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Your HR Survival Guide for 2023

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In a single word, what will 2023 be like? Ambiguous.

Heading into a new year often brings feelings of fresh starts and new opportunities for HR teams. But in 2023, HR teams will face unknown situations with a looming recession, layoffs, and changing employee demands. Building a strong culture and employee experience with the potential of tumultuous employee morale will no doubt be a challenge to overcome.

HR leaders are about to confront a historic amount of disruption that has led to uneasiness within their teams and companies.

Much of today’s HR environment is erratic. There are economic concerns, but we haven’t yet reached a full-blown recession. There’s a competitive job market where positions can’t be filled, but there are also abundant layoffs. So how can HR leaders navigate these unique challenges?

Here’s your 2023 guide to winning as an HR professional.

Challenge: Boosting Morale With the Uneasiness of Layoffs

Heading into 2023, HR teams are in a unique position with a competitive job market and abundant layoffs. November 2022 brought the biggest total layoffs since January 2021.

High-profile layoffs from large companies like Amazon, Twitter, and Meta have been announced across the news, sparking fear in employees of smaller companies. There’s a sense of anxiety that if the world’s biggest companies can’t hold onto their employees, there’s no way a smaller company can do so. Many employees work in fear that their company will be the next to announce layoffs and their job will get axed. Nearly 80% of U.S. workers are scared about job security, especially if a recession hits, even though we’re experiencing one of the strongest job markets in recent years.

Seeing colleagues lose their jobs can threaten the psychological safety of employees who keep their jobs and cause a conflicting swirl of emotions. Employees who survive layoffs often have “survivor guilt” or experience lowered morale after a round of layoffs. One study found that 74% of employees who kept their jobs after layoffs say their productivity declined, and 69% say the company’s service declined.

TEDx speaker Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas describes workplace survivor syndrome as a “mixture of grief from losing colleagues, anxiety regarding their [own] job security, overwhelm from needing to pick up more work, and distress from deteriorating psychological safety. Many also experience survivor guilt, wondering why they were spared when other worthy workers were not.”

Solution: Build a Culture of Gratitude

In today’s volatile workplace, recognition is no longer optional. One of the most common reasons employees leave their jobs is because they don’t feel valued or have a sense of belonging. Recognizing employees doesn’t necessarily prevent layoffs, but it can be powerful in improving the morale of remaining employees.

Recognizing employees goes beyond just giving them a prize. It requires changing the focus of recognition from giving people stuff to showcasing true gratitude. Employees can feel the difference between getting thanked so a leader can check a box or feel good about themselves and feeling genuine gratitude that their work is appreciated and a vital part of the company.

HR teams can lead the charge to create an environment where people are connected, recognized, and appreciated. Employees who receive frequent appreciation from colleagues and managers feel more respected and have better job performance. That’s not a one-time perk — that’s a long-term culture of gratitude. When you have gratitude and connectedness in spades, a virtuous cycle creates a tailwind for the company.

Your employees want to be seen and contribute to gratitude. Peer-to-peer recognition builds an empathetic culture that strengthens relationships, enhances collaboration, builds confidence, and even improves employees’ physical health. Showcasing heartfelt gratitude can help overcome many of today’s challenges and leads to lasting benefits for employees, both in and out of work.

Solution: Give HR a Seat at the Executive Table

One of the most crucial roles for HR teams is to serve as advocates for their employees, especially to the executive team. Doing so multiplies their people-centric efforts and can make employees a central focus of the organization. Modern HR teams, no matter their size, must get a voice at the table and become a partner with the executive team to employees.

“HR has insight and influence to all the different things that impact how an employee feels when they come to work, throughout their time at an organization,” writes author Heather MacArthur. “Developing a rapport and reputation with leaders that equates to them realizing the benefit of having a strategic partner in HR will be critical for the future success of organizations moving forward. Leaders should embrace what the HR team shares with curiosity and active listening.”

But getting a seat at the table is often easier said than done. HR is often considered “soft” and not on par with other executive functions like sales and strategy. It’s time to prove them wrong and showcase the incredible benefits of taking your efforts to the next level. Do this by showcasing the widespread impact of HR issues on all areas of the company, including revenue, retention, productivity, and growth.

HR is often low on the executive totem pole. HR teams may need to assert themselves, prove their value, and ask for the budget to get things done. Standing up for employees and establishing yourself as a valuable partner to the executive team adds the people perspective to business decisions, especially surrounding layoffs. While other functions focus on the bottom line and how to cut headcount to stay profitable, HR teams can offer a different perspective to help leaders realize the human impact of their choices.

