CIPD ACE 2023 – Key Takeaways

Stephanie Thomas

Written By Stephanie Thomas

16th November 2023

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The key themes impacting HR

We were thrilled to be part of the CIPD ACE event, held at Manchester Central on the 8th and 9th of November. This annual gathering serves as a meeting ground for HR professionals looking to address the key issues shaping the world of work.

The event brought together a mix of HR leaders and innovators, creating an environment for exploring the latest trends and discussing crucial questions within our field.

Our experience at the event was fantastic, and we found inspiration in the diverse and engaging topics discussed both in the keynotes and throughout the exhibition hall. The prevailing sentiment from these discussions was unmistakable: as the pace of change continues to accelerate, it is imperative for HR leaders to be well-prepared for the challenges and opportunities that await in the evolving landscape of the future of work.

Let’s delve into the key themes that stood out to us during this vibrant and dynamic event:

1. The growing role of AI in the modern workplace.

As Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said in his opening keynote, “AI is the official acronym of the year but also for CIPD ACE”.

AI’s prominence in conversations highlights its transformative power. It is not merely a technological trend but a paradigm shift that demands attention, adaptation and thoughtful consideration of its implications across the spectrum of work.

It has become the focal point of discussions in every industry, offering ways to revolutionise how we work. With its ability to automate tasks and provide valuable insights, AI is significantly influencing both the workplace and our daily lives. Unsurprisingly, it stands as a crucial subject of debate among HR leaders.

The overall message we took away from the session at the event are that we must embrace AI but with clear and structured parameters and policies around its use within our businesses. Here are some of the other key take-aways about AI:

  • How organisations must prioritise reskilling and upskilling initiatives for employees. While AI will automate certain aspects of roles but, it won’t replace them entirely. Instead, it will introduce new dimensions to existing jobs and create entirely new roles within the workforce, so organisations need to prioritise upskilling and reskilling initiatives for their employees.
  • Using AI to automate repeatable, mundane tasks that don’t require human input will free people to focus on strategic priorities.
  • AI can unlock valuable insights within ‘big data’ but human input and ongoing monitoring is required to avoid the risk of AI models being trained on data biased data, which could lead to inappropriate decision-making. The quality of the data and bias detection measures need to be in place when using AI for data-driven decisions.
  • There are many ethical implications to consider when using AI in the workplace, such as the bias mentioned above, transparency of information, privacy concerns and job displacement.
  • HR must be at the table in any discussions about investment in AI to guide leaders on the impact on people and ensure that the use of AI doesn’t prioritise efficiency over fairness in a way that damages the culture or future success of the business.

The influence of AI in shaping the future of work is undeniable, demanding HR leaders to proactively adapt and assess its potential benefits. Urgent attention is needed to explore how AI can enhance efficiency and simplify tasks across the board. Simultaneously, addressing concerns head-on and providing transparent communication about the impact of AI on the workforce is crucial to alleviate resistance to new ways of working. Establishing clear policies and procedures becomes paramount to ensure the ethical and fair application of AI.

In addition to this, creating a culture of trust and respect within the organisation is essential. HR leaders should encourage an environment where employees feel empowered to voice concerns regarding AI use in the workplace. This approach ensures that AI becomes a positive force, embraced for its potential to contribute positively to the work environment.

2. Navigating the complexities of the hybrid workforce.

The notion of a full return to the traditional office setting for most businesses is becoming less probable, and HR professionals find themselves at the forefront of navigating this.

HR faces the critical task of assessing the persistent impact of hybrid working on both managers’ roles and the overall well-being of employees. This assessment is not merely an exercise in tracking trends but an essential effort to understand and address the evolving challenges that come with a dispersed and diverse workforce.

From embracing innovative technologies to reimagining approaches to learning and development, we were genuinely inspired by the creative solutions businesses have devised to meet the demands of new ways of working that look set to stay.

The key take-away for us was how prioritising digitalisation and harnessing the power of analytics is vital in understanding and addressing the impact of hybrid work on the emotional connection employees have with their managers and the business.

With the likelihood of remote or hybrid work becoming a long-term reality, HR is tasked with developing sustainable solutions. This goes beyond addressing immediate concerns and involves creating an environment that supports continuous learning, skill development and employee growth and engagement in a hybrid setting. It’s exciting to see HR leading the charge in establishing a positive future of work for employees no matter where they work from.

