culture is based on two main components – vitality and growth through learning. Stimulate a culture that celebrates learning and professional development and spend time focusing on building trust between team mates – it is the bedrock of how we interact with each other. A team that trusts each other will have more energy, less stress, fewer sick days and less burnout and knowing that other people have your back allows your team to be brave enough to try new things and approach problems from a different perspective – all of which will push your team forward. If you want to start building trust, practice humility in your leadership style and admit that you don’t always have all the answers, communicate with your team one on one and show appreciation for everyone’s contributions.

5. The generational power balance is shifting

The next generation of leaders, Gen Z isn’t just starting to enter the workforce, some are already managing teams or are in a skilled position. This new generation has different expectations when it comes to communication, workplace culture, and hierarchical team dynamics. Organisations can’t put their head in the sand any longer if they want to future-proof their business and nurture the leaders of the future, they need to act now to create environments that stimulate connection, provide an opportunity for meaningful feedback and encourage open communication.

Rather than treating everyone equally, equity acknowledges the unique challenges and barriers that different individuals face. In a diverse workforce, not everyone has had the same opportunities or experiences. When businesses prioritise equity, they recognise that individuals may need different resources, support, or accommodations to reach their full potential, and to push the business forward. This approach not only fosters a more inclusive and supportive work environment but also sends a powerful message to employees that their individual needs are valued and understood.

Centric Consultants is based in the North East of England and delivers workshops and bespoke training across the UK. To find out more and to speak to the team directly about the problems you are trying to solve email [email protected]

Workplace Culture Expert at Centric Consultants

Ivan Hollingsworth is the founder and director of Centric Consultants - a business founded in a bid to tackle 'culture-washing' and support business leaders to build strong, sustainable, high-performing teams based on trust and psychological safety. Ivan founded the business after spending over 16 years in the pharmaceutical industry, working and interacting with a wide-range of different team dynamics, both in the private and public sector. His bespoke approach includes open and candid discussion on his career experiences in a competitive industry, as well as how the highs and lows of his training as an elite level athlete has allowed him to observe and identify what makes a truly high-performing team.

Since the business was founded he has worked with clients across the UK, bringing his unique combination of lived-experience and comprehensive knowledge and research to a wide range of businesses and organisations. Ivan specialised in working closely with senior decision makers and teams to increase performance, reduce burnout and retain staff who are happy, healthy and fulfilled. Alongside his impressive carer, Ivan has raised over £500,000 fir charity and is chair of the board of trustees for The Children's Heart Unity Fund (CHUF).