What Were the HR Trends of 2023? Moving Away from Buzzwords to the ONE Thing You Need to Focus on in 2024

By Sarah McVanel, Chief Recognition Officer, Greatness Magnified

image of a man stacking blocks that say Trends, Latest, Hot and PopularWhat were the biggest workforce trends of 2023? (Have you lost track too?) Quiet quitting. Quiet hiring. Loud quitting. Rage applying. Resentism. The great resignation. Boomerang employees. Career cushioning.  There is no shortage of cool HR terms used to describe the confounding workforce trends of the last few years and the continued uncertainty. These terms are just the tip of the iceberg (and frankly, some of the more pleasant and less judgy ones, if you can believe it). No joke. You can literally search “What were the HR trends of 2023?” and you’ll find dozens of terms. No wonder we’re confused. And no wonder it’s leaving folks – maybe you – questioning, are these just buzzwords, were they even real in the first place? Can we trust “trends” when it seems we swing from one side of the debate to the other, only to arrive back at this same point: there aren’t enough people to fill most jobs and talented professionals find it challenging to find the right fit. If only the HR puzzle pieces went together – this person, this job, match! (And don’t even get us started on the complexities of the uncertainty about the economy and the uncertainty about whether we should be worried about it.) From work-life balance to immigration policies to DEI to wellness trends and more, we just don’t feel like we can find our stable footing.  Do you throw up your hands and say, “It doesn’t matter what I read/do/talk about because none of it seems actually to be helping!”  Please don’t!  We have two super practical ideas (practical…now that’s an idea) that will help you understand what’s brought us here, what is still happening, and what might be next. Ready? Let’s do this.

  1. Focus on “Stay” in 2024
  2. Map the Employee Experience

We’ll discuss the first this week, and in an article next month, we’ll dive deep into the employee experience. Do you accept this mission? If so, here we go.

Make 2024 The Year of Stay

image of a man holding a piece of paper that says EXIT INTERVIEWHave you ever been in an exit interview If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a formal process where a member of the organization (often HR) invites someone who’s resigned to have a formal interview about why they are leaving the organization.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Not often. Here’s why. Breakups stink. Think about the last personal relationship you ended. Have you ever decided to end things and thought, “You know what? Even though I am not going to be in this person’s life any longer, I really want to have a really intense debrief about all the things that worked and didn’t. I want to help give them a roadmap for all their future relationships so that every future partner can get a way better version of them.” And then imagine if you had that chat with a distant cousin, that you may or may not have met, who then relays your insights. In the case of a workplace, do you want to spill the beans with someone who’s new to you, or the last time you really had a heart-to-heart want when you accepted the job? Awkward! Whether we’ve ever asked for their opinion about how the relationship is going in the past or not, we want them to bear their head, heart and soul for the betterment of the very person (system, organization, industry) they’ve decided to leave. And we’ve asked them to do it with new folks in a super formal way. Now, I’m not saying all breakups are bad. Often, they just make sense. Remember “conscious uncoupling” (that is for that other buzzword, thanks, Gwyneth)? It’s not just for movie stars; we do that at work, too. Sometimes, it’s clear to everyone at work that our time is over (the contract is done, the role has changed, and everyone is ready to move on). 

