The business landscape has undergone significant changes in recent years, requiring organisations to adapt and transform. Staying ahead of the curve is crucial in navigating this evolving landscape. Organisations that don’t stay ahead of the curve of change run the risk of severe repercussions in their business outcomes. CBI and Amnesty International recently ended up in the news due to ‘toxic workplace’ cultures. It will take years for these organisations to mend the damage created by not making the changes demanded by the changing business environment.
Recently, we have watched the Head of Spain’s Soccer Federation try to stand against the tide of media and public opinion over an unwanted and very public display of affection. As the leader of a high-profile organisation, Luis Rubiales failed to shift his behaviours to align with the requirements of the modern professional environment. Businesses and their leaders can no longer ignore the tide of change impacting them and demanding a shift. They need to get ahead of the curve and then stay ahead of the curve.
So, what is ahead of us in 2024 and beyond that organisation and leaders need to stay ahead of… BUT first, let’s explore the major trends that have impacted business over the past few years, which will provide insights into the future of work.
Trends Impacting Business Across the Globe – Now and into the Future
Multiple factors have played a part in the evolving business landscape, all of which continue to play a role in dramatically impacting organisations across the globe.
- The VUCA world, with its volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, has been driving change in businesses for over a decade.
- The global pandemic dramatically drove organisations to pivot and change in ways they had never thought possible.
- The pandemic led to the workplace transformation from office-based to working from home and hybrid working. This has now become the new normal. As a result, employees demand a more flexible lifestyle from their employer.
- Technological change is driving an ever-increasing pace of change in organisations. This directly impacts business outcomes, and organisations that don’t respond in a timely manner find themselves struggling to stay ahead of the curve. Organisations can no longer take three years to complete a technology transformation as the platforms they are using are out of date by the time the implementation starts.
- Artificial intelligence has taken centre stage over the past few years. This will transform the business arena and bring about significant change that many industries and businesses have yet to cognise fully. AI will continue to challenge companies to innovate and eliminate outdated ways of working.
- A social media presence was still optional for many businesses ten years ago. It is now a central part of many marketing strategies, and more platforms are continually emerging. It has also changed the workscape for employees because what they post on social media platforms can come back to haunt them in the workplace.
- Employee Engagement has become a significant driver of workplace change. Global research shows that only 23 % of employees are engaged (Gallup 2022). This impacts productivity, retention, attraction and all aspects of business effectiveness.
- Generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s, has undoubtedly brought significant changes to the workplace. As digital natives who grew up surrounded by technology, they have a unique perspective that influences their approach to work. This generation is tech savvy, demanding work-life balance, wanting more purpose-driven work, quicker career advancement and less tolerant of old-school command control leadership styles.
- These things are having a significant impact on the employment market. We are seeing a major shift in employment with the emergence of phenomena like the ‘Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting.’ This has resulted in millions of workers worldwide deciding to reassess their careers and leave their jobs searching for greener pastures.
- Inflation and cost of living challenges have also played a part in the changing employment market. As people seek to maximise their income, employment stability is challenged.
- In this volatile employment market, we are seeing a resurgence in the importance of building Psychologically Safe Workplace Cultures. Research into the great resignation found that a toxic organisational culture was 10.4 times more potent than compensation in predicting a company’s attrition rate (MIT Sloan Management Review 2022). Organisations that are not actively taking care of their culture run the risk of damaging their reputation and their business outcomes.
- Mental health and well-being have become a high-priority issue demanding businesses respond to. Global research (Dimensions International’s Global Leadership, 2021) reveals that in the context of COVID-19, nearly 60% of leaders reported burnout. Research also shows that 44% of employees have experienced daily stress (Gallup 2022). The NHS (The Guardian, 2022) is projecting that 10 million people will need new or additional support for mental health over the next three to five years.
These factors will continue to pressure organisations and demand a shift in how they operate and how the leadership responds.
