It’s where we spend the majority of our waking lives, so the way we work matters. With 2022 headlined by quiet quitting and the great resignation, in 2023 artificial intelligence was decidedly in, while corporate jargon was out.
With lingering exhaustion from the pandemic years leaving many reconsidering the nature of work itself, last year was tough for workers, according to the University of Sydney business school’s Associate Professor Anya Johnson.
“There’s been a desire to not snap back to what was happening in 2019 but to re-craft what and how work will happen moving forward,” says Johnson, who researches workplace performance and wellbeing.
Here are five ways that workplaces changed in 2023.
Fuelled by the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022, artificial intelligence entered the mainstream last year. By January, it had become the fastest growing consumer technology, with more than 100 million users.
Fears that jobs would be rendered obsolete followed but Dr Sandra Peter, director of Sydney Executive Plus at the University of Sydney, believes proficiency with AI will become a normal part of job descriptions – like having basic computer skills.
“At some point people will be using it the same way we’re using word processors and spell checkers now,” she says. Jobseekers are already using AI to optimise cover letters and CVs, create headshots and generate questions to prepare for interviews, Peter says.
As jobs become automated, soft skills – those that can’t be offered by a computer – could become increasingly valuable.
“For anybody who wants to develop their career in an AI future, focus on the basic soft skills of problem-solving, creativity and inclusion,” says Cayla Dengate, news editor at LinkedIn Australia.
Some concerns about the dangers of AI in the workplace remain in 2024.
“Artificial intelligence automates away a lot of the easy parts and that has the potential to make our jobs more intense and more demanding … there have always been unethical uses of technology.” Peter says. She says education and policy are vital to curb irresponsible uses of AI.
Are we nearing the end of the work from home era? While Covid fast-tracked flexible working models, in 2023 many organisations began ushering employees back to the office.
In a KPMG survey of more than 1300 chief executives released in October, most predicted a complete eradication of working from home over the next three years.
Still, many employers are grappling with keeping employees happy.
“We’re seeing a divide between managers and staff in terms of how much time they want to be spending in the office versus working from home,” says Dengate.
“An idea that’s gaining momentum is that a workplace is not somewhere to sit down and quietly do your work. Going into work is about connecting with your colleagues and having a bonding experience, more so than just working.”
Younger workers, who require more support than previous generations after Covid, also benefit from a return to the office.
“That generation really do need mentors, they need to be getting feedback and to feel that others in the workplace value them and that they have the opportunity to learn,” says Johnson.
The fall of corporate jargon
“Circling back”, “taking things offline”, “sorry if that was unclear” – corporate jargon has been slowly falling out of favour for the past few years – and younger generations are leading the charge.
A global report from LinkedIn from June found that “60 per cent of Gen Z and 65 per cent of Millennials want to reduce or eliminate the use of workplace jargon”, while a quick scroll on TikTok reveals many young office workers mocking the veiled language.
“Sometimes corporate buzzwords can help a team feel like they’re all speaking the same language,” says Dengate. “But the flip side is that it can isolate people who aren’t in on the lingo.
“Remote workers are more likely to dislike corporate buzzwords because it makes them feel left out. They don’t know what the latest acronym is, and it stands in the way of understanding.”
From managers supporting staff through a divorce to lunchtime meditation, the personal and professional have become increasingly intertwined. Worker wellbeing is a growing concern for organisations with increases in psychosocial risk claims and work absences due to stress and exhaustion.
The pandemic was a trigger for many workers. “People did some soul-searching and asked themselves, do I care about where I work? Is this feeding my soul?” says Dengate.
In response, she says organisations took a “stronger stance on social issues, such as the environment, to create a workplace where people’s personal mission is aligned with their workplace”.
While breath work and nutrition seminars are positive steps, wellbeing solutions in the workplace should go beyond the individual to be meaningful.
“We need to be looking more closely at what people are doing at work and whether it’s good for them,” says Johnson. “How is the work you’re doing designed? What extent are you receiving feedback? Do people just have too much to do in the time that they have available?”
Paid job interviews
Recognition is growing for just how much work goes into looking for a job. From multiple rounds of interviews to business proposals, the application process can be incredibly time and labour-intensive – and some are calling for applicants to be compensated for their time.
The idea is gaining traction abroad. Canadian food justice organisation FoodShare offers prospective candidates $75CAD per interview (NZ$89), while Zero Waste Club in the UK compensates workers with AU$275 (NZ$295) for attending a two to three hour workshop. It’s a concept Dengate believes will catch on in Australia in 2024.
“Part of the reason why is to level the playing field. It’s not one person asking to impress the other. It’s an acknowledgement that this person is important, and their time is valuable.”
Dengate says compensating workers for work during the interview process can also be beneficial for organisations.
“Paying somebody to attend a job interview forces companies to be more direct about who they want and why, without wasting time on additional job interviews and additional applicants,” she says.