One Surprising Trend Shaping Work in 2024

No, it’s not hybrid work or gen AI. It speaks to the polarized world we live in and how that is felt in the workplace.

Author: Michelle Russell       

manager listening to arguing parties

Employee conflict resolution will be a must-have skill for managers in 2024, research from Gartner shows.

If you think we’ve all settled down around the issue of RTO, remote, and hybrid work, and we can look forward to fewer disruptions to the workplace in 2024, think again. Gartner research has identified nine trends we can expect to shape our work experience this year, shared in Harvard Business Review’s “9 Trends That Will Shape Work in 2024.”

The first trend, of course, addresses that prickly problem of hybrid work, and how organizations will try to find the ideal hybrid strategy. However, it looks at the issue through a different lens: How employers can share the tangible and intangible costs of returning to the office to retain and attract new talent — from providing caregiver benefits to offering financial planning services.

And of course, AI’s disruptive nature cannot be ignored. It shows up on the list twice, as two different kinds of trends — how GenAI will create workforce opportunity and at the same time, how we’ve already reached the peak of inflated expectations for the technology.

It’s Gartner’s fourth trend — employee conflict resolution will be a must-have skill for managers — that took me by surprise. According to HBR, “This year, conflicts between employees are poised to be at an all-time high due to various crises, including geopolitical issues, labor strikes, climate change, pushback to DEI efforts, and upcoming elections for half of the globe.” Those managers who can effectively navigate interpersonal conflict among employees toward resolutions “will have an outsize positive impact on their organizations,” write the article’s authors. They suggest that organizations upskill managers and managerial candidates in conflict resolution by offering training and coaching opportunities.

I have two reasons why this trend stood out to me. First, it supports our upcoming January-February issue cover story on why we need to get better at listening — the most important skill in conflict resolution. But the trend also speaks to a fascinating video I watched this week at Big Think that explains the neuroscience behind why facts don’t win conflicts.

We think we can win an argument by presenting strong statistics and sharing verifiable facts. Isn’t that what we were all taught in debate class? But cognitive neuroscientist Tali Sharot says there are limitations to this approach, because people — especially intelligent people — are likely to manipulate data to align with their pre-existing beliefs. So, they become even more polarized in their thinking.

A better away to tackle conflicts, she shares in the video, was demonstrated by a study conducted at UCLA in which the goal was to convince parents to vaccinate their kids. Some of the parents in the study didn’t want to vaccinate their children because of a perceived link with autism. The study took two approaches. In one, the researchers told the group that the link with autism was not real, and they provided all the data that shows no correlation between vaccines and autism. “And it didn’t really work that well,” Sharot says.

In the other approach, they didn’t talk about autism. They said, “Well, look. These vaccines protect kids from deadly diseases, like measles.” They showed parents pictures of people with measles. “Because in this argument,” Sharot says, “people actually forgot what the vaccines are for” — what they are actually protecting us from. By highlighting that, rather than refuting the autism link, the researchers found they had a much better outcome. Previously vaccine-resistant parents were much more likely to say they would vaccinate their kids.

“The lesson here is that we need to find the common motive,” Sharot concludes. “The common motive in this case was the health of the children” and not revisiting the sticking point they were arguing about.

In a business setting, using an agreed-upon outcome that is aligned with the organization’s goals as the framework — or starting point — for internal conflict seems like a smart move.

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

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