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For over a decade, I’ve published my forecast of the top 10 workplace trends that will impact how we work and live for the upcoming year. The purpose is to help businesses prepare for the future and equip workplace professionals with the insights they need to drive their organizations forward. You can read my predictions from the past 11 years — 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 — which have been read by over two million people worldwide.
These trends are based on dozens of conversations with CEOs, HR leaders, and other workplace professionals. They’re also informed by surveys of 7,250 employees, 2,550 C-suite executives, and 2,100 HR leaders that my firm, Workplace Intelligence, conducted this year in partnership with companies across the globe. Lastly, I look to secondary research synthesized from hundreds of different sources, including consulting firms, think tanks, non-profits, universities, the government, and trade associations.
So what will the world of work look like in 2024? Let’s start with the economic outlook. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that global growth will slow to 3% this year and 2.9% in 2024 amid widening global divergences. However, they report that fears of widespread recession among the world’s leading economies appear to be fading. The IMF also anticipates that global headline inflation will fall from 6.8% in 2023 to 5.2% in 20244.
In the U.S., the labor market is stronger than expected. Around 336,000 jobs were added in September — almost double what was expected — although only 150,000 new jobs were added in October. The labor force is projected to reach 163.8 million in 2024, growing at an average annual rate of 0.5%. Wages also remain elevated — hourly earnings increased by 4.2% year-over-year in September, and the average salary budget is projected to rise by 4.1% in 2024.
There are other positive economic indicators as well. The Federal Reserve predicts GDP growth will slow to just 1.5% in 2024, a modest but positive pace. And while the unemployment rate has risen slightly to 3.8%, this is largely due to a significant increase in labor force participation. Next year, the Federal Reserve projects the U.S. unemployment rate will average a healthy 4.1%.
Although the U.S. economic outlook has certainly improved in 2023, experts remain divided on what this will mean for 2024. For example, while Goldman Sachs recently lowered the chance of a U.S. recession to 15%, the Conference Board predicts a short recession early next year. Their forecast is based on factors such as high inflation and interest rates, dissipating savings and rising debt, and the resumption of student loan repayments. The Board also predicts real GDP will fall to 0.8% in 2024, although they expect growth to stabilize later in the year.
There’s clearly some economic uncertainty as we head into 2024, and we’ll see this reflected in the workplace as well. We’ll also see continued friction between organizations and employees on issues ranging from work arrangements, wages, climate change, Artificial Intelligence, employee monitoring, and more.
At the time, employers will step up their support for their workforce in a variety of ways, for example by providing better benefits for parents, employees with student loans, or workers struggling with their health. Some may even consider measures like a shortened work week to alleviate employee burnout. In today’s article I’ll examine all of these trends in more detail — let’s take a look.
Trend #1: Employers and employees will strike a hybrid work schedule deal.
According to one study, a whopping 80% of bosses regret their initial return-to-office decisions. That’s why after several years of attempting to get people back at their desks, in 2024 we’ll see many companies come to a compromise with their employees by offering hybrid work arrangements.
New research from Gallup finds that 8 out of 10 chief human resources officers (CHROs) from Fortune 500 companies have no plans to decrease remote work flexibility in the upcoming year. This aligns with employee expectations as well: 9 out of 10 remote-capable employees prefer some remote work flexibility, with the majority preferring hybrid work.
Most studies have found that either two or three days in the office is the optimal hybrid working arrangement for culture and performance. And businesses would be wise to let employees keep some degree of flexibility, since my company’s research with Deloitte found that 2 out of 3 hybrid workers would leave their organization if they were required to go into the office full-time.
Offering flexible work arrangements is also a smart recruiting tactic for employers. One analysis uncovered that companies with either flexible or structured hybrid work models are adding jobs at more than twice the rate of companies requiring full-time office attendance. However, it’s worth noting that companies that require 1-3 days in the office grew much faster than those that required four or five.
Trend #2: Artificial Intelligence — especially Generative AI — will become ubiquitous in the workplace, and many jobs will evolve significantly as a result.
While AI has been around for decades, the release of ChatGPT in November 2022 has resulted in major steps forward, including expanded use cases in the workplace. McKinsey notes that although previous waves of AI mostly affected physical work activities, gen AI is likely to have the biggest impact on knowledge work. This includes professionals in fields such as education, law, technology, and the arts.