What Organisations Must Shift and Change in 2024 and Beyond
The future of work in 2024 and beyond is expected to continue to be heavily influenced by the critical aspects we have already discussed. However, some factors will take precedence as organisations navigate the ongoing volatile environment. As we look ahead to workplaces 2024 and beyond, it is crucial to understand that there are some critical aspects of organisational life that we need to embrace and focus on to ensure our organisations are built to last now and into the future.
1. Harness The Best Of Remote Working
Organisations must harness the positive aspects of remote working and reduce the unhealthy elements plaguing many organisations. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote work, and it will continue to be a feature of the workplace in the future. Many companies are realising the benefits of remote work. However, there are also some apparent challenges arising from remote working. Organisations must openly address the challenges around remote working and ensure they can maintain well-being, engagement and healthy organisational cultures. One study found that 41% of remote workers felt stressed compared to only 25% of those who continued to work in the office. Of the same group, 42% had trouble sleeping, while only 29% of office workers reported the same (Done, 2022). Connection is imperative for a healthy organisational culture and engagement (Weidmann, 2023). This is an area that organisations will need to work on to ensure that their organisation embraces the positives and limits the challenging aspects.
2. Embrace Artificial Intelligence
Automation and artificial intelligence are transforming the workplace and will continue to drive significant change in the years ahead. There are a lot of predictions on how AI will transform the workplace, which will be a differentiator for organisations moving forward (Uzialko, 2023). Most organisations are simply not responding quickly enough to the opportunities offered by AI. While there may be concerns about job displacement, it’s more likely that repetitive, mundane tasks will be automated, allowing employees to focus on more complex and creative responsibilities. Collaboration between humans and machines will become crucial for productivity. The ability to fully leverage AI will be a significant differentiator for organisations that want to thrive in 2024 and beyond.
3. Build Healthy Organisational Culture And Psychological Safety
Much has been written about psychological safety’s role in improving workplace wellness and helping stem the tide of the ‘Great Resignation’. It is vital to weathering uncertainty and coping with many of the challenges organisations face. Research shows that unhealthy corporate cultures with disengaged workers have “37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. Organisations with low employee engagement scores experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time.” (Seppala & Cameron, 2015). Organisations must look beyond individual well-being and prioritise psychological safety, creating a culture where employees can comfortably raise concerns, contribute ideas, and share unique perspectives. A healthy, psychologically safe culture is essential for organisations to sustain business continuity, competitiveness, and growth (Gube, 2022). When the organisation’s culture is healthy and psychologically safe for everyone, it leads to numerous positive outcomes. Employees feel engaged, motivated, and satisfied with their work. They’re also more likely to collaborate, innovate, and contribute their best ideas (Jimenez, 2022).
4. Embrace Innovation And Creativity
Innovation and creativity are crucial in driving business success in today’s dynamic and rapidly changing world (Charpentier, 2022). Innovation and creativity allow businesses to stay ahead of the competition. Companies can differentiate themselves in the market by constantly seeking new and improved ways of doing things. It helps them create unique products, services, or processes that attract customers, leading to increased market share and revenue. In today’s fast-paced world, customers’ needs and preferences evolve rapidly. Businesses that fail to innovate and adapt run the risk of becoming irrelevant.
5. Understand And Leverage The Gig Economy And Freelancing
The gig economy has been experiencing 17% growth year on year, and this trend is likely to continue (Dale, 2022). More people are embracing freelancing and independent work, motivated by flexibility and career control. Companies also leverage external talent through platforms to tap into a global pool of specialised skills. Organisations must understand the importance of this in their workforce planning. Many high-talent employees may choose to move to the gig economy, leaving employers with gaps in employment.
6. Place Emphasis On Well-Being And Mental Health
As work-life balance becomes a higher priority, employers will focus more on employee well-being. Mental health support, flexible schedules, and initiatives to reduce burnout will become commonplace. Organisations will recognise the importance of creating a healthy work environment for increased productivity and job satisfaction.
