Work trends come and go, but some have staying power. I have noticed seven trends that companies looking to scale and stay relevant should pay attention to.
1. Flexible Working Hours
As a population, we’re long past the concept of the 9-to-5, 40-hour workweek. The ubiquity of technology has resulted in most professionals performing work functions outside working hours. In many ways, we’ve moved past the need for a physical, central work space. The gig economy has also elevated the role of freelancers in large organizations. Thus, the boundaries between work and other aspects of life have become even more porous.
Do your company policies recognize this flexibility? Professionals increasingly expect their employers to offer benefits such as working one day a week from home or flexible start and end times. Flexible work arrangements communicate to your teams that you value their time and trust them to do their work.
2. Emphasis on Financial Wellness
According to Debt.org, the total U.S. student debt currently stands at about $1.54 trillion. A graduating member of the class of 2016 owes on average more than $37,000 in student loans, according to Ivy League executive coach Aviva Legatt. In an April 2018 Business Insider article, Judith Ohikuare reported on companies that have realized that offering assistance to workers with student debt gives them a competitive edge in the marketplace. It’s a brilliant strategy that provides a win-win: debt relief for your team members and employee retention for the organization.
3. Mental and Emotional Wellness Takes Center Stage
Besides student loan assistance, PwC is also leading the way in offering emotional and mental health assistance to its employees. PwC has launched an initiative to name six PwC leaders as “mental health advocates.” Struggling employees are encouraged to reach out to one of these advocates, who have been trained in empathy and nonjudgmental listening. As part of this initiative, PwC has begun “Green Light to Talk” days. Participants wear green ribbons to indicate they are available for conversation about the importance of mental well-being. The point is to destigmatize mental illness.
People leaders of today should be aware that younger workers have come of age with words like “mindfulness,” “wellness,” and “emotional health” as part of their lexicon. If you have any hang-ups about discussing mental and emotional health, you’d be wise to move past them and see how you can prioritize wellness in the workplace.
4. Timely Performance Reviews
Feedback should be given as often as possible so that direct reports can course-correct as needed—or so they can receive affirmation for work well-done and be incentivized to do more.
More and more organizations are adopting this approach. The result: 8 to 12 percent of Fortune 500 companies have eliminated annual performance reviews (as of 2014) and 29 percent are thinking about eliminating them. The yearly performance review creates excessive paperwork, restricts creativity, causes undue stress, requires a huge time investment for limited gains, etc. The primary difficulty with the yearly review is that it evaluates work done in the past, rather than focusing on the future. The tension between yearly performance review proponents and those who espouse the ongoing feedback model aligns with the fixed mindset vs. growth mindset debate. Do you believe that employees’ talent is fixed—that “you get what you get” when you hire someone? Or do you value the potential in your direct reports and believe each could rise to positions of increased leadership and responsibility?
5. Prominent Use of Artificial Intelligence
One example of AI becoming more commonplace in the work force is chatbots. Chatbots have become key for customer relations, and they will only become more prominent: In 2018, research and advisory company Gartner predicted that by 2021, 50 percent of enterprises will spend more on developing chatbots and other bots than mobile apps.
AI will revitalize almost every service available today. Recruitment technology is one area in which AI is already front and center; there are now dozens of programs that will do the tedious work of scanning resumes. Today’s recruiters can spend their time doing the human-centered work of educating candidates and working with hiring managers to meet current needs.
6. Embracing an Aging Work Force
Over the past 100 years, we have increased our life expectancy by 50 percent. One result of this astounding achievement is that more workers are staying on the job past the “traditional” retirement age. Older workers may be supporting