Top 6 Workplace Trends for HR and Compliance Leaders in 2024

As I compiled this year’s list of workplace trends, it became clear to me that 2024 will likely be a tumultuous year for employers and employees alike. With a backdrop of geopolitical instability and economic uncertainty, the rise in conflict that can accompany a U.S. election cycle, and the number of employees feeling unsettled, disengaged, and even burned out, employers have their work cut out for them. The good news is that there are many steps organizations can take to not just weather the stormy waters ahead, but also help their employees and businesses to thrive.

What are the issues that will impact the world of work this year? Here are six top workplace culture and compliance trends for 2024, with some suggested actions you can take to address each of them:

1. Navigating artificial intelligence (AI) at work

2023 saw a massive proliferation in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace, given its power to quickly perform work tasks, generate business insights, and aid decision-making. In the employment context alone, from increased use of chatbots in hiring applications and AI-enabled assessments of applicant interviews to keystroke monitoring that gauges productivity and employee uses of generative AI to write reports or perform numerous other tasks, AI-related tools are poised to transform how work is done. At the same time, employees began expressing reservations about the use of AI in the HR context; for example, 71% oppose the use of AI to make hiring decisions, and 41% are worried about AI reviewing job applications. Leaders also began voicing concerns about the privacy and security of company information that employees may type into generative AI tools.

Meanwhile, numerous lawmakers began preparations to regulate employers’ use of AI: the U.S. EEOC warned employers about how AI could cause illegal discrimination in certain employment situations; President Biden signed an executive order that will lead to regulatory activity by the Department of Labor and other agencies; California proposed new regulatory requirements for the use of “automated decisionmaking technology” and AI in various employment and business contexts; and the European Union passed the AI Act, a comprehensive framework of risk-based regulations. In 2024, organizations will not only need to start complying with new rules as they become finalized, but also navigate employee use of, and sentiments about, AI in the workplace.

Take action: Keep a close eye on legal rules that will continue to be introduced and finalized in 2024. Going beyond compliance, however, consider convening a cross-functional team to proactively identify and implement AI-related organizational principles and policies to guide the organization’s practices going forward, taking into account regulatory requirements, business needs, and employee and customer sentiments. Communicate openly with employees about these principles and policies to bolster trust and confidence. Provide employees with the necessary tools and training to use AI effectively and responsibly.

2. Recalibrating DEI efforts

In 2023, reports emerged that many organizations were deprioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, while many others reaffirmed their commitments to DEI. Recent events also have prompted national conversations about how bias and hate are addressed in organizations and communities today. So, what is the future of DEI in the workplace? I believe that 2024 will bring a “recalibration” of DEI programs and strategies, with many employers focusing more holistically on inclusion. This will involve addressing the wide array of attributes that make all employees diverse and unique, to ensure employees don’t feel excluded by inclusion efforts. Thus, employers will increasingly focus on, and provide support related to, facets of identity and experience that may have been overlooked in the past, such as religion, visible and invisible disabilities, social class, neurodiversity, age, geographic location, and more.

Take action: Consider reviewing the scope of your DEI efforts for inclusion. For example, if you have affinity groups/ERGs, which groups or important facets of identity may not be represented by them but should be, given your employee population? Do your awareness month celebrations address a broad range of employee heritages and identities? Are your social events or development activities accessible for employees regardless of geography, economic status, religious observance, caregiver responsibilities, and visible/invisible disabilities? Finally, check your DEI-related training to ensure that it is inclusive, covers a variety of identities and experiences, cautions leaders against inadvertent discrimination, and has a positive tone that does not blame or shame.

3. Reassessing remote versus in-person work policies

In 2021 and 2022, numerous employers implemented hybrid work arrangements, and for some time it appeared that hybrid work would be the status quo. Instead, many leaders began (or continued) to heatedly debate the pros and cons of remote, hybrid, and in-person work, weighing employee productivity and collaboration, ability to recruit and retain talent, and impacts on DEI, budgets, and the environment. Between mid-2022 and mid-2023, approximately 75% of employers made changes to their remote work policies, either reducing opportunities for remote work (43%) or expanding them (32%).

New in-person requirements have not sat well with many employees, however: data shows that organizations that imposed return-to-office mandates have struggled with turnover at a far higher rate than organizations that allow employees to choose where they work. Indeed, remote work now provides a significant competitive advantage in a tight labor market. In the summer of 2023, jobs that offered remote work received three times more applications than jobs that didn’t. In 2024, many employers will once again assess their remote versus in-person policies and implement any necessary changes for long-term success.

