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How We Work Podcast: Chris French Looks Ahead to the 2022 Workplace

podcast logo reading How We Work“What’s past is prologue,” declares Antonio in Act 2, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” The Bard’s wisdom certainly rings true as we look ahead to the HR trends that will define 2022.

As Chris French, executive vice president of customer strategy at Workhuman® points out, the past twelve months are sure to greatly shape and influence key HR strategies, policies, and tactics in the coming months. On the How We Work podcast, Chris shares his thoughts and perspectives on how 2021 will influence the HR scene in the new year.

Despite all good intentions, Chris believes that progress toward achieving a human workplace was only modest in 2021. “We have historic levels of isolation, loneliness, and mental health challenges in the workplace,” he notes. “We had great aspirations for diversity, equity, and inclusion. But we didn’t make a ton of progress this year in terms of measurable results.”

Here are some of the highlights – including predictions for coming HR trends – from the conversation.

1. Psychological safety is part of overall workplace safety.

Chris views psychological safety in a broader context of general workplace safety. He noted that safety is closely tied to the need for human connection. “’Do I feel safe at work?’ – whether it’s physically or emotionally – was a big topic at the beginning of the year,” he observes. “But now, you’ve got the cumulative effect of a gap in human connection over a longer period of time.”

2. The gap in human connection is real – and huge.

Chris laments the fact that the personal interactions that fuel human connections – lunch, hallway conversations – are still limited. Even when people go into the office, “they’re all in the same room, staring at the computer and not looking at each other. Companies really have to start thinking about how they are going fill the gap in human connection.”

3. The Great Resignation will only get greater.

Chris notes that much of the accelerated turnover we’ve seen to date has occurred largely in service industries, such as hospitality. He predicts a growing exodus of workers in other industries in the coming year.

“We’ve just begun to see the turnover in other jobs by workers who – due to the cumulative effect of not interacting with humans in their company and their team – don’t have the same connection. And they’re leaving.”

4. The secret to making your organization’s “grass greener” isn’t money or perks.

“Why would people stay at your organization?” asks Chris. “Because they feel connected to the purpose, the people, and the work. They feel like they can grow.” Financial incentives are not enough anymore, he adds. “If you’re not creating an environment where people feel like they belong, where they can bring their whole selves to work, where they can grow, you’re not going to win the competition for talent.”

5. DE&I: There’s progress – but a long way to go.

“There are a lot more companies that are thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion as a key driver within their people strategy,” Chris observes. But he asks: “Do people in the target populations – those that are meant to benefit from these initiatives – actually feel any different?” In short, Chris believes that more companies are trying to advance their DE&I strategies, but the impact has been less than they hoped for.

6. Let’s understand that unconscious bias is … unconscious.

“The hard part about unconscious bias is that it’s unconscious,” notes Chris. That’s why people need to be reminded “in the moment” that their actions are biased. He cites the importance of “micro-coaching people.”

“Let me ask myself: ‘Are these the words I should really use? Am I recognizing all the people I should be recognizing?’” He’s encouraged that “those interventions, those nudges at the right time” are having an impact on workplace dynamics.

7. The crowd will be central to fighting loneliness and mental health challenges.

As it becomes increasingly clear that many will not return to the office anytime soon, the need for humans to connect will become greater. As Chris sees it, “you can’t deal with loneliness and mental health challenges between the company and the employee. So this idea of employing the crowd to be part of the solution has to be a trend in 2022.”

8. HR will be a facilitator of culture, rather than a manager of policies.

Chris believes the roles within HR are changing and evolving. He cites that there are people responsible for the hybrid workplace. And he notes that in many organizations the term “HR” is no longer used. Instead, there is a Chief People Officer, and others who are responsible for people, talent, and culture. “I see a change in the people function within organizations, and a change in what is [HR’s] fundamental job,” observes Chris.

9. Effective recognition depends on frequency, the crowd, and 1%.

How can a manager who doesn’t see what an employee does day-to-day make an informed decision about a bonus – especially when so many are working remotely? Chris argues there should be a component of rewards “that you give to the people, to give to the people.”

And by pacing rewards over the year – in smaller, more frequent amounts – the many benefits of recognition (including retention, productivity, and engagement) are realized. He notes that allocating just 1% of pay will make possible 8-10 recognition moments a year per employee.