How HR Leaders Should Approach Today’s Ever-Evolving Workplace: Q&A With Gartner Analyst

Navigating hybrid work arrangements, tackling hypercompetitive talent landscapes, and changing employee-employer relationships are now the norm for HR leaders. The level of volatility will only increase this year as new COVID-19 variants emerge, hybrid work continues to create unevenness in the employee experience, and employers and employees contend with compensation in a high-inflation environment.

We sat down with Brian Kropp, chief of research in the Gartner HR practice, to discuss how HR leaders should approach an ever-evolving work environment.

Q: Now in the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, how will it compare to the first two?

A: The next 24 months will be even harder than the last 24, but in different ways. Previously, organizations had to move all of their employees to work remotely in one fell swoop. Today, organizations are facing how to address an uneven employee experience in a hybrid work environment.

HR executives are tasked with fundamentally transforming their businesses to be hybrid first. Ninety percent of companies are expecting at least some of their workforce to have a hybrid arrangement, and it’s creating a lot of questions for HR leaders. Because this is a long-term plan it raises more questions. For example, if you’re going to be a hybrid-first company, how do you build a culture that works in that environment? How do the jobs of your managers and leaders change when working virtually some or most of the time? How do you maintain collaboration? How does performance management work?

Executives focused on talent are making decisions and engaging in activities that are fundamentally changing their organizations. HR executives have talked for so long about having a seat at the table – now they do, and it’s about getting the most value out of that seat.

Q: Today’s labor market is extremely competitive and volatile. How are organizations responding and how should they respond?

A: A lot of companies are talking about incremental solutions to compete in the new talent landscape. For example, leaders might consider making their employment websites a little bit better or removing one or two questions from their application process to make it easier for people to apply. But incremental solutions yield incremental returns.

In the short term, HR executives must radically reconsider the big bets that could make them competitive in the tight labor market. For example, should employers give all employees, across the board, a 10% raise? Should they defoliate some of their underperformers right now to create space for that next generation of talent to come in place? Does it make sense to adopt a 32-hour work week to become more competitive without increasing compensation?

While these ideas will help in the short or medium term, there is also a fundamental long-term shift in the relationship between employees and employers. The employer-employee relationship will be based on empathy, and empathy is not just about listening; it’s about action. It’s not just, “I hear you;” it’s “I listen to you.” HR leaders are helping their organizations – leaders and managers – tackle big questions, including:

  • How do we acknowledge employees?
  • Do we give all employees a chance to be successful?
  • Do we treat employees fairly (and how do we define and communicate what “fair” means?

Q: What should HR leaders focus on in 2022?

A: First, prepare for the uneven. One of the hallmarks of the next generation of work is that work will be different for everybody. The idea of the 9-to-5, 40-hour-a-week job is gone. If you have 1,000 people, you have 1,000 different employee experiences. HR leaders must build an organization when there’s no common employee experience.

Second, revisit the company’s values. HR leaders should examine the values and ethics that they’re going to live by in 2022. They need to determine the things that they, as the organization, believe are true or important. There will be new challenges in 2022. It could be an environmental crisis. It could be a political crisis. It could be some breakthrough in technology. Organizations have to codify their values to successfully navigate through whatever challenges arise this year.

Q: How should HR leaders think about selecting their big bets?

A: First consider if they’re offering employees product features, or if they’re offering them a different experience. Many leaders often only think about tangible features. For example, they think about health benefits, but that’s very different from saying to employees, “We want you to be mentally healthy”. That’ the difference between a product feature and an experience or relationship that a leader is trying to create.

Employees are open to, and want, a different relationship with their employers. They want their employers to help them, their families, and their communities.

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