UKG Aspire: 8 Leaders Reflect on the Future of Work

UKG Aspire HR Perspectives

UKG wrapped its customer conference, Aspire, last week in Las Vegas, where nearly 5,000 workplace professionals gathered to discuss the future of work and how organizations can take better care of their people. To glean insights, we chatted with eight leading workplace experts and analysts to hear their top takeaways from the inspiring three-day event. As Cliff Stevenson of Brandon Hall said, “An entire organization becomes more resilient because the people inside are changing.” Here are their perspectives:

What are the biggest challenges facing executives and workplaces over the next few years?

1. Having equipped and effective managers

“Many managers are working managers, meaning they have more on their plates than ever before. This leaves little time to be effective managers and engage their teams. As the adage goes, “People join companies, and they leave managers.” Managers are more influential and have more of an impact on an employee than anyone else in the company. With what has happened over the last few years, we’re seeing more managers become overworked and overwhelmed. Managers are the linchpin to any organization and need not only training but coaching and practice to become better managers.” –Dr. Chris Mullen, Executive Director, The Workforce Institute

2. Improving employee wellbeing amidst change

“The greatest challenge will be the rapid changes that will take place. Economic conditions, inflation, and social change impact our employees, which affects how we lead them. Plus, the rise in contract labor and freelancers will add a layer of complexity onto the changing workforce.” –Sarah White, CEO and Founder, Aspect43

“The greatest challenge is a concept we address in the UKG Megatrends, The Human Energy Crisis. People are feeling overwhelmed. Looming threats, such as high inflation and a predicted recession, climate change and extreme weather events, violence and political unrest are taking a significant toll on people resulting in not only a significant impact to their wellbeing, but also a drop in productivity and discretionary effort. HR pros will have a major role in helping CEOs and organizational leaders understand these challenges and introducing tools and resources to help employees thrive.” –Jarik Conrad, Vice President, Human Insights, UKG

3. Engaging and retaining top employees

“We are coming out of a three-year pandemic, employees are chronically burned out, and are dealing with political/social unrest, and environmental catastrophes. Executives will have difficulty engaging, managing, and retaining talent that has been depleted by both their work and their environment.” –Dan Schawbel, Managing Partner, Workplace Intelligence

“The financial wellness of employees is at the forefront of workplace challenges given the increasing cost of living pressures. Without salary raises in line with inflation, employers could face a new wave of resignations as employees look for more lucrative opportunities and career advancements. Whilst skills shortages persist in critical roles, organizations are under increasing strain to ensure they are appropriately staffed and skilled to meet business targets and commitments. For industries prone to recessionary pressures, hiring freezes are likely, however, very specialized roles or must-fill roles (regardless of level) will be prioritized. Businesses will need to address ways to remain competitive, especially as it relates to salaries and benefits, while maintaining their own financial bottom lines. An employer’s brand, DEI&B (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging), ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance), career opportunities, and remote working flexibility will be increasingly important to help attract candidates as well as benefits packages and on-demand pay offerings.” –Elizabeth Rennie, HR Technology and Services Research Director, NelsonHall

“In the wake of layoffs and hiring freezes in some industries and labor shortages in others, the greatest challenge will be re-assessing and reframing talent strategies that will help employers win talent regardless of market conditions. However, this is twofold, because while external-facing talent experiences are critical, the internal company culture must match. This means giving candidates and employees equal effort, not just going through the motions until the new hire “honeymoon phase” ends. Overall, the ability of executives and all types of employees to become a united front will propel the success of new strategies, whether they surround talent, employee experience, or other areas of HR.” –Evelyn McMullen, Research Manager, Nucleus Research

4. Meeting employee expectations

“We will continue to see changes around how organizations meet the ever-changing employee expectations around flexibility, autonomy, benefit offerings, creating an inclusive workplace, and providing meaningful work for all workers. One of the greatest challenges facing organizations is how they can be more focused on their people and meet these expectations, while keeping the business profitable and operating at its maximum level. The key is understanding each employee as individuals, their differences, interests, and perceptions and taking them into consideration when making decisions that impact productivity, the overall operations of the business, and the company’s bottom line. The CEO and CHRO relationship will be more important than ever as organizations strategically prepare for a more people-centric environment and culture, while ensuring measurable outcomes related to productivity and profitability. Digital technology advancements that offer self-service capabilities and pro-active data analytics will be critical to monitor trends and predictions that impact the workforce and the overall operations of the business.” –Teresa Smith, Director of Human Insights and HCM Strategic Advisory, UKG

