HR Executives Gather To Discuss The Future Of Work At UNLEASH US 

In April, I joined my colleagues Betsy Summers and Katy Tynan at the UNLEASH US 2023 event held in Las Vegas. There, we gathered a boardroom full of HR executives to discuss our 2023 Future Of Work predictions and invited them to share their own thoughts about their rapidly changing roles. Participating executives spanned the spectrum of HR and EX. We polled the audience and scored our set of predictions — we did pretty well on that front and Katy’s blog says more about what that means

Looking beyond predictions, we asked about HR and EX leaders’ current concerns and challenges. One specific prompt was, “What else is going on? What other big drivers and topics concern you?” Here’s a word cloud of what they typed into our audience feedback tool: 

The bottom line: The people part of the business is facing both soft and hard challenges.

  • We haven’t built the methods and culture of hybrid work. While culture was painstakingly and meticulously curated for work in the office pre-pandemic, we largely skipped that part for our employees working from home. Our offices are physical culturescapes — from signage to smells, each component was intentional and aligned. Organizations had carefully modeled desired behavior, establishing norms, rituals, and artifacts in the process. Contrastingly, in one sweeping pan(dem)ic-led flurry, we sent people to our extended virtual office (their homes) with the sole instruction to “not forget their laptop chargers!” Understandable in the moment, but now that most companies are settling into a hybrid model for work, we need to go back and design a better model for hybrid and remote work. This is especially felt by the employees who have no recollection of work in your specific office because they were new hires or new to work in general. One executive shared an example of an employee who showed up to a Zoom meeting in a tank top. She acknowledged that this was his first job out of college and he’d known nothing but work in his bedroom. Imagine his point of reference: Some employees wear suit jackets, some wear polos. Where do you draw the line? Fault the young worker if you want, but the better question is: Why didn’t the methods and culture of the organization better prepare this worker for success? 
  • Leaders know that now is the time to hold the commitment to EX investments. While some organizations are pivoting and pulling back on some EX investments like DEI, wellness, and well-being, many organizations represented in the room are notably not. We had executives that understood the importance of holding fast to culture claims and EX initiatives, even and especially in uncertain times. One executive claimed that employees were watching our actions now more than ever to decide what kind of organization you truly are. It’s one thing to value and invest in your employees when times are good, it’s a completely different signal to continue that investment when everyone seems to be tightening their belts. Goodwill and trust are finite commodities and can be drained if not actively sustained. 
  • It’s still not clear where EX lives. There was an interesting conversation in the room among the various HR and EX roles. We had executives from HR operations, IT, EX, training and development, and more. In many organizations, there are still questions around the comprehensiveness of EX as a practice. If it’s the sum of all employee touchpoints and experiences, is it so vast and comprehensive that it has rendered itself meaningless? There was a discussion around where EX is situated in the organization, who owns it, where the budget comes from, and who has the final say. This could be why many of our EX strategies seem so disparate or are oftentimes held hostage by different groups or leadership. Also, with the lack of standardization around EX, it’s no wonder organizations are dealing with the EX-washing of technologies and tools. Vendors have slapped it on everything to try to capture some of these dollars. It’s clear that EX needs some clarity, a home, and probably a brand rehab.  

Overall, our visit with leaders across industries at UNLEASH US inspired and encouraged us. The work we’re doing is more needed than ever. This includes my work on wellness and burnout, along with some exciting upcoming research I’m brewing focused on bringing culture, well-being, and belonging into a single approach to the workforce. Stay tuned for more from me and the Future Of Work team at Forrester.