3. The need to empower line managers

With the UK recruitment market remaining tight and an on-going talent shortage significantly impacting HR, there is an urgent need for HR to be as strategic as possible. But talented HR professionals too often find themselves drawn into the day-to-day tactical support of line managers handling employee relations issues, like sickness absence, grievances, disciplinaries and performance issues. To allow HR to prioritise strategic initiatives, it is crucial to empower line managers to handle immediate people matters more effectively.

In order to enable HR to have more time to focus on strategic priorities, line managers need to be better equipped to deal with people matters in the moment.

Providing line managers with the necessary policies, processes, and technology for self-service in employee relations matters can free up valuable time for HR and improve employee experiences. This, in turn, allows HR to concentrate on areas where they contribute the most value to the business, while line managers can cultivate stronger relationships with their direct reports.

As leaders in the field of employee relations transformation through tech-enabled manager empowerment, we were thrilled to see widespread enthusiasm for this at the event.

4. Continuous emphasis on ED&I

Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I) also underscored a lot of the talks, as HR and business leaders continue to commit to aligning their organisations with the ever-evolving needs of society. While ample evidence supports the correlation between diverse workforces and business success, there remains a noteworthy struggle to achieve true equity for minority groups. This challenge has prompted HR leaders to engage in nuanced conversations and strategic initiatives to break down barriers and create inclusive workplaces.

From discussions about gender diversity to neurodiversity, it was inspiring to see the appetite for better understanding, continual learning and drastic change to overcome the barriers to creating a level playing field for individuals in work. Taboos were being broken and discussions were authentic about the uphill challenge we still face in creating inclusive workplaces where everyone is treated fairly and feels valued, respected and seen.

What emerged from these conversations was a palpable appetite for continual learning and a willingness to instigate significant change. The overarching goal was clear – to dismantle existing barriers and create a level playing field for all individuals in the workplace.

5. Generational well-being – tailoring support for a diverse workforce

The focus on employee mental health and well-being took centre stage in discussions, emphasising its heightened significance in today’s fast-paced and demanding work environment. HR and business leaders are urged to prioritise strategies that help employees manage stress, adapt to change, and maintain their overall health. Recognising employees as individuals and building closer personal relationships are emphasised as crucial steps in safeguarding well-being, reducing absenteeism, and cultivating a positive workplace atmosphere.

There was a call for organisations to prioritise mental health first aid on par with physical first aid, recognising the urgency in addressing rising mental health-related absenteeism. This shift in perspective reflects a commitment to fostering a workplace culture that prioritises mental health as a fundamental aspect of employee well-being.

Furthermore, discussions led by figures like Davina McCall underscored the importance of reshaping societal perceptions of midlife women and highlighted the role employers play in adapting policies to support this demographic. This signals a broader acknowledgment of the need for inclusive and age-sensitive workplace policies.

At the other end of the spectrum is the emerging workforce, Gen Z, who are entering the professional arena value the importance of working environments that offer support, flexibility, and resources for managing well-being and mental health.

This shift in focus reflects a recognition that the well-being of employees, regardless of generation, is integral to a healthy and thriving workplace.

The future of work is human-centric

These are just some of the key themes that we were inspired by at CIPD ACE, and the overarching message we took away was that every business needs to be focussed on developing more people-first strategies. As the world of work continues to evolve at pace, we’re excited to be a part of driving change for a better future of work.

How can employee relations transformation help?

Employee relations transformation can help HR leaders to address the challenges and opportunities of the future of work by understanding more about the issues impacting their workforce. Empowering managers to build closer relationships with their direct reports is a vital component in employee relations transformation, helping build trust and respect between employees and managers.

If you are an HR leader embracing the future of work, then employee relations transformation is a key area to focus on. By transforming your employee relations practices, you can create a more productive, engaged, and inclusive workforce.

Introducing a revolutionary ER technology solution

empower® by AdviserPlus is uniquely designed to reduce the complexity and risk in the management of employee relations matters, because it empowers line managers to self-serve employee relations matters in a risk managed way, with guided journeys and safe-guards throughout the process, ensuring HR are engaged as and when required.

With a solution like this, fewer cases need to be escalated to HR, because they are dealt with effectively by the line manager. This means that talented HR teams can spend less time dealing with simple, tactical ER tasks, and will have the data and analytics to hand to be able to focus on complex issues and strategic initiatives. In addition to these functionalities, the system provides oversight of cases, offers dashboard visualisations of volumetrics and trends, and offers an unparalleled of analytical insight to inform decision-making. Click here to find out more.

“This is why I really like this system, because it’s self-service you can do a hell of a lot yourself and use a lot of templates that have already been pre-written for you without the worry of making mistakes. I have found it much quicker to deal with someone now.” – Virgin Atlantic

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