Adapting to global change – review of 2023
29 November 2023
Victoria Wakely Director, People & Business Partners EMEA, Medidata
Victoria Wakely, Director, People & Business Partners EMEA at Medidata takes a look back over an eventful year for HR.
The past few years have seen a dramatic shift in the way that we work, both in terms of where employees are physically based and what they expect from their employers in terms of support and culture. In 2023, more than ever before, HR teams are the backbone of many organisations: supporting flexible working, providing mental health support, and assisting employees with issues such as loss, care responsibilities and absenteeism. The ability of our profession to adapt against a backdrop of an ever-changing global environment, dealing with Covid-19, global conflicts and recession, is testament to our collective ability to help employees to navigate even the toughest of challenges.
Flexibility here to stay
Obviously Covid-19 triggered a massive transformation in the way that we work, and we are still seeing the impact of this now. If we can take one positive from the pandemic, it is the fact that it enabled businesses to transition from a traditional, office-based environment to remote ways of working, which in turn allowed employees to change their ways of working to fit around their familial and personal care responsibilities.
Over the past year, organisations have had to adapt to a sharp increase in international and global mobility. Many companies had to look at their working practices and policies to ensure that they eliminated risks such as employees encountering tax issues if they are working outside of their country of employment, or benefits not being applicable if employees move country.
Employees are also now far more aware of the rights with regards to flexible working, and in 2024 we are likely to see more flexible working requests in light of the new Flexible Working Bill in the UK. This new legislation means that employees can request to work remotely or more flexibly, without having to give a justification for this request, with the onus on employers to look at ways in which they can modify ways of working to accommodate these requests. Ensuring that these requests are managed in a collaborative manner will help to keep employees engaged and committed to the organisation.
From a talent acquisition perspective, it has become evident that if a company is not willing to offer employees flexible working options, it will significantly reduce the pool of potential talent coming into the organisation. It is vital for companies to be willing to make changes and be agile in their approach, responding to the needs of the organisation and employees whilst also being attuned to what potential candidates will look for and value in an employer.
Candid conversations on mental health
Another predominant theme we have seen throughout the past year is an increased focus on employees’ mental health and wellbeing. Employees and managers have been engaging in more honest and direct conversations regarding personal issues and concerns, and employees are increasingly using their workplace and People teams as a resource for seeking advice and guidance. In general, individuals seem to be more comfortable with sharing how they feel and openly discussing previously ‘taboo’ subjects such as mental health. As well as being beneficial to employees by allowing companies and People teams to tackle issues early and therefore reduce absenteeism, this also helps to positively shape an organisation’s culture and bring empathy and compassion to the workplace.
Linked to this positive cultural shift is a greater proactivity from managers and co-workers, who are reaching out to their People team for advice and guidance on how to support their colleagues and identify issues sooner. This is coupled with an increase in employees reaching out directly to co-workers they think are struggling to offer support and intervene if required. From an employee perspective, this has been extremely well received, and makes people feel valued and supported by both their organisation and their colleagues. There’s an increased understanding that it is incumbent on all of us to check in with co-workers and ensure they are coping with any issues either within the workplace or outside of it, rather than mental health and wellbeing being seen as solely the concern of HR.
In a similar vein, over recent years, and particularly in 2023, the spotlight has really been shone on women’s health and the issue of reproductive health in the workplace. This has made employees and managers feel a lot more confident in discussing these issues, and the stigma around the topic of reproductive health has certainly reduced. For companies, being proactive, challenging the status quo, and encouraging open conversation is key to ensuring that employees feel supported and able to ask for the time and space that they need to deal with any issues.
There has also been a noticeable effort to encourage employees to maintain healthy working habits. The current economic uncertainty has led many employees to feel reliant on the retention of their roles which, coupled with higher workloads, means that people are often not taking adequate breaks during the working day, nor using their annual leave entitlement. This puts employees at increased risk of stress and burnout, so it is important to ensure that managers are communicating with their employees about the need to take time off and have regular breaks to maintain good mental health and wellbeing.
Continuing collaboration in 2024
As we continue to navigate through a period of change in our working habits and expectations of employers, communication and agility will be key. Alongside this, one of the most positive changes we have seen is an increased willingness from employees to put forward suggestions for how their organisation can support them or change the way it operates for the better. Going into 2024, continued collaboration between HR teams, management and employees will enable organisations to adapt and overcome global challenges facing the workforce.