Take action: It’s important not to make remote versus in-person work decisions in a vacuum. Rather, create a plan to guide that review to ensure the process is data-informed and considers the various needs of–and impacts on–all areas of the organization. Gather both quantitative data (e.g., metrics related to recruiting and hiring, retention/turnover, productivity, employee satisfaction and engagement, budget/cost impacts, etc.) and qualitative (employee and leader focus groups or surveys, manager conversations with teams, affinity group input, and more). Compare current data against industry benchmarks and company data from past years. Consider the impact of policy changes on your organization’s talent and DEI strategies. Involve employees by asking them where they do their best work, how they prefer to stay connected, and more.  

4. Addressing the widespread problem of employee disengagement

In 2024, employee engagement will move front and center as an organizational imperative, due to the prevalence—and significant cost—of employee disengagement today. According to a 2023 report, 77% of employees globally are not engaged at work, costing companies $8.8 trillion globally in lost productivity. Several factors are contributing to employee malaise, including employee feelings of: isolation or exclusion; burnout, stress, and other wellbeing challenges; lack of purpose or meaning in their work, and much more (see trend #6 for more causes). In the year ahead, employers will take a more holistic, purpose-focused, and human-centered approach to bolstering employee engagement. This approach will prompt employers to design engagement opportunities that are deeply meaningful to all employees and that support their individual wellbeing—in other words, ensuring that engagement initiatives, activities, and gatherings really matter. Increased collaboration across HR, CSR, and DEI colleagues will be critical in this effort.

Take action: Bring together a cross-functional team that includes HR, CSR, and DEI colleagues to collaborate on employee engagement strategies centered around meaning and purpose. Apply a DEI lens to planning by identifying the unique needs and interests of different groups of employees (e.g., what motivates our Gen X versus Gen Z employees? Do volunteer/giving opportunities serve the wide variety of communities or interests that our employees represent or care about?). Coordinate employee engagement and wellness initiatives to ensure all work together to promote positive wellbeing–and that engagement efforts do not add to employee stress or workloads.

5. Preparing for new legal protections for employees

In 2023, regulators in the U.S. enacted several laws that provided increased protections for employees–and added to the compliance responsibilities of employers. For example, the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act went into effect, California enacted a sweeping workplace violence prevention law that requires workplace violence training, and several new states (Minnesota, Maine, New York) joined others in passing “captive audience” laws that limit organizational communications about the employer’s own religious or political views.

Numerous jurisdictions also expanded their protections against discrimination by adding new protected characteristics: Colorado (marital status), Michigan (natural hairstyles and hair texture historically associated with race; sexual orientation and gender identity or expression), Minnesota (hair texture or hairstyles associated with race), New York City (height and weight), and more. As noted in trend #1 above, international, U.S. federal, and state agencies have begun regulating employers’ use of artificial intelligence in the workplace. In 2024, employers will implement these rules by updating their policies and educating leaders about their responsibilities under these and other new laws that arise.

Take action: Be prepared for continued regulatory activity on the international, federal, state, and local levels, particularly related to timely issues such as (1) employer uses of AI to make hiring decisions, evaluate performance, and more, (2) political views (of employees) and speech (preventing “captive audience” communications by employers), and (3) newly protected classes. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to receive monthly regulatory updates and regularly review your policies, procedures, and training to ensure they reflect the latest requirements. 

6. Focusing on leadership skills for turbulent times

Organizational leaders have long been charged with guiding their teams through change, but 2024 will ask more of leaders than ever before. As also noted in Trend #4 above, employee disengagement and burnout remain high for a variety of reasons, including the ongoing effects of 2023 layoffs, dissatisfaction with return-to-office mandates, greater workloads due to tight budgets and frozen headcounts, and more. Some employees are worried about the potential impact of AI on their jobs (see trend #1). Others are feeling the painful heaviness of conflicts in their communities and around the world. The impacts and uncertainties of the economy and an election year in the U.S. also loom large for many. Leaders increasingly understand the urgency and business imperative of leading their people effectively through periods of change and are now turning to their HR and L&D teams for skill-building and support.

Take action:  Leadership skills are learned skills. Equip leaders to lead their teams through tumultuous times by providing education on how to keep their employees engaged (and how to reconnect disengaged employees), lead and communicate with emotional intelligence and empathy, navigate workplace conflicts, and authentically support employees through formidable changes at work and beyond.