Understanding Attrition and Turnover

Sometimes, life leads to a positive and unsurprising breakup. In the HR world, we call that “expected turnover.”  Actually, in full transparency, not everyone in the HR world is on the same page about even our own terms. It’s also been called attrition, natural attrition, and so on, but because others define those terms in various ways, for our purposes, we’re using “expected turnover” to depict those lower stakes reasons folks leave, and you can expect some of that to happen. “It’s not you it’s me” kind of thing. What are some examples? Well, I’m glad you asked. Maybe you’re heading back to school or moving away. Perhaps your spouse took a job elsewhere, and you really like wearing their sweatpants to bed, so you decide you might as well move with them (teehee). And maybe you would stay if it weren’t for other “adulting” challenges like your babysitter quitting, or you just cannot handle that long commute every day, or your rent went up for the 4th time that year, so you have to move back in with your parents. (Lucky parents.)  In other words, you would choose to stay if it weren’t for life circumstances.  image of a man holding a screen that says EMPLOYEE TURNOVERIn an exit interview, you don’t have much to say. You give these reasons and maybe have some other suggestions, but you aren’t leaving to leave. If anything, you don’t want to share much just in case you want to come back one day or need a reference; those things that could be improved or a few folks that really got under your skin, well, you may decide to keep that to yourself as you don’t want to burn any bridges. Turnover has many subcategories, but for our purposes, we’ll refer to it as being when an employee leaves an organization because they opt out. (There are many reasons, many subclasses and because I promised you I would not bombard you with terms, I won’t define them all here).  You’d think an exit interview would be helpful in this case, right? In theory, yes! In practice, not so much.

Why You Don’t Learn the Facts in Exit Interviews

Here are some reasons people have shared with me about why they don’t take exit interviews seriously:

  • I don’t believe it will do anything. “No one listens to me.” 
  • I don’t want to. “Too little too late.”
  • I don’t trust the process. “I don’t know what they’ll do with that information.”
  • I am afraid. “I was bullied and harassed on the job, and I just want to leave it behind me.”
  • I don’t care. “I’m leaving, so what is the point?”
  • I am careful. “I don’t want it to come back on me later.”
  • I don’t believe things will change. “I am wasting my breath.”
  • I don’t know. “I haven’t been here long enough to have an opinion.”
  • I don’t have time. “My priority with the time I have left is to hand things off well to someone else.”
  • I don’t think we can fix it. “It’s a system issue and bigger than me or HR.”
  • I’m frustrated. “Too little too late.”

The bottom line is this: there are many reasons why those exit interviews will give us a false sense of clarity because there is virtually no motivation to lay all the cards on the table. If someone is frustrated, checked out, uninterested or fearful of repercussions, the safest, easiest and most efficient way to transition out is not to take part or to gloss over reasons for leaving. I know I have. (I hang my head in shame as an HR professional.) 

Confessions of a Bad Exit Interviewee

Did I want to tell a perfect stranger, in the early phases of my career, working in the same sector and going to a job in the same city, that the core reason I was leaving was because my boss was passive-aggressively squashing my career? Was it worth the risk, given that she was the same person being given special assignments by the CEO? Nope. Or at least at the time when I made the tough decision to leave my first fabulous job at the tender age of 28ish.  image of 2 cups of black coffee with a hand holding each oneI showed up for our “casual exit interview chit-chat with coffee!” (as the meeting invitation title shows up in my calendar, I kid you not) and gave a few general suggestions about improvements. It wasn’t all my boss, after all.  As lovely and eager as this HR intern was, there was nothing she could have done to drag the real goods about why I’d so easily walk away from a super cool job I’d been in for five years. I didn’t want it to be weird since, inevitably, my boss and I would cross paths in the not-so-distant future.  Was I a coward? Maybe. (Probably?) At the time, I justified it this way: No one wants to hear their baby is ugly. They’re asking for me to share “the good, the bad and the ugly,” but do you really, really really want to know the ugly? And man, if it’s ugly, it puts the HR person in a very precarious position. What if what you learn you need to launch an investigation or dive into some pretty concerning practices, but you, thinking it was a “chat,” said, “Anything you say in this room stays here”? If the issues are serious, what do you do about them? Yet the person isn’t there any longer to be involved in the investigation, even if you are willing to break the “circle of trust”? Suddenly, the little chit-chat has now turned into an ethical conundrum. I’m not saying ignore issues. If it takes someone leaving to reveal them, there are bigger issues.  With few exceptions, exit interviews lead to few true substantive insights, or at least too few to justify the investment of time and energy into them, through to hardcore anger being dumped on someone who isn’t the right recipient.  There is a better way. Talk to people before they decide to break up. 

