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What’s in store for 2024?

It’s a brand-new year. So, what does that mean for managers and leaders? Are the same issues, challenges and opportunities we faced in 2023 still in focus or are we headed somewhere new in 2024? 

2023 brought us several trending topics that will certainly continue to have an impact this year. Things like Zoom fatigue, workcations and hush trips, and the Tik Tok movements “The Lazy Girl Job” and “Bare minimum Monday”.  

In our first Lead the Way webinar for this year, Institute of Managers & Leaders CEO Sam Bell FIML and General Manager of Learning, Development and Membership Scott Martin CMgr FIML explored the trending topics, challenges and issues facing managers and leaders this year.  

Their discussion revealed that there are five main themes that will be at the forefront of most workplaces this year. Here’s a summary of the trending topics that will shape management and leadership in 2024.  

1. Rebalancing how and where we work

This is perhaps the biggest elephant in the room, and a constant topic in news publications. The workforce is experiencing a tug of war between employers and employees over where and how they work. Where will the hybrid work debate land? This will continue to be a topic of discussion as we head further into 2024.  

On one hand, CEOs of many large Australian organisations are predicting a full return to the office over the next few years. But after years of experiencing the flexibility of working from home, employees are not so willing to give this up easily.  

During the webinar, Scott Martin highlighted that hybrid work and flexibility is underpinned largely by the employment market. Two years ago, the market was tight with an abundance of roles and not enough candidates. According to the Head of Labour Statistics at the ABS earlier this year, the unemployment and underemployment rates are rising, and the labour market is starting to slow. This all plays into the tug of war.  

Recently, the discussion has been clouded by the ‘right to disconnect’ legislation proposed by the Australian Government.  IML CEO, Sam Bell, suggested these new laws could be counterproductive to the aim of hybrid work – which is all about providing flexibility. If employees have the right to disconnect after 5pm – will employers still allow them the flexibility they currently have during the working day?   There are advantages and disadvantages on both sides of the fence. The question is: can employers and employees meet somewhere in the middle?

2. All things AI

There is no doubt about it – AI is going to make a huge difference in our working lives. However, it will take some time before it completely changes the world of work as we know it. Like the onset of the internet, it will likely take ten to twenty years before we see optimum productivity and benefits for society from the use of AI. We’re on the cusp, but there is some way to go before complete adoption.  

A lot of fear and nervousness still surrounds the use of AI. The solution is always to be prepared and to upskill your people. The webinar highlighted that managers and leaders can start to prepare by:  

  • Considering key areas where AI can help improve efficiency, accuracy and productivity.  
  • Asking the right questions about the problems AI can solve in your organisation.  
  • Maintaining realistic expectations.  
  • Investing in data quality.   
  • Considering the human aspects of change.  

Sam Bell commented that “we’re probably not going to see widespread implementation in business and the home environment until AI is commercialised into an off-the-shelf product by the likes of Google and Microsoft”. However, this shouldn’t stop you from getting ahead of the curve and bringing knowledge into your organisation now.  In 2024 and beyond, the ethics of AI will also be a point of contention. How do we implement AI for the benefit of humanity? How do we avoid Elon Musks’ prediction that AI poses more of a threat to humanity than nuclear warheads? 

3. Mentally healthy workplaces

By now most managers and leaders are familiar with new regulations requiring workplaces to identify and manage hazards and risks that can impact employee’s psychological health and safety. The distinction between physical and psychosocial risk is explicit and organisations must now act.  

Issues surrounding bullying and harassment, violence and aggression have been acknowledged as hazards for some time now. This year, topics like job demand, low job control, lack of role clarity and poor support – and their impact on psychological safety – will be much more in the spotlight.  

Scott Martin highlighted that active management involvement in issues surrounding psychological safety in the workplace is an important step in the right direction. But a lot of organisations are not taking proactive action and have been slow to react. The new regulations place many more demands on managers and leaders given they are at the frontline and able to notice when an employee is struggling with their mental health.  

This year, organisations will continue to do more in this area. More organisations need to embrace the mental health of their employees – they need to remove the fear, understand it, and take proactive steps to ensure they are getting the best out of their people.

4. The changing workforce

The workforce is on the cusp of major change. The labour force is aging and in the next ten years we will see a major exodus of the baby boomer generation. We want to avoid losing the skill and expertise of our older generations, so the question is: how do we transfer this knowledge to the younger generation before it is too late? At the same time, how do we innovate and plan for the future when traditional career paths are changing. Research is showing that some historically popular career paths, such as engineering, are slowing and no longer attracting the same amount of people. 

There are currently five generations operating in the workplace. Not only that, but workplaces are becoming significantly more multicultural. Leaders must ask: how does this impact our communication styles, the way we understand each other and build relationships?  

Our traditional thinking around work is also changing – people are taking career breaks, switching careers many times, working longer. Sam Bell commented “that the headline is always scarier than the event itself. Generational change has always happened. We don’t need to be scared; we just need to be aware and adapt”.  So, what can managers and leaders do in 2024 to tackle some of this change – they can join the reskilling and upskilling revolution.

5. Embracing neurodiversity

One topic that is sure to be discussed more widely in the coming years is how to integrate neurodiversity into discussions around diversity and inclusion. Contemporary research is showing us that neurodiversity in the workplace can deliver great benefits along the lines of creativity, innovation and doing things differently.  

When embracing neurodiversity in the workplace, managers and leaders will need to consider two things:  

  • Making people feel comfortable in identifying and acknowledging their neurodiversity through the employment lifecycle – starting with the recruitment process; and  
  • Implementing appropriate accommodations and support, so that neurodiverse employees can thrive.  

Sam Bell suggested that this is an area that schools have really embraced, and workplaces can certainly learn a lot from them. As Dr Thomas Armstrong PhD, author of The Power of Neurodiversity, has quoted: “There is no standard brain.” All our brains are wired differently – so really, what is a neurotypical brain? The understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity in the workplace will continue to grow and managers need to be aware and prepared.

The webinar canvassed five hard hitting topics that bring both challenge and opportunity in 2024. As always, there is a lot for managers and leaders to stay ahead of. This year, we will continue unpacking each of these topics in more depth through articles, webinars and events. Stay tuned for more!  

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