Communications Crystal Ball: 3 Trends to Watch in 2023


‘Tis the season for forecasting workplace trends, so we thought we’d weigh in. These three trends, in particular, could have a big impact for communicators as they manage employee attraction and retention in the coming year:

  1. The “paper ceiling” is getting torn down

There’s a perfect storm of factors coming together around dismantling college degree requirements for employment, and it bodes well for those who are taking alternate paths:

First, despite major layoffs in recent days, it’s still a tight labor market, so companies need to get creative in who they hire, and why.

Second, the business world is simply moving faster than ever before, and nearly everything (everywhere, all at once) is shifting. As role descriptions and career paths become more fluid and technical upskilling becomes a regular requirement, companies are placing less emphasis on formal education and instead are looking at softer skills to predict potential. For example, creativity, communication, and a growth mindset are being touted as some of the most important skills for today’s workers.

Third, employers have a mandate to get real about diversity and inclusion. People without a college degree don’t have alumni networks and can run up against biased algorithms, stereotypes, and misconceptions. Companies screening only for candidates with college degrees are disproportionately excluding Black, Hispanic, rural and veteran workers. This approach doesn’t help anyone get ahead.

Finally, the cost of college tuition is soaring, setting more employees on less traditional paths.

What this means for communicators: Communicators will have to work closely with their DEI and HR teams to position the organization as a truly inclusive employer – one who values the whole individual, not just the piece of paper they walk in with. They will also have to help HR folks create a marketing strategy that seeks out nontraditional talent to fill open roles.

  1. Shhhhh… people and employers are going “quiet”

In 2022, we heard an endless dialogue in the media about the state of “quiet quitting.” This is when employees do their jobs but don’t regularly put in the effort to go the extra mile. They aren’t leaving their organizations, but they aren’t centering their lives around work, either. This trend continues into 2023 as employees seek better boundaries and balance between their work and personal lives.

A new buzz phrase describes another form of passive-aggression in the workplace: “quiet firing.” This involves managers pushing employees out by withholding coaching, support, and opportunities for growth and career development. Signs of quiet firing include shifting key tasks to others, preventing participation in special projects, denying promotions or raises, or establishing unreasonable performance goals.

As if this weren’t enough, there’s also a new trend of “quiet hiring” (or at least there’s a newly coined phrase for a longstanding practice that occurs during economic downturns). Quiet hiring has employers downsizing their workforce, then turning to freelancers and contract workers. This way employers can gain new capabilities without gaining new FTEs. A recent survey revealed:

  • 6 in 10 companies will likely lay off employees in 2023;
  • 7 in 10 companies are likely to implement a hiring freeze in 2023;
  • 1 in 4 of companies have reduced current employees’ salaries.

Nearly 40% of the companies that had recent layoffs said they plan to hire contract workers to replace departing talent and more than half have asked some full-time employees to transition to contract work.

What this means for communicators: To maintain employee engagement and culture, communicators will have to work extra hard to reach all their stakeholders, including current employees, potential employees, and even their contract workers, whose social media voices could go a long way toward making or breaking employer reputation.

  1. Pay is getting clearer, but not everywhere – yet

Across the United States, we’re seeing pay transparency laws proliferate as workers and lawmakers push for greater workplace equality. Some places (i.e., Colorado, Washington, and New York City) mandate salary ranges in published job postings. Others (Rhode Island, Maryland, Nevada and more) require employers to disclose salary ranges to applicants at a specified point in the hiring process, or to employees upon request or when changing jobs. And some states, such as New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont have pay equity laws, which say employers can’t pay employees of different genders differently for similar work.

Pay transparency could be good for everyone – including job seekers, current employees, and even employers, as Kathryn Vasel writes in CNN Business. But it could also backfire, as current employees find out just how much they are underpaid, or potential employees get frustrated at the breadth of the salary bands posted.

What this means for communicators: To attract the level of talent they want, HR communicators will have to step up their storytelling skills. It starts with the job boards, but it doesn’t end there: How can the job description itself be compelling enough to encourage applicants to act? How can the interview process become a storytelling opportunity? And how else can organizations amplify messages about their culture and reputation so potential employees can view pay as an important, but not the only, driving factor when considering taking – or keeping – a position?

These three trends are all going to keep communicators busy in the days ahead. But one thing’s for sure – there will be plenty to write about! For help sorting through the impact of these and other comms trends in 2023, contact us.