A frequent dinner-time question when my children were young was, “If you could have one superpower, what would it be?” (followed by, “Do I really have to eat my vegetables?”) After a thoughtful exploration of super-human strength, telekinesis, invisibility, telepathy, shapeshifting and X-ray vision, I always settled on “seeing the future.”
Taking action today to ease you and others into a more positive tomorrow strikes me as the most valuable superpower for mortals and leaders. For instance, what might you have done differently if you’d read the tea leaves and anticipated the Great Resignation? Or if you’d looked in your crystal ball to see waves of employees quietly quitting throughout the workplace? Imagine the proactive steps you could have taken to mitigate those stressful and challenging times.
Fortunately for leaders, being able to see the future isn’t limited to Marvel characters or the imagination. Countless studies and analyses of 2024 workplace conditions offer enough context to invoke this superpower immediately.
- The Conference Board and others predict salary growth will continue decelerating next year.
- Employers plan to promote fewer people in 2024, according to Mercer.
- Record levels of disengagement (the highest in a decade, Gallup says) show no signs of improvement.
- According to the Society for Human Resource Management and others, skill gaps will persist. This is at the top of what keeps CEOs awake at night.
- Burnout — already at crisis levels — will stay with us. Employees facing mental health and well-being challenges are four times more likely than others to want to leave their organizations.
These data points converge to suggest another perfect storm of challenging employment dynamics and retention challenges in 2024. But leaders with the superpower of seeing (and seizing) this future are well poised to plan for — and even change it — by taking several steps today.
Consider these four proactive strategies:
1. Invest in the relationship
Classic research reported by Harvard Business Review confirms what many of us already know: Employees don’t quit jobs; they quit bosses. So, start now becoming the kind of supervisor your people would have a tough time saying goodbye to. Use every interaction to build trust for the future. Listen hard to what people have to say. Invite feedback and take appropriate action to demonstrate that your team’s opinions matter. Be as transparent, authentic and open as possible. Become a strong, magnetic, gravitational force that keeps people in your orbit — even when (especially when) times get more demanding.
2. Get RTW (return to work) right
This may be among the most consequential decisions organizations and leaders make today — either setting themselves up for success or struggles in 2024. One size clearly can’t fit all. And some work must be conducted onsite and together. But be thoughtful when mandating changes to working conditions to which people have become accustomed. Offering flexibility to accommodate employees’ broader lives and the need for autonomy now will affect their choices in the coming year and beyond.
3. Enable work-life integration
Employees are looking for a different relationship with work that also works within their broader lives. Organizations and leaders who understand and actively support this intention will experience reduced burnout, greater engagement and improved retention. There are countless ways to accomplish this, including flexibility around the where and when of work — embracing family-friendly practices and benefits, allowing people to use their strengths daily and making work more meaningful and purpose-driven. Reducing junk work, and perhaps freeing up time with the assistance of generative AI. These strategies allow work to integrate more seamlessly and less stressfully into your employees’ whole outside lives.
4. Double down on career development
Reconciling your employees’ increasing interest in growth with fewer and fewer promotional opportunities may appear impossible at first glance, but not to leaders who operate with a broader definition of career development. My research finds that people are interested in far more than the classic climb up the corporate ladder. They want the ability to contribute, build competence, connect with others, elevate confidence, step up to new challenges, enjoy greater contentment and exercise more control over their work — each offering rich growth opportunities. So, begin preparing by exploring what “career” means to each employee, leveraging in-role/in-the-workflow development experiences, offering the resources and support they need, and considering internal mobility to keep people growing — even in a flatter organizational structure.
As a leader, you’re called upon daily to leap tall buildings in a single bound, act faster than a speeding bullet and perform other superhuman feats. But the most significant power you bring to your role is your ability to see the future. Because if you see it, you can seize it … starting today.
Julie Winkle Giulioni is a champion of growth and development in the workplace, helping leaders and organizations optimize the potential of their people. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, she’s the author of the bestseller “Promotions Are So Yesterday” and co-author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want.” Learn more about her work at JulieWinkleGiulioni.com.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.