5. Simplifying work and processes through technology

“We must take the complex world of work and streamline it for both employees and leadership. Creating order from chaos through a simplified approach in processes and technology will go a long way to meeting that challenge head-on. UKG has it right with its differentiators to address this challenge: people-first technology, Great Place to Work, complex processes made simple, and technology for all employees. Adding to this challenge is adapting to a changing dynamic in HR. Generational transformation and hybrid work are elevating employee needs with equal importance to organizational needs. HR will need to evolve into a support and service delivery mindset to succeed.” –Cliff Stevenson, Principal Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

How will innovations and advancements in HR technology help solve these challenges?

1. People-first technology 

“I am excited about the continued democratization of HR data through people analytics tools and the increased ability of organizations to improve transparency and accountability. UKG’s announcement of the Great Place to Work Hub is especially exciting because it extends these actionable insights into DEI&B, which is an area many workplaces are looking to act upon but are unsure of where to begin in terms of enacting a tangible strategy. As workplaces continue to transform at a greater scale, they can serve as a valuable example for the world of work as a whole.”  –Evelyn McMullen

“Because I believe people are an organization’s most valuable asset, I’m excited about the technology advancements that pro-actively serve up data insights and provide a deep understanding of people’s thoughts, emotions, and behavior patterns. When organizations have insight into the overall wellbeing of their people, they are better able to put strategies in place that support a people-centric culture.” –Teresa Smith

“Technology will need to be more people-centric and fully support individuals in their employment journey. Technology must become a single source producing data and insights. UKG is helping organizations leverage technology to become an employer of choice and create a people-centric workplace where work is meaningful AND aligned with the goals of the business. The ability of technology to create a people-first, simple, and unified platform will lead to greater collaboration, innovation, and a greater focus on the human needs of the workforce — creating new employee communities while strengthening existing ones. All this leads to a more adaptive organization that can not only survive in a volatile environment but succeed against their competitors.” –Cliff Stevenson

“The focus on people-first technology that puts the employee at the forefront is very exciting. Products like continuous pay and pay equity tools have a real-time, direct impact on people at home.” –Sarah White

2. Improved communication

“Innovations such as two-way communication will allow for more real-time connections for all employees. Using communication tools that are part of a company’s HCM tech stack and that meet employees where they are will help give them the information they need when they need it. This allows employees to be heard, communicated to, cared for, and know that they belong.” –Dr. Chris Mullen

“I’m excited about communication and sentiment analysis tools to support employee engagement. Innovations that enable organizations to listen to employee sentiment — from diverse groups and all segments of the organization — are likely to support a more inclusive and belonging organization. UKG’s innovation lab that is addressing job share and strengthening team work also offers opportunities to uplift organizations to improve workplaces to suit more individual needs. Innovations that offer greater visibility of DEI&B insights for organizations and workplace effectiveness are key to driving improved performance as well as retention.” –Elizabeth Rennie

3. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging insights

“The UKG Great Place to Work Hub has the potential to help companies drive engagement and performance while making better DEI&B decisions across their teams. I see the future of HR technology as incorporating more data and being more centralized.” –Dan Schawbel

“I am excited about the tools that give organizations more data and insights regarding their DEI&B efforts. Through the UKG acquisition of Great Place to Work, the organization is uniquely positioned to deliver in this area. Delivering on the promise of DEI&B will not only help historically underrepresented groups: We all win, and organizations perform better when everyone is valued and respected and has an equal opportunity to succeed.” –Jarik Conrad

Share an inspiring conversation you had at Aspire.

