The last three years have seen a drastic change in the function of HR, and the expectations placed on HR leaders.

The pressure on these teams will only ratchet up further in 2023.

Work tech CMOs have no shortage of things they can do to help HR professionals. But we think the three pain points below deserve the most attention.

1. Return-to-the-Office Drama

Most employees want the option to work from home. Some prefer a hybrid option. Some prefer fully remote. But nearly every person in the workforce has come to appreciate the flexibility of remote work.

According to data from Beezy’s 2022 Workplace report, nearly 3 in 4 (73 percent) employees “now work in either a hybrid or fully remote setting.” And a third of workers say they’re hoping to be fully remote for the long term.

That desire for worker flexibility is impacting recruitment. Patrick McAdams, CEO and managing partner at the staffing and consulting company Andiamo, says his team’s own research found that a significant proportion of the workforce — just more than a quarter of male respondents and just more than a third of female respondents — “would look for a new job if their employer required them to return to the office.”

Workers want the option to work from home. Many of us worked that way for the past two years. This shouldn’t be controversial, should it?

Oh, but it is.

Why Is Working From Home Such an Issue?

Because too many company executives cannot let go of the idea that workers must report to a physical work station, even when that’s not the reality for millions of people.

In 2020, company executives lost control of something they’d always had lots of control over: Employee attendance. No one likes to lose control of something. That’s human nature.

One way to cope with a loss of control is to romanticize the past. That’s what some company executives are doing when they demand workers return to the office. They’re romanticizing a notion of when everyone was in the office getting work done together.

“Many people feel a desire to go back to the world before the pandemic,” writes Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, CEO of the consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. “They fall for the status quo bias, a desire to maintain or get back what they see as the appropriate situation and way of doing things.”

Here’s what gives the game away: Tsipursky says that the “Let’s get back to the office” leaders he has spoken to won’t survey their own employees about whether they want to keep working from home. Instead, those leaders “feel confident that the large majority of their employees would rather work at the office than at home.”

And so some companies are being nudged toward HR policies based on the willful blindness of their leadership.

Work tech CMOs are going to be walking on eggshells when working with such companies.

How Can Work Tech CMOs Respond?

Take the back-to-the-office arguments at face value.

If an HR leader says collaboration and culture can only flourish when people physically share an office space, then they’re accepting responsibility on some level for ensuring they have a tightly knit team.

In your marketing, reflect that challenge back to them. Find ways to ask:

  • Are you ready to actually step up and take that responsibility?
  • Will you invest time, energy, money and emotion into creating spaces where collaborative work thrives?

blurred figures outside an brightly lit building; hr leaders in 2023 concept

2. Pay Transparency

Pay transparency is a noble and laudable goal for companies.

When companies are open and transparent about what they’re paying their workers, a couple of big benefits flow from that:

  • It improves recruiting because candidates know what a role will pay when they apply, not four interviews later.
  • It shines light on the systemic biases that create pay gaps among people of different genders (and ethnicities, and sexual identities, among others).

But pay transparency is much more involved than putting salary ranges in job listings, or publishing salaries on the company’s blog. It’s work that generates layers of challenges along the way.

What Challenges Emerge When Companies Try to Get Transparent About Pay?

First, let’s talk about the companies that reject pressure to open up about worker pay. In general, those companies will find themselves trying to sail against the wind.

Research from Visier finds that 89 percent of Gen Z workers are comfortable discussing their pay with their coworkers. Among boomers, that number drops to 53 percent. So, there’s a generational divide. Younger workers appear more likely to embrace — and probably insist on — pay transparency from their employers.

“Organisations that maintain their intent on pay secrecy are likely to sacrifice new and existing talent as people start to talk more openly about their pay with each other,” Ian McVey, SVP and general manager for Visier’s EMEA team, writes at HR News.

Now, for the companies that have taken steps toward policies of pay transparency, a new wrinkle appears. As researchers Leon Lam, Bonnie Hayden Cheng, Peter Bamberger and Man-Nok Wong write at HBR, pay transparency tends to compress payment across the entire company.

That means when two employees are at the same pay level, managers tend not to invest the time and energy into justifying a bonus or pay raise for one person over the other, even if one employee has outperformed the other.

The employees then become aware of this trend and start looking for new ways to get compensated for performance. That’s when individual employees start to negotiate personalized rewards for their good work. Usually, those conversations happen behind closed doors between the employee and their manager.

And so once again employee pay moves into an opaque zone. It’s an ironic and unintended consequence of transparency. Pay transparency itself becomes a moving target, the researchers write, as dynamic reward moves out of what is observable and into closed-door discussions.

“This is particularly concerning because recent evidence suggests that this shift toward differential remuneration in the form of less-visible benefits may come at the cost of gender pay equity,” they write.

How Can Work Tech CMOs Respond?

Be mindful that companies on a journey toward pay transparency will hit certain stumbling blocks.

There are two types of content that would map nicely to that journey:

  • Top-of-funnel content that describes how pay secrecy ultimately undermines recruitment, particularly among younger workers. Have this content ready for when a company’s executives balk at the very idea of pay transparency.
  • Mid-funnel content that explores how personalized reward can both work with and work against policies of pay transparency. Have this content ready when a company takes its first steps toward creating new policies to promote transparency.

woman works on tablet at home; hr leaders in 2023 concept

3. Molding Managers Into Leaders

The two challenges above — navigating requests to return to the office and navigating calls for pay transparency — represent potentially huge inflection points in any organization.

By themselves, these are moments that call for strong leadership, both in the moment to navigate the change and in the future to sustain it.

HR teams know this, too. That’s why Gartner’s Top HR Trends and Priorities For 2023 report lists “leader and manager effectiveness” as priority No. 1.

“As today’s work environment changes, leadership must change, as well,” Gartner’s researchers write. “The three environmental shifts of social and political turbulence, work-life fusion and flexible work arrangements are redefining the leader-employee dynamic into a human-to-human relationship.”

Company executives also face external pressures “to take a stance on and lead in an increasing number of issues that transcend the walls of their organizations (e.g. addressing inequalities, the pandemic, or fighting climate change),” as the Academy to Innovate HR writes in its 2022 report on upskilling.

What Does This Mean for HR?

HR executives are on the lookout for emerging and potential leaders.

In Epic Presence’s conversations with our work tech clients, we constantly hear how much emphasis organizations put on finding candidates and current employees with leadership skills. And when they do find those people, those organizations look for ways to upskill, work with and define career paths for them.

“Managers hold the greatest potential to positively impact the organization’s employees,” writes Jon Greenawalt, SVP of customer transformation at work tech company 15Five.

“Progressive companies understand that they must invest in developing their frontline managers, so they will be able to build effective teams that produce outstanding results for their businesses more consistently.”

How Can Work Tech CMOs Respond?

Look for ways to help HR managers become the consciences of their organizations:

  • Make sure your marketing speaks to social, cultural and environmental issues. These now intersect with the work that your HR customers are doing.
  • Weave relevant news, insights and even opinions into your marketing. Newsletters and LinkedIn are great places to publish this content.

Images by: Clout Africa, rawkkim, Windows

Casey Meehan
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