Stay Interviews

In the HR world, we call this a “stay interview.” You can do both. You can do exit interviews and add in stay interviews or split your time 50/50 (conduct exit interviews and stay interviews). The benefit is that it allows you to compare both sets of feedback and maybe give you a more rounded picture.  image of a woman with a hand behind her ear to listenHowever, let’s be real. Most HR departments are so stretched they can hardly keep up with the legislative requirements, let alone the nice-to-dos. So, I say put all chips on red: I would bet (Monopoly) money that your stay interviews will yield you a greater gain in insights, ideas, and possibly even a few folks putting up their hand to volunteer to make things better! Need a rep for your health and safety committee? Need to reform that employee resource group (ERG)? Need volunteers to review the annual award nominations? I bet you’ll find a candidate! All you need to do is listen for what matters to them. Stay interviews also can be a lot less formal than an exit interview. You don’t need to schedule them. You don’t need to bolt the door. Sure, you might hear things you need to follow up on; however, at least you still have the folks there as a resource when you do! Stay questions can be woven into team meetings, one-on-ones, and orientations. It can be the thing you throw out before the MS Teams meeting starts, a conversation thread on your Slack board, and an open-ended question on your next engagement survey.  Because there is no breakup, you don’t need to make such a big grand gesture. All you need to do is stay curious (like what I did there?) Weave stay questions into everyday activities and connection points. 

Where to start? 

We’ve got you. We have a list of 25+ questions we’ve built with our clients that have yielded great insights. Here are a few:

  • Why did you decide to accept your role?
  • What does a successful and satisfying day look like for you?
  • What are the most meaningful parts of your work?
  • What makes your role less satisfying than it could be?
  • What might contribute to your decision if you left your role earlier than planned?
  • Have you ever told someone that they should come and work for us? What did you highlight?
  • What is an easy thing to tackle to improve working here exponentially?
  • What makes a promotion desirable? Undesirable?
  • If it were your retirement day, what would you tell people about the importance of this role at this point in your career?

You can download the whole list here.

Beginning your Stay Interviews

As you read the questions, you no doubt began to think of more – ones specific to your industry, organization, team, and the “vibe” of your culture. Perfect. You are officially staying curious! You can also crowdsource stay questions. In fact, we at Greatness Magnified highly recommend you do. Ask for ideas in your next ERG meeting. Build it into your new staff orientation by asking, “What questions should we ask you to check in about in 3 or 6 months from now?” Generate a list of stay interview questions at your next team meeting. And more! This is more than a fancy workforce trend term that might come or go. This is a best practice that some have been doing since the organization’s inception and is part of the fabric of the people strategy. For others, it’s something they’re dabbling in since “what got us here won’t get us there.” 

image of four coworkers walking together with cups of coffee smiling and chattingIf you genuinely care about the people and culture, and I know you do, be the most curious curator of cultural truths this year and be hungry for insights about how folks are experiencing their role, team, organization and even life as it relates to work. This is how we truly see, hear, and value people, by constantly curious about their worlds and finding ways to improve them together. 

To embrace a stay philosophy with practices like stay interviews, ground yourself in a deep belief that everyone always matters. These subtle recognition signposts remind folks why they chose you and why they are so glad they continue to do so. Here’s an offer. Ask ten people at least one stay question (your own or one of ours), and I will gladly give you half an hour of my time, my gift to you, to help you interpret what you hear and how you can turn that into the beginning of a stay focus if you plan to do that, book in with me now! What do you say? If you’re all in for making 2024 the year of stay in your team or organization, I’m all in for you. Book time here. Next month, we’ll dive into the other most important trend of 2024: employee experience mapping. First step: stay questions. I want to give you some time to experiment with this, and then you can layer it into this next powerful strategy. In the meantime, if you are curious about getting more traction in surfacing major retention issues or need to figure out how to truly uncover the drivers, book time to chat. For more yummy tidbits about stay interviews, check out these past blog posts:

Disclaimer/Humble Brag Moment: 100% of this content was human-generated (by us folks here at Greatness Magnified). We are committed to authorship integrity and will inform you what percent, if any, is AI generated.

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