Rebuilding in 2024: Strategies for reshaping worker expectations

Author: Andrew Walker


This could be a pivotal year for HR. As ever, the cornerstones of what we do will be recruitment, retention, motivation, performance and productivity, but - asks Andrew Walker of Personal Group - what do they mean for HR and reward professionals in 2024 and beyond?

We need to take all the experience and learnings of the post-pandemic period and start using them to get our house in order, set new strategic imperatives and future-proof our businesses for the younger generation, who are approaching fast, hungry and tech-savvy.

It used to be that you left school at 16 or 18, maybe studied some more and embarked on a career where the holy grail was to work for a big company for 30 years, rise through the ranks and eventually retire with a comfortable pension. It doesn't work like that anymore.

These days people want their work to mirror the way they live. When we use Amazon or Netflix we can quickly access what we want, where we want, when we choose. For HR to improve the way workers engage with their job, their manager and their benefits, we need to better mirror these consumer behaviours.

A series of experiences

The big upside to this could be a revolution in employee retention. If the goal is never to lose a member of staff, the word "career" needs to be presented to the younger generation not as a boringly linear treadmill of experience-based progression, but as a series of experiences. By iterating on current staff movement models and looking again at personal and professional development programmes and succession planning, this may not be too difficult. What it does probably require is for you to know staff far better, so you can align their profiles with their day-to-day job and more personalised benefits.

HR is about people - attracting them, motivating them and keeping them... Like chapters in a book, let's try to make the workplace a page-turner they find hard to put down.

Which areas of the business have you worked in? Where have you enjoyed working the most? Where do you aspire to work? Which of these areas do you feel you need to improve the most? How often do we genuinely ask these questions with the intention of improving retention? They are all important because not every worker immediately lands in the right role. When you first join an organisation, you know your starting salary, benefits and maybe your line manager - but consider all that you don't know: what the company is like, what the role entails, how interesting it is, what the chances of progression are.

If all these natural doubts and downsides could be mitigated and pre-empted by a more modular, circular view of progression, people may never feel compelled to leave. Instead of taking a punt on another new start across town, they might move down the corridor or across the factory floor.

Benefits for all

For every business the challenge remains to offer a range of benefits, however big or small - perhaps via an employee wellbeing, benefits and engagement platform such as Hapi - but that will inevitably mean very different things for different people.

Going purely on age, employees in their 20s and early 30s may not be interested in pensions but may engage with a gym, a cycle-to-work scheme, flexi holidays and charitable giving. From mid-30s to 50, priorities tend to be dictated by responsibilities like home ownership, mortgages and children, so workers lean further towards protection products and security. And later, in the "third stage" of careers, when people start to think about retirement, pensions, financial planning services and health benefits take on even greater importance.

In the same way that Amazon and Netflix curate the experience for each account holder, ideally our suite of benefits needs to be set up and offered so that everything is available to everyone all the time but communicated and presented differently to distinct segments of the workforce for maximum engagement.

But how can companies begin to know their employees better? Given how much access we have to them, how can it be that streaming services and e-commerce platforms know our people better than we do?

Segmentation 2.0

The secret to humanising reward and shifting towards more individualised experiences at work - including for hybrid workers - lies in a more sophisticated approach to segmentation. Currently, we have surveys, reviews, onboarding sessions and exit interviews. We model by age, career stage, marital or familial status, income, aspirations, or a combination of these factors, much like our received wisdom around career progression.

Moving forward into 2024 and beyond, it is possible that more creative thinking, combined with AI, could transform this information and how we use it. In the same way that retailers collect information, implicitly or discreetly, to tailor and curate the buying experience, we will be able to do the same.

Applying the same tech in a different way, we should be able to profile workers' personalities, attitudes to risk and professional ambitions with such granularity that a 59-year-old man might be bracketed alongside a 25-year-old woman in terms of their attitudes to pay and benefits.

Things could leap forward light years from the current status quo. The danger of pigeonholing people will never fully go away but if we can use the data we have to demonstrate choice and offer products that are relevant, engagement and retention become far more likely.

Five focus areas for HR in 2024

1. Redefine core strategic imperatives

Coming out of the last few tumultuous years and the financial pressures they have created, it's important now to take stock of what our workforce looks like, the robustness of our pay structures and the flexibility of our benefits packages. This piece is inward-looking and can sometimes need outside help.

2. Future-proof the "career": Think Gen Z

While taking stock of the now, take the time to look through the prism of the 23-year-old and consider the future: how can you replace the traditional linear career path with a more modular series of experiences? This will benefit everyone, not just the younger generation.

3. Define your approach to hybrid 

This genie is not going back into the bottle, at least not all the way. We need to build a clear picture of hybrid working, remote/regional working, and related pay structures and benefits - and communicate with transparency.

4. Know your workers: Segmentation 2.0

At the heart of everything we do are our people. Put aside any fears around negative feedback and try to know them as well as Amazon and Netflix do. How you do this - in an analogue or digital fashion - is your choice but think strategically and treat it as an investment.

5. Think tech, existing and new

The benefits of digital tools to analyse your business and benchmark your people are already there to enjoy. So are HR apps that transform the way workers see their entire employee value proposition, including benefits packages. Adding AI into the mix is still in the incubation phase but keep an open mind.

HR is about people - attracting them, motivating them and keeping them. In 2024 businesses need to do all they can to personalise the journey. Like chapters in a book, let's try to make the workplace a page-turner they find hard to put down.

Related resources