“I spoke with Brian Reaves, Chief Belonging, Diversity and Equity Officer at UKG, who explained the importance of ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) and how leaders should all join them to understand the uniqueness of their talent. I thought that was a brilliant idea and am surprised this doesn’t happen more often.” –Dan Schawbel

“I had a conversation with several HR leaders around creating real change. It was inspiring because each leader was making lasting change in the way their organization needed it: increasing diversity, improving onboarding of new hires, better connecting the people strategy with the business strategy. It shows we’re getting to a place where companies are learning what they need—not just what is trending—and solving it! At the core, the change was always about making work a better place for their employees.” –Sarah White

“I was inspired by the conversation during The Workforce Institute’s newest research session about how we fix work. The audience and HR professionals are looking to find what their employees want out of their work and employer. One of the results of the survey was that 38% of respondents said they wouldn’t wish their job on their worst enemy, which shows there is a population of employees that are not happy with their current role or employer. These employees are looking for good pay, flexibility, meaning at work, and for their employer to care about them. This makes it more important for organizations to work toward becoming an employer of choice and a great place to work.” –Dr. Chris Mullen

“I spoke with the HR leader of a large logistics company. She talked about how using UKG’s Workforce Management suite helped lower costs while providing valuable insights into operational efficiencies. The inspiration though was in how she went beyond just saving money and freed up resources to address the day-to-day grind of HR work to focus on human connections and career development. These activities lead to sweeping cultural change that is sometimes hard to see in the short term, but it is happening. An entire organization becomes more resilient because the people inside are changing.” –Cliff Stevenson

“I discussed the intrinsic interconnectivity between time and pay and the significance of prioritizing global payroll. Like payroll, time processes and rules are typically very complex, and very localized to meet country-specific legislation and local agreements. As a leader in delivering workforce management solutions globally for over 30 years, UKG has significant expertise in supporting and delivering local workforce rules. As clients look to build richer integrations across their business to support better experiences and more robust processes, a more formalized and mature global payroll offering alongside workforce management, will give organizations a step change in consolidating their technical landscapes. This has the potential to better support agility, help drive wider insights and AI nudges, and better meet corporate goals and targets through greater visibility of data.” –Elizabeth Rennie

“A UKG partner and I discussed how their solution is working to solve staffing shortages across hourly industries, including healthcare. What surprised me was that instead of focusing on dedicated apps or texting to switch shifts, the partner recognizes that healthcare workers are accustomed to calling in to make changes and has configured their offering to meet this preference. This made me stop to think about what innovation really means for organizations, especially those with uniquely fixed structures and cultures. It is so important to meet end-users where they are, especially as adoption remains a primary boundary to unlocking the potential of any technology solution. For something to be innovative, it doesn’t mean it’s the newest or most advanced, rather it offers a new way to solve an ongoing problem.” –Evelyn McMullen

“I had a great conversation with a customer who had seen me present years ago at a UKG conference. I had two takeaways: The first is that time flies! The second is that this was a good reminder that we can make a positive impact on our customers that can affect their lives beyond work.” –Jarik Conrad

“When talking with a UKG customer about the importance of culture and the experiences we create in the workplace, he shared a funny story with me from an episode of the sitcom, “Taxi.” In the episode, the character Iggy picks up two businessmen and overhears them talking in his cab about the secret to success: dynamic perfectionism. After hearing this, he sets out a goal to transform himself from the worst to the best cab driver in New York. He decides that if you do everything in your life the best you can, then you can reach your goal. In his effort to be the perfect cab driver he memorizes the city map, gives a weather update, becomes a tour guide, has snacks and coffee in the car, and offers music with headphones for is passengers. He ensured that his customers were comfortable, had great service, and were satisfied. As a result, he reached his goal and set company records on every shift. While this was a funny story, it inspired me to look at the impact people have in the workplace and what organizations are doing to help them and the business succeed. So here are a few questions to think about:

  • What investments are we making in our employees?
  • What is their experience like at our organizations?
  • How do we establish and measure goals and expectations?
  • What does our culture look like to stand out in the marketplace?
  • How do we bring out the best in our people to maximize their potential?
  • What areas do we need to change to transform our people and the business?

To win in the marketplace, to win with your people, and to win in business, organizations must invest in their most valuable asset: their people. We must be intentional and take steps to ensure that all our people feel like the organization they are working for has their best interests in mind and is proactively looking out for their success, not just the success of the business. Organizations that invest in their people reap the rewards, and everyone wins.” –Teresa Smith

Interested in attending next year’s event? Learn more and save the date for UKG Aspire 2023.