Reviewing Our 2023 Workplace Predictions: The Workforce Institute Weigh-In

The Workforce Institute Weigh-In for July 2023: Now that we’re more than halfway through the year, how are we doing on our 2023 Workplace Predictions? What did we get right? Wrong? 

“The predictions aren’t easy to measure six months in, and I’d even say they’d be hard to measure 12 months in because they’re slow to see changes. I think they’re GREAT predictions (with the exception of HR being rewarded – that ain’t gonna happen), but most of them are hard to say they’re happening. With the exception of I-9 compliance [employment eligibility verification in the United States]. The end of flexibility of I-9 documents — meaning the end of being able to verify over whatever video-based collaboration tool you use — is hitting some organizations harder than others, especially teams that are entirely remote. Finding a notary or another qualified individual to verify I-9s can be hard, and there’s certainly a market for HR consultants to do it, but in-person verification is a seemingly unnecessary hoop organizations are having to jump through.” — Kate Bischoff, employment attorney, k8bisch, LLC

“It is a mixed bag: We are going to be on target with the idea that leaders need to be more transparent. I also have seen people step back from management — both at my company and with our clients — to do what they really enjoy doing. This provides a better work-life balance, reduces stress at the job, and ultimately, helps them be stronger contributors. Not surprisingly, we have found that the quality of our managers is going up because those that continue to manage want to do it. The jury is still out on whether those loyal employees will get rewarded (although I think signs are pointing to ‘yes,’ particularly related to opportunities for promotions and advancement). Also, we still need to see if remote work/flexible work will carry the financial ramifications that we predicted. I have heard anecdotes about this but have not seen widespread proof that the chickens will come home to roost. The biggest surprise for me has been the politicization of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) programs. Just today, the [U.S.] House [of Representatives] pushed forward a defense spending bill that eliminates all Pentagon DEI&B programs and personnel. The blow back on DEI&B programs in the private sector is creating remarkable conflict inside of organizations. So, the question of ROI is getting lost among the emotions people feel for or against the programs. This seems largely to be an American problem. I do not see it in other countries — at least not yet.” — Bob Clements, president, Axsium Group

“I am particularly drawn to comment on ‘Metrics That Matter,’ and how we hit the mark with this prediction. In fact, it’ll be a long-standing prediction that will continue to come to fruition with HR and business leaders. Leading with data is critical when it comes to building a culture of trust and transparency in the workplace, justifying decisions, making proactive changes, and anticipating trends. Using data to tell a story and to explain the ‘whys behind the dos’ is progressively imperative with the employee expectation of openness and transparency with organizational decision making at all levels of the organization.” — Julie Develin, co-host, The People Purpose Podcast

“We are halfway through the year and our optimistic predictions have only partially come true. Although the groundswell of support for DEI&B continues to swell, it has not translated into transformational change at the corporate level. This movement will require longer timelines to understand the impact on business performance. Leaders who show their work and add greater transparency to their operational model are seeing results and earning the trust of the workforce. Courageous transparency may be the new norm for leaders in need of the best talent. Healthcare workers who stayed in their roles continue to be punished — not rewarded — for their efforts, while agency workers cash in on compensation models double what they had as in-house staff. Senior leaders, especially those who perform at the highest level, are becoming increasingly scarce as burnout and demand from emerging industries pull them away. Middle managers remain under-appreciated and in the shadows, even though they often hold the key to retention improvement.” — John Frehse, senior managing director, Ankura, and co-host, “No Suits, No Slides!” video series

“The observations that I see related to these five predictions is that they all show evidence of being accurate predictions within varying degrees. The strongest improvements I have seen through mid-year is the prediction of ‘Metrics That Matter.’ This prediction seems spot on with what I have observed, and using metrics continues to be a great way to demonstrate evidence for progress — ‘a picture tells a story.’ The other predictions seem like they continue to evolve as works in progress as opposed to seeing material movement or seeing significant forward movement. This is especially important as it relates to the ROI of DEI&B. While that space is definitely continuing to take shape over the short term and the span of many years, the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action will surely cause some to pause, while others will become even more passionate about DEI&B. As far as some falling behind if they cut in this area, I have not seen the evidence of that prediction. Although, just because I have not seen, it does not mean it does not exist.” — Dennis Miller, associate vice president, HR and benefits administration, The Claremont Colleges

“So far, The Workforce Institute’s Workplace Predictions for 2023 are doing well! We predicted the hidden costs and compliance complexities of remote and hybrid work will have major financial ramifications on both organizations and their employees. Since then, articles from Deloitte, Bloomberg, The Hill, and more have all talked about the impact of remote work on employer taxes, reported wages, and data security, as well as collaboration and efficiency difficulties for employees and challenges for the industries that rely on the commuting workforce to thrive — like public transportation, restaurants, and dry cleaners. These costs and complexities have pushed many employers to begin mandating and incentivizing employees to return to the office. We also predicted companies that invest in DEI&B programs during tough times will see better business results, while those who cut fall behind. Based on this study from Harvard Business Review published in May, companies that improved their DEI ratings went on to see twofold improvement in EBIT margins, twofold in total shareholder return, and one-and-a-half to three times more revenue growth. During this time of economic uncertainty, it should be clear once again that commitment and follow-through on DEI initiatives pay big dividends. Period. I am sad to see our prediction that workers who hold on to service-oriented, essential roles — such as HR, healthcare workers, retail, and teachers — will be rewarded. Instead, we are seeing layoffs and a return to the negative normal of devaluing these roles and the people who serve in them, in a way that impacts their wages, education, advancement, and the ability to recruit and retain talent in these roles.” — Sarah Morgan, director of equity and inclusion, Humareso

“I agree with the People-Leader Paradox prediction, as middle managers are becoming more important in maintaining organizational coherence and driving performance. Yet, the current dynamic sees these roles less valued, often due to disproportionate workloads and insufficient compensation. This issue is exacerbated by the underutilization of technology, which could otherwise alleviate the burden. Unfortunately, it’s not only the job satisfaction that suffers. Middle managers’ wellbeing is seriously at risk, too. Contrarily, I challenge the claim that DEI&B investments lead to better business results during challenging times. While it’s an appealing proposition, there’s a worrying trend where companies, even without being in a recession, eliminate DEI&B roles to cut costs. Also, there’s a vocal minority disrupting progress and intimidating companies from making DEI&B commitments and advancements. This practice is not only morally wrong but also negatively impacts the company’s reputation, especially among Gen Z consumers and employees. So, the correlation between DEI&B investments and better business results isn’t as straightforward as the prediction suggests.” — Laurie Ruettimann, host, Punk Rock HR podcast