Need help making your business case? Consider these stats.

  • Companies with highly engaged employees see a 43% difference in turnover. (Gallup)
  • Employees who are onboarded effectively are 18x more likely to feel committed to their jobs. (BambooHR)
  • Companies with strong cultures see a 4x increase in revenue growth. (Forbes)
  • Recognition increases employee engagement and productivity by 14%. (Deloitte)

Challenge: Burnout, Wellness, and Mental Health

Burnout has long been an HR buzzword, but in 2023 we’re seeing the proof to back it up. Employees are stressed and burnt out, often at higher levels than during the peak of the pandemic. One survey found 77% of companies have seen an increase in employees who report feeling burnt out, up from 42% in September 2020. Burnout saw a huge jump in 2020, but there were hopes that as life returned to normal, social gatherings resumed, and childcare became easier, burnout would subside. Clearly, that wasn’t the case. With economic concerns, social issues, and a general sense of uneasiness, employees feel pressure outside work, impacting their office performance.

Job burnout hit an all-time high in 2022. The American Psychological Association found that 79% of employees have experienced work-related stress in the last month. Three in five employees say stress causes them to lack interest, motivation, and energy at work. A reported 36% of employees have cognitive weariness, 32% have emotional exhaustion, and 44% have physical fatigue — a staggering 38% jump from 2019.

Quiet quitting, or slowly backing away from responsibilities, is on the rise as employees look for ways to ease their mental burdens.

HBR puts it this way: “Quiet quitters continue to fulfill their primary responsibilities, but they’re less willing to engage in activities known as citizenship behaviors: no more staying late, showing up early, or attending non-mandatory meetings.”

Gallup estimates that quiet quitters make up 50% of the U.S. workforce — probably more. And in many cases, having these employees stick around but do the bare minimum is worse than if they just quit their jobs because their colleagues have to pick their slack, which further drops employee morale.

Burnout and mental health issues aren’t isolated to one department. HR teams often find themselves absorbing the brunt of employees’ wellness and mental health concerns and then have nowhere to go or no one to turn to for their own stresses and challenges. There’s no safe space for HR leaders, which adds to the burden of caring for others while taking care of themselves.

Solution: Consider the Entire Employee Experience

Employee experience isn’t just perks. To create lasting change, HR teams need to get to the root of core workplace practices and create a holistic employee experience. Too often, HR teams offer free food or gym memberships to boost employee engagement scores. It’s what futurist Jacob Morgan calls an “adrenaline shot” that eventually wears off.

This holistic approach is especially important with issues surrounding mental health and well-being. How an employee feels outside of work impacts their performance at work. In many ways, HR teams aren’t building experiences that happen during working hours of 9-5 — they are influencing every aspect of employees’ lives, both in and out of work.

Instead of focusing just on perks or one aspect of the employee experience, HR teams need to consider the end-to-end employee journey. Each element of that journey isn’t a separate entity or process but an integrated part of the overall employee experience. Companies often put steps like onboarding, retention, and benefits in separate categories. But that’s not how employees view them. To employees, each of those categories is simply part of their lives. When HR teams integrate their efforts and view the employee experience as a whole instead of various components, they can develop a stronger experience that more accurately meets employees’ needs and improves their lives.

Challenge: Establishing a Hybrid Culture

Remote work has been a hot topic over the past few years, especially as companies across all industries realized it was possible (and often productive and profitable) for their employees to work from home. But as we close in on three years of widespread remote work, the honeymoon phase is ending.

The pendulum that swung heavily toward remote work during the pandemic is slowly returning to the middle as companies realize the power and collaboration that comes from having employees together in person. And with a recession on the horizon, many companies want to ensure employees make the most of their time together. Research from Gallup found that optimal engagement happens when employees spend around 60% of their time working off-site, with the remainder collaborating in person. Employees with this schedule enjoy the convenience of some remote work but the connectivity, learning, and growth opportunities of collaborating in person.

Many companies were more relaxed with their remote and hybrid practices during the pandemic and in the years following to provide a sense of normalcy. But companies have reached the point where they need to create policies for remote and hybrid work to continue. These points can include what roles can work remotely, how often people need to be in the office, and expectations for working remotely.

However, many employees are reluctant to return fully to the office. When given an opportunity to work flexibly, 87% of employees take advantage of it. Companies must find ways to encourage employees to work in person or with a hybrid schedule because although employees may be hesitant to return to the office, enthusiasm tends to grow once enough employees return.

