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‘Chaotic Working’ — Why it’s the best way to sum up 2023

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If you had to sum up the 2023 workplace, perhaps this is the best description: Chaotic Working.

Let’s just throw out a few phrases used to describe the labor trends of the year: Rage Applying. Loud Quitting. Quiet Cutting. Bare Minimum Mondays. Great Gloom. Coffee Badging. The Great Regret.

Looks like chaos, right?!

And unfortunately, nearly every trend we cycled through had negative connotations and results.

As bad as it seems?

We’d like to say it’s not as bad as it seems, but it sure seems that way, according to our friends at U.S. Dictionary.com. They ran a survey of employees across the country to find which phrase best encapsulates 2023 for the American workforce.

Whether people experienced the trend or witnessed it, employees across industries, company size and geographies thought the year of work was like a roller coaster ride.

“After a year of unprecedented trends in the workforce, it’s clear that 2023 has been a defining moment for American employees. Each new workplace term uniquely reflects the evolving attitudes and strategies of workers navigating this era,” says Shaun Connell, CEO of U.S. Dictionary.

So let’s look closer at the labor trends that defined the workplace in 2023. Plus, we’ve added a tip on how to avoid the worst of each in 2024.

Chaotic Working

This is an all-encompassing phrase. It describes the good (say, The Big Stay), the bad (refer to above-mentioned phrases) and the ugly (again, refer to the above-mentioned phrases). It only makes sense that employees in the survey called this “the most apt phrase.”

Why? As Connell putis it: “As soon as you complete one task, three more pop up. Meetings spill into your lunch, ‘urgent’ tasks develop overnight, and the printer jams only when you’re already late for a presentation. You dream of inbox zero, but the reality is more akin to playing Tetris with your schedule — and the blocks are falling way too fast!”

2024 Fix: Set priorities and goals now. When you — and your employees — agree on SMART goals, you can regularly check that the work you’re doing directly impacts what matters. Then, everyone is less likely to get derailed by the chaos that tries to distract us.

Shift Shock

Admittedly, this is not a phrase or trend we covered in HRMorning this past year. But Connell tells us it describes “the dream job that seemed like a perfect match in the interview, but now feels like a date gone wrong, where the job’s charming profile picture doesn’t quite match its in-person reality.”

Essentially, it’s the result of the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting (trends in 2022) — and the subsequent Great Regret. More simply put, the grass wasn’t greener on the other side.

2024 Fix: This calls for more transparency on both sides of employment — you as the employer and job candidates as the prospective employee. Be sure your roles and expectations are aligned exactly with candidates’ skills and expectations before formal agreements.

Career Cushioning

Career Cushioning was (and remains) a threat to good hiring. Again, it speaks to both sides of hiring. Employees amp up skills, contacts and side gigs in case their job becomes vulnerable. Employers hoard employees — often lining their pockets or stroking their egos — to be sure they don’t take their knowledge to competitors.

“It’s all about layering your career comfort to survive the potential freefall from corporate grace,” says Connell.

The problem is the lack of trust between employers and employees, causing both to cushion their fall if there’s a breakup.

2024 Fix: This one is also about transparency. Include employees in corporate strategy, helping them recognize where they might be headed and what they can do to better themselves and continue to ride the trajectory.

Bare Minimum Mondays

On the surface, Bare Minimum Mondays sound like a horrible trend you want to stop right away. But, dig deeper, and it has some redeeming qualities that make it a viable trend to continue this year.

People who practice BMM, schedule the least possible work and meetings, and focus more on self-care rituals. That supposedly prepares them to tackle everything — and more — on Tuesday and throughout the week.

“It’s the day when the office buzzes with the low-energy hum of computers and the occasional yawn, as everyone mutually agrees to coast through the day on autopilot,” says Connell.

On the flipside, if too many people use BMM to slack off, it’ll negatively affect productivity and morale (surely, the people who work hard on Mondays will get pissed off at their coasting co-workers).

2024 Fix: Help employees — and yourself, if necessary — to use Mondays (or whatever their first day of the week is) to create momentum and a productive week. Schedule fewer meetings so they can hit the ground running, do focused work and schedule the rest of the week for maximum output.

Boomeranging

There are pros and cons to Boomerang Employees for 2023 and beyond. These are the employees who left, and for a variety of reasons, want back in.

“It’s the workplace reunion tour – and everyone loves a comeback story. Boomerang employees embody the hope that sometimes, you can go home again—especially if there’s a raise involved,” quips Connell.

The pros to Boomerang Employees: They have institutional knowledge and role familiarity — plus they’ve gained some outside insight. The cons: They had a chip on their shoulder and still might. They might be toxic and make others disgruntled. They could jump ship again — and take others with them.

2024 Fix: Focus on retention this year — equipping front-line managers with the resources they need to stay connected with employees and tools to improve or maximize performance. From there, create or improve your off-boarding process so employees leave on good terms, and you’re both open to a cheerful reunion if it were to happen.

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