Employers today are facing an array of complex issues that are reshaping the future of work. From the pandemic to the rise of artificial intelligence (AI and specifically ChatGPT) and automation, employers must navigate an ever-evolving landscape to stay competitive and meet the needs of employees and customers alike.

Over my next two columns, we will explore some of the biggest issues that employers are facing currently and into the next several years.

1. Future pandemics/crises:

Now that are on the other side of the COVID-19 workplace shakeup, some companies have developed contingency plans to manage future crises. Being reactive, as most of us had to be, is never the best solution. Employers will need to consider how to lessen the impact of future disruptions and ensure the safety and well-being of their employees while continuing to operate at full capacity. By documenting what worked in the last workplace upheaval and what did not — and addressing the issue annually with employees — contingency planning can offer a sense of stability and assurance for your employees and your clients.

2. Talent acquisition and retention:

Despite the slowing economy, many job markets remain competitive. Employers are facing challenges in attracting and retaining top talent whether its skilled labor, service jobs or professional roles. With the rise of remote work, many employees now have more flexibility in where they work, making it easier for them to move between companies. “The great resignation” may be over, but its effects linger.

Employers need to focus on creating a best-in-class workplace that attracts managers and human resources pros who are trained in leadership, who are empathetic toward their employees and who treat employees like human beings with needs and emotions. They need to offer employees training and growth opportunities. Companies with flexible hours and settings — especially hybrid workplaces or fully remote environments — will be ahead of the game. Robust benefits and compensation packages are and will continue to be a must.

3. Artificial intelligence and automation:

The rise of AI and automation is transforming the way we work. Many routine tasks can now be automated, freeing up employees to focus on more complex and creative work. While automation such as robots and 3D printing offers benefits such as increased efficiency and cost savings, it also poses a threat to jobs that can be easily delegated to machines.

Employers will need to consider how to manage the impact of automation on their workforce and in their workplace. This includes (but is not limited to) determining if they will utilize AI and how they will adjust employees’ responsibilities to a new environment. For employees displaced by AI or automation, employers need to decide if they will attempt to retain staff and retrain them to handle new roles or downsize.

Then there is ChatGPT, an AI language platform that is trained to interact conversationally and perform tasks. Just as teachers are wary about ChatGPT writing student assignments, employers are concerned about candidates using it to answer interview questions, respond to screening assessments and more. There is further concern about inherent bias as it is dependent on the information it was trained on. Smart employers realize that the presence and capabilities of AI language platforms will only expand and are preparing for the future impact on their businesses.

4. Diversity, equity, and inclusion:

Diversity, equity, and inclusion have also become increasingly important issue for employers in recent years. All signals point toward those issues staying alive well into our future. Research shows that companies who prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion perform better, both financially and in terms of employee satisfaction. In addition, it is an issue that resonates personally with the many factions in our society that have been historically marginalized or discriminated against.

Employers will need to focus on creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace, including recruiting and retaining employees from underrepresented groups and providing training on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics. They must ensure that all employees feel valued and included in company culture and decision-making processes. It’s more than a box to check. It needs to be a genuine commitment.

5. Mental health and well-being:

In my last column I went into specifics around this subject and received a great deal of feedback for addressing this underserved issue. (Thank you readers!) Many employees have been struggling with increased stress and anxiety pre- and post-pandemic. This is nothing new. What is new is that the pandemic helped shine a light on this issue and now employers are forced to respond.

Support that employers can offer includes providing mental health resources such as assuring their medical plans include increased benefits for mental health, access to telehealth with mental health experts, creating work-life balance for their employees and fostering a culture that assures employees needs are heard and responded to.

Next month I will address five additional issues that employers should prepare for — including some you might find surprising. Stay tuned!

Tina Hamilton is president and CEO of myHR Partner Inc., a Lehigh Valley human resources outsourcing firm that manages HR for clients in 34 states. She can be reached at tina@myhrpartnerinc.com.

Originally published in the Allentown Morning Call on April 21, 2023