7. Green Jobs And Sustainability
The global focus on addressing climate change will lead to a surge in green jobs. The number of green jobs globally has grown by 8% per year in the past five years (Boone & Seto, 2023). Clean energy, sustainable transportation, and eco-friendly practices will create new employment opportunities. Companies must prioritise sustainability and integrate this into their core business strategies.
8. Capitalise and leverage the Generational Shift
With five generations coexisting in the workplace, it is evident that there are some challenges. There has been a noticeable shift in generations dominating the workplace, with Generation Y (Millennials) and Generation Z becoming more prevalent (Pryor, 2019). These two generations bring unique characteristics and perspectives that have significantly impacted organisational dynamics and work culture. These younger generations value flexibility, work-life balance, and personal growth opportunities. They tend to be tech-savvy, having grown up with rapid technological advancements and are generally more comfortable with digital tools and online communication platforms. This has led to a shift towards remote work and the adoption of innovative technologies in many workplaces. Organisations must respond to the increasing influence of Gen Y and Gen Z in the workplace. Organisations must adapt and embrace the values and expectations of these generations and make the necessary changes to maintain their engagement levels.
9. Leverage Diversity
We have known for a long time that diversity delivers better decision-making and more innovative outcomes. Forbes (2020) notes, “Diversity is a key driver of innovation and is a critical component of being successful on a global scale.” A diverse group of people create something different and unique and build a more balanced culture. Ensuring you are recruiting, promoting, and valuing diversity is crucial to creating an open and vocal culture. This requires work and effort, but when it is effective, it is simply amazing.
10. Build The Capacity For Effective Conflict Handling
Individuals do not always agree or get on with each other, so you must build strategies for handling challenges and differences of opinion. If you want an open culture, building the capacity to handle conflict is crucial. People must develop the ability to use differences and disagreements to create synergistic outcomes (Stephen Covey, 2004). This is a challenge in most organisations, as people actively avoid conflict. They find it difficult to challenge things in the workplace.
Leadership Focus – 2024 and Beyond
Leaders in 2024 and beyond must focus on three critical aspects that will support them and their organisations to thrive.
Build Resilience And Focus On Developing A Psychologically Safe Culture
Quite simply, leaders who are not resilient will not be able to successfully navigate the challenges that will continue to impact organisations into the future. The research shows that without resilience, leaders will not have the capacity to lead effectively in times of disruption and change (Folan, 2019). For organisations to thrive in 2024 and beyond, they will need their leaders to be personally invested in their resilience and be passionate about building an agile culture. Edgar Schein (2010) says, “The only thing of importance that leaders do is create and manage culture.” Resilient leadership and an agile culture are the starting points for a business to navigate disruption.
Embrace Upskilling And Lifelong Learning
With technology advancing rapidly, continuous learning and upskilling will be essential to stay relevant in the future job market. Companies and individuals will need to embrace a culture of lifelong learning to match the pace of technological change and ensure career growth.
Leaders Must Build Trust
Trust is critical to developing an open, honest culture that supports people’s speaking up. Build a sense of security and confidence in the environment so they can speak up and not fear reactions. Trust is a critical part of all interactions that we have as humans. People who work at high-trust companies show 74% less stress, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, and 76% more engagement (Zac, 2017).
Dr. Lynda Folan, based in Western Australia, is a leading Organisational Psychologist with over 35 years of experience. She's recognized for her pioneering research on leadership resilience, particularly her 2019 doctoral thesis and her 2021 book, "Leader Resilience – The New Frontier of Leadership." Born in Africa, Lynda held key roles in the UK with companies like Hard Rock Café, Hasbro, and Tesco. After establishing a successful consultancy, she relocated to Perth in 2007. She holds a doctorate from Murdoch University and other notable academic credentials from institutions like the University of London.