For example, gen AI tools can already create most types of written, image, video, audio, and coded content. However, while 90% of leaders think their organization should be using gen AI or machine learning “often” or “almost always,” 60% said their organization rarely or never does this. In 2024, it’s likely we’ll see this gap close as employers and workers gain more confidence in AI.
And it’s not just entry-level or junior employees that will feel the impact of AI. My company’s recent study with edX for Business found that workers at every level of the organization will be affected — including the C-Suite. In fact, 49% of the executives we surveyed said “most” or “all” of their job could be completely replaced by AI.
For employers, the call to action in 2024 goes beyond simply adopting AI — leaders will also need to be more forthcoming with their workforce about this. In a study I conducted with UKG, 54% of employees said they have no idea how their company is using AI and 75% reported that they’d be more accepting and excited about AI if their company was more transparent about how they’re using it.
Trend #3: Workers will continue to be unhappy and burned out, with serious repercussions on their well-being.
According to new research, employees are the unhappiest they’ve been in 3 years. Meanwhile, Gallup reports that the majority of the world's employees (around 6 out of 10) are quiet quitting — that is, they’re actively disengaged at work. Their research also uncovered that nearly half (49%) of U.S. employees feel stressed at their jobs on a daily basis and 28% “very often” or “always” feel burned out at work.
The growing prevalence of toxic workplaces could be largely to blame for the overall poor state of employee engagement and well-being. A new survey from the American Psychological Association found that 19% of employees say their workplace is very or somewhat toxic. Workers who experience the elements of a toxic culture are more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout. They’re also up to 55% more likely to be diagnosed with a serious physical disease.
This could be why in a study from my company and Deloitte, around one-quarter of workers reported that their physical and mental health worsened last year (23% and 25%, respectively). And unfortunately, it’s likely that this trend will continue in 2024. According to the Business Group on Health, 77% of large employers reported an increase in their workforce’s mental health needs this year and another 16% anticipate one in the future.
With this in mind, employers will be acutely focused on improving access to mental health services next year, and they’ll also need to take a hard look at their culture — especially when it comes to eliminating toxic workplace behaviors. Great Place to Work notes that companies who have successful overcome their toxic environment have focused on accepting accountability, taking action to address the issues at-hand, and being more communicative with employees.
Trend #4: Health benefit costs will rise, putting more financial pressure on employers and employees.
According to Mercer, high inflation, labor shortages, and other developments in the healthcare industry last year will have ripple effects on benefit costs in 2024. The consulting firm predicts that costs will rise 6.6% in 2024, although other estimates peg the increase as high as 8.5% — nearly double the rate for this year.
Employees, meanwhile, are shelling out an average of $6,575 for a family policy (up 7% from last year) and just over $1,400 for single coverage (up almost 8%), according to KFF, formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation. While this is roughly in line with wage increases, employees should brace for an even bigger jump in their contributions, since nearly a quarter (23%) of companies plan to increase employee premiums in the next two years.
To temper cost growth, one strategy we’ll see in 2024 is an increased focus on improving patient outcomes. For employers, this could mean offering higher-quality care as well as more options for preventive care. For example, research from my company and One Medical found that 56% of employers planned to add primary care solutions last year. Primary care providers can play a critical role in helping patients enter and navigate the healthcare system.
A Mercer survey conducted earlier this year identified several other strategies employers are either already using or considering using to slow health cost growth in 2024 — without shifting cost to employees. These include offering programs to better manage specific health conditions (85%), curbing the costs of specialty prescription drugs (83%), focusing on virtual care offerings (66%), and providing navigation or advocacy services (48%).
Trend #5: Working parents and women will drop out of the workforce due to a lack of childcare support.
On September 30, $24 billion in federal funding for daycare providers across the country came to an end. While some providers are raising prices to stay afloat, others may simply be forced to close. In fact, The Century Foundation estimates that more than 70,000 child care providers will close in the coming months — roughly one-third of those supported by the funding.
Some 3.2 million children could lose their spots, which will leave many parents scrambling for options — especially women. In a survey from Civic Science, 51% of U.S. working mothers said it’s likely they’ll leave the workforce if they lose childcare in the coming months, compared to 39% of working fathers.
This could be devastating setback to women’s workforce gains. In 2021 and 2022, more women joined the labor force than ever before. By early 2023, 75% of U.S. mothers were working at least part-time, more than before the pandemic.
