Our time to take control: The future of work in 2023

There’s only one thing certain about the future of work: unpredictability. But amidst economic upheaval, businesses that get comfortable with ambiguity can still get ahead. Looking back at our 2022 Future of work trends, we made a host of predictions on how the year would pan out. And while many remain relevant today, it’s time to shift from forecasting the future to taking action on what’s happening now.

Here’s our take on three ways organizations can face the unexpected – and thrive.

What's driving your workforce in 2023?

You know what you want and expect from your people. But do you know what they want and need from you? As recession looms, and the future of work looks increasingly unpredictable, simply going with the flow won’t be the way to succeed in 2023.

It’s time to stay intentional: about steadying the ship in recession; about plans for succession; and about protecting your culture – to survive and thrive, this year and beyond.

We spoke to 4,000 professionals from 25 industries across the US and UK to understand the organizational issues keeping them up at night. Then we asked our experts to comment too.

Here’s what we heard and our take on the three things leaders should do now to get set for the future of work.


Trend #1: Fix short-term thinking with a long-term outlook

Skyrocketing inflation is changing the way people think about the future of work. Our study showed that almost half (44%) of us now think about our careers in terms of months, not years. And many employees (82%) say they’d leave their job for one that offered a higher salary or better benefits. Employees are voting with their feet. We know constantly increasing wages isn’t a sustainable solution. So, what can leaders do to hold on to top talent?

Focusing on professional development is a good place to start.

It shows you’re investing in your people and putting them on a clear career path. It also empowers your teams to own their own progression – giving them control in an uncertain time. If you have support to offer, or tough calls to make next year, be transparent about them. To build trust and togetherness in your teams, honesty is still the best policy, especially as 33% of employees say they do not trust their CEO and 31% do not trust their line manager.

And, wherever you can, reiterate your purpose.

Feeling like we belong and being part of a team we believe in goes a long way to holding on to top talent, too. Now’s the time to think holistically about well-being. Money does matter, but even in a cost-of-living crisis, it isn’t everything.

Remember, care isn’t one-way. When you look after your people, they’ll be more motivated to look after – and stay in – your business, too.

Trend #2: Moving up millenials

Here’s something certain. If you’ve got baby boomers at the helm of your organization, you’ve got a talent gap coming. Over the next year, huge swathes of that generation (aged 59-77 in 2023) will be retiring. Do you have the talent in the wings to replace them?

Gen Xers (aged 43-58) might seem like the natural next choice. But in recent years, many of that group have been rethinking their life priorities. Nearly half are actively considering early retirement. It means the time has come for your millennials (aged 27-42) to step up. For them, retirement’s a long way off. But you may find the business they want to run is a long way from the business you have today. For this group, the short-term thinking issue we see elsewhere is reversed. The millennial leadership agenda focuses on making long-term commitments to inclusion and sustainability. 54% consider themselves climate activists. Over 60% say they’d feel more inspired at a company with a good ESG policy – and they’d be more loyal to that company, too.

The future of work is in your millennials’ hands. How do you pave the way to keep them motivated?

First, build a business that millennials want to lead.

When the millennials are in charge, they’ll want their organization to replace short-term quarterly targets with a longer-term focus. If you haven’t already, make connecting your work to a larger purpose your focus in 2023. And devote any resources you can to longer-term strategies, including ESG and DE&I.

Revisit your leadership pipeline too.

If you invest the time and effort now, including upskilling, you’ll create a smooth transition later – and protect the future of your business.

Trend #3: A renewed focus on culture

The traditional 9-to-5 workday has gone the way of the dinosaur. But some leaders are uncomfortable with the old ‘command and control’ models that are dying with it.

Teams enjoy the autonomy and flexibility that comes from hybrid working. Yet even though we’ve seen employees can be just as, if not more productive working from home – many managers feel uneasy when they can’t physically see what their teams are doing. They struggle keeping track of multiple remote schedules, too.

Some also say collaboration has taken a hit. The companies faring worst are the ones asking some people to return to the office and not others. Almost half (47%) of those in the office resent having to accommodate their remote colleagues’ flexibility demands. And 52% of employees suggest that the disconnect they feel with their employer could push them to leave their roles.

But is this really an issue with hybrid working, or culture?

At its core, culture is behaviors at scale. And you unlock behaviors in your people through connection. If your teams feel isolated and disconnected, it’s culture that suffers. Yet demanding an instant return to the office isn’t the answer. 64% of respondents in our survey said going back to the office will impact their mental health negatively.

What does this mean for the future of work? Get ready to reassess your culture.

Is your culture aligned to 2023’s biggest business challenges? Does it give people the space to grow to their fullest potential – no matter where they’re working from? If it doesn’t, redefine it to work in a hybrid world. Find ways for teams to virtually support each other and build togetherness, even when they’re apart. That said, firms and managers need to communicate far better boundaries for those working at home, defining workdays either around hours or around specific goals that need to be accomplished.


  • 73% of millennials feel it's important to align their values with their employers' vs. 65% of Gen Z and 63% of baby boomers
  • 82% of Gen Z believes their generation can influence working culture

Quote: "Every day you're not thinking about your culture - and being intentional about it - it's inevitable it will become diluted."

The expert view: quotes from experts

  • Co-create a culture vision with your people: "Leaders can address their perceived lack of control by creating conditions for intrinsic motivation to shine through. That begins by giving everyone clarity around roles,responsibilities, and accountabilities, wherever they might be working." - Mark Richardson, Senior Client Partner, Korn Ferry Organization Strategy
  • Don't let individual work replace teamwork: "Team collaboration is one of the biggest drivers for culture setting, culture shaping and culture building. It’s in teams and in the context of ‘real work’ that we test our values, assumptions and perception of norms." - Sarah Jensen Clayton, Senior Client Partner, Korn Ferry Culture & Change
  • Give space for others to show up: "Invite input, for example ask: ‘I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to do this, and I invite you to help me in figuring this out." - Margie Warrell, PhD, Senior Client Partner, Korn Ferry Leadership Development and Organization Strategy
  • Over-index on psychological safety: "Nearly all of the conditions that create psychological safety are compromised in a remote/hybrid environment. What do your people need to feel safe, connected and heard no matter where they’re working from?" - Sarah Jensen Clayton, Senior Client Partner, Korn Ferry Culture & Change

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We work with our clients to design optimal organization structures, roles, and responsibilities. We help them hire the right people and advise them on how to reward and motivate their workforce while developing professionals as they navigate and advance their careers.

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