Getting employees back to the office is only part of the struggle. HR teams and leaders must also create a strong culture when only some people are in the office daily. As employees increasingly set their own hybrid schedules, coordinating them and creating a sense of unity can be difficult.

How One Company Brought Employees Back

Product design company Earthbound Brands faced a challenge familiar to many other companies: how to bring employees back to the office after years of working remotely.

The company set a clear strategy and boundaries to get employees on board with the change, especially ensuring that employees were achieving different goals when working in the office versus when they worked from home. That way, employees could differentiate their projects and make the most of their time working remotely and in person.

Earthbound Brands also shifted its meetings to accommodate various schedules. By requiring all employees to be in the office Monday through Wednesday and then giving them the option to work remotely Thursday and Friday, employees start the week collaborating and meeting together and then have the chance to work individually and wind down heading into the weekend.

Solution: Break Out of the Status Quo

There have long been set ideas about the roles and responsibilities of HR, with teams afraid to veer from the status quo. But a new world of work requires a new approach from HR.

The HR function is changing, bringing opportunities to do things differently. HR is no longer simply hiring and firing but about creating the entire employee experience and driving culture. Today’s HR teams should break out of the status quo to try new ideas.

Employees don’t like the office layout? Change it! Weekly town halls are lagging in excitement? Make them fun and interactive! New employee onboarding doesn’t create a strong connection with the company? Add a mentorship program!

The possibilities for HR teams are endless if you get outside the old way of thinking. Don’t be afraid to break old traditions and start new ones.

Bringing people back to the office is a great time to establish a new company culture and start traditions. For employees hired during the pandemic, this may be their first time working with their colleagues in person. Use it as an opportunity to shake things up and create the culture and environment you hope to achieve, not just repeating what’s always been done.

Research from McKinsey found that HR teams “play a vital role in making sure the organization is living its purpose and values. HR can articulate and role-model desired individual mindsets and behaviors linked to purpose by identifying “moments that matter” in the company’s culture and translating purpose into a set of leadership and employee norms and behaviors.” This goes far beyond traditional hiring and firing to overseeing anything that touches employees.

Opportunities for Future-Ready HR Teams

McKinsey found that future-ready companies focus on three key areas: purpose, value, and culture.

The new approach to HR brings nine key opportunities in these areas:

  • Establishing and sharing the organization’s purpose
  • Rebalancing talent resources
  • Taking employee experience to the next level
  • Increasing speed in crisis decision-making
  • Reskilling and upskilling employees and creating a learning culture
  • Adopting new models and making the workforce more flexible
  • Building an agile, digital HR platform
  • Driving strategic workforce planning and introducing next-generation talent management
  • Collaborating to create a broader HR ecosystem

Solution: Listen to Employees

During any period of change in your company, employees are your strongest resource for feedback and ideas. Employees have opinions, and HR teams and company leaders need to be willing to listen to their responses and suggestions.

Employee surveys provide access to a wealth of information and critical data. Lean on that data and use it to understand employee sentiment, employee lifetime value, how long it takes employees to contribute to the organization fully, and much more.

But go beyond just the numbers to find the why. Why do employees feel a certain way? Why are employees leaving or staying? What’s contributing to their engagement levels, morale, or feelings about the company? Get to the root of their feedback to find what’s driving their opinions and views.

It doesn’t stop there. On its own, data is useless. Follow through with your surveys to turn those insights into valuable changes for the company. The best HR teams listen to what employees want and either respond and do that or tell them no and provide a reason. Asking for feedback and not using it is often worse than not asking for feedback at all.

Thriving — Not Just Surviving — in 2023

In 2023, we’re heading into uncharted waters. During uncertain times, organizations tend to make business decisions, not people decisions. But people are foundational to a company’s success, especially in challenging situations. Bringing HR up to its true potential can change the company and create an employee experience that withstands even the biggest challenges.

2023 may seem daunting for HR teams, but it’s an incredible opportunity to grow and expand. It doesn’t have to just be survival mode — you can use this year to help your employees thrive. You’ve got this!

About Motivosity

Motivosity is the company intent on helping people be happier at work. Motivosity provides a best-in-class employee recognition and feedback software platform used by companies like DuPont, Instructure, Hitachi Chemical, Western Governors University, Cotopaxi, and others to improve employee engagement and build company culture. Motivosity customers experience a 90%+ user engagement rate. Our software drives amazing results by making visible all the great work your team members are doing, connecting employees to each other, facilitating consistent communication between managers and employees, and providing actionable insights for company leadership to make more informed business decisions.