To avoid a mass exodus of women, who remain highly ambitious at work, in 2024 we may see some employers reconsider their return-to-office plans or provide additional support for parents. According to Great Place to Work, companies leading the way include Cisco, Hilton, American Express, and Deloitte, among others. Employees at these businesses note that they benefit from a great deal of flexibility, remote work options, and a highly supportive culture.
Trend #6: Student debt benefits will become more important as loan repayments resume.
After a three-year pause that had provided relief to nearly 44 million borrowers, student loan repayments resumed in October. Days after payments restarted, President Biden cancelled another $9 billion in student loan debt for 125,000 borrowers. However, the vast majority of borrowers will soon be forced to reckon with the crushing burden of student debt.
Even adjusting for inflation, average student debt has increased by 45% between 2006 and 2016. Nearly a quarter (24%) of Americans with student loan debt say it's their biggest financial regret, and 56% of borrowers say they’ll have to choose between their debt and buying groceries when student loan repayments resume.
Unfortunately, workers’ financial stress can have significant repercussions for employers. In a study my company conducted in partnership with BrightPlan, we found that on average, employees are experiencing a productivity loss of 8 hours a week — or one full workday! — due to their financial stress. This is costing U.S. businesses potentially $200 billion annually in lost productivity and engagement.
For employers, there’s a clear opportunity to support people’s financial well-being and ensure employees can stay focused at work. While SHRM reports that only 8% of U.S. employers currently provide student loan repayments for employees, in 2024 I’d expect that number to rise substantially. Already, companies like Aetna, Google, and SoFi offer these benefits for their workers.
Trend #7: Labor will continue to gain strength through union strikes, increasing wages but with more layoffs.
Across the U.S., a tight labor market and inflation have led to contract negotiations, strikes, and walkouts in numerous industries this year. According to BLS data, through August nearly 309,700 workers have been involved in work stoppages, which means 2023 will likely become the busiest year for strikes since 2019.
Of course, we’ve all heard of The United Auto Workers strike against Detroit automakers, which has spread to dozens of facilities nationwide. There’s also the Hollywood writers’ strike, as well as negotiations in Las Vegas to boost wages for hospitality workers. Recently, pharmacy employees at Walgreens and CVS held a 3-day walkout to protest harsh working conditions. And in October, more than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers walked off the job in the largest ever strike in the U.S. health care field, ultimately leading to historic raises for workers.
According to Ipsos, a majority of Americans agree that labor unions have improved the quality of life for all working Americans. In fact, unions are winning big for the first time in decades, with many workers getting record-breaking wage hikes this year. While this has generally shifted the balance of power more in favor of employees, some companies, particularly those in the automotive industry, have reacted by laying off workers.
Despite the threat of layoffs, in 2024 we will absolutely see more strikes and walkouts. In Hollywood, writers and actors have said they’re prepared to continue striking next year. In the Northeast, transit workers are threatening walkouts, strikes and other job actions that would disrupt the commutes for thousands of people next year. And the U.S. auto workers’ union president has said strikes will continue in a bid for better offers from companies.
Trend #8: Employers will experiment with a shorter workweek as employees demand more flexibility.
Although the idea of a shorter work week is nothing new, in 2024 we’ll see this approach gain traction as employees continue to struggle with burnout and an overall poor state of health. According to one study, 20% of U.S. employers already have a four-day workweek, and another 41% plan to implement a four-day week, at least on a trial basis.
Thus far, the research on this has shown only positive results for companies and employees. For example, trials from 4 Day Week Global have proved to be a resounding success, with workers reporting less burnout, improved health, and more job satisfaction. In the trials, employees were given a paid day off each week — but the same workload — to see whether they could work more effectively. After 6 months, participants had cut their average work time to 34 hours a week, and after 12 months they’d reduced it to 33 hours a week.
Thus far, the trials have included dozens of businesses in the U.S., UK, Ireland, and Scotland, and nearly 40 businesses in Portugal will soon join the experiment. South Africa, Belgium, Iceland, Japan, Australia, Brazil, and other countries have conducted similar trials or are encouraging employers to independently take the plunge.
It’s worth noting that advancements in AI may accelerate the adoption of a shorter work week next year, as a growing number of businesses are allowing their employees to use AI to complete job tasks. For now, however, most organizations are helping their team members achieve greater efficiency by eliminating unnecessary meetings, encouraging workers to set aside blocks of time for focused work, and automating or outsourcing basic tasks.
Trend #9: Climate change will continue to impact employee well-being and productivity, putting more pressure on companies to be part of the solution.
According to NOAA, a total of 24 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters have been confirmed in the U.S. this year — the most events on record during a calendar year. Their latest climate change report also highlights record-breaking precipitation and widespread flooding across parts of the East Coast, along with near-record high temperatures in many areas of the U.S.
Extreme heat is particularly dangerous, with Public Citizen estimating that it contributes to between 600 and 2,000 deaths a year, along with 170,000 injuries. This makes heat one of the top three main causes of death and injury in the American workplace. High heat also costs the U.S. $100 billion annually in reduced productivity, a figure that’s expected to double by 2030.
While individuals certainly play a role in climate change, the reality is that just 100 global companies were responsible for 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions over the past three decades. Now, Amazon and other major companies from Walmart to Apple face growing consumer, investor, and regulatory demands to reduce carbon emissions, with ripple effects on their suppliers.
In fact, in 2024 we’ll see many organizations step up their efforts to halt climate change and support the health of their people. Some may use the new reporting framework issued by The Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures. Others will take steps to ensure worker safety, like adjusting employees’ work schedules to avoid the hottest parts of the day or allowing them to work remotely (which can more than halve an employee’s carbon footprint).
In some areas of the world, companies may soon have no choice but to take action. EU companies must already comply with mandatory ESG disclosure requirements, but organizations are facing new obligations to report their impact on nature under the bloc’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. What’s more, at least 10,000 foreign companies will also be affected by the EU’s Sustainability Rules.
Trend #10: Workforce surveillance and monitoring will be adopted to ensure hybrid workers return to the office — but employees will push back.
It’s estimated that 90% of companies will return to the office at least part of the time by the end of 2024. But even though employees and companies agree that a hybrid model is the best way forward, they don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to how many days workers should spend in the office.
In fact, most organizations have had to deal with significant employee pushback around this — and some are getting desperate. Salesforce, for example, began offering $10 donations to charity for each day workers are in the office. However, other companies are taking things a step further by turning to workforce monitoring to ensure employees are putting in the required time at work.
In August, Meta informed employees that their badge data would be reviewed to assess whether they’re meeting in-office requirements, with repeated violations resulting in disciplinary action. Other employers, including Google, Amazon, and JPMorgan Chase, have implemented similar measures to enforce RTO policies, and it’s likely that more organizations will follow suit in 2024.
Hybrid employees should also expect an increase in monitoring when they’re at home. By one estimate, 96% of remote companies use some kind of employee monitoring software, and 37% use live camera feeds. However, employers will need to be cautious about this, since 7 in 10 have had employees quit because they did not want to be monitored. And leaders aren’t completely on-board either; for example, 73% of IT managers say they feel uneasy about employee-monitoring software.
Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know your thoughts on the 2024 workplace trends!
Check out the previous issues of the Workplace Intelligence Insider newsletter below and subscribe now to get new articles every Monday.
News Spotlight No proof that RTO mandates work: A new study found that companies with RTO mandates experienced no improvements in their financial performance and 99% saw a drop in employee satisfaction (Fortune). Companies are adjusting how they do layoffs after social media backlash: Videos and recordings of poorly-executed layoffs are prompting some companies to rethink their approach (Bloomberg). Workplace safety and well-being continue to decline: Nearly 2 million U.S. workers are victims...
News Spotlight Introverts are now the ideal leaders: Remote work and the pandemic allowed introverts to thrive and unleash their distinct traits including dealing with adversity and creativity (Wall Street Journal). A shocking amount of teens have entered the workforce: About 250,000 more teens are working now than before the pandemic and it's the highest teen employment rate since 2009 (Marketplace). International companies are stealing American talent. With more American companies mandating...
News Spotlight AI is too expensive — for now: According to a new analysis from MIT, right now only 23% of jobs could be replaced by Artificial Intelligence in a cost-effective way (Fortune). VR/AR headsets set to disrupt the workplace: The release of Apple's Vision Pro will push virtual and augmented reality headsets into the mainstream for business uses (Quartz). Is workplace loyalty a thing of the past? Trends like quiet quitting, job-hopping, and overemployment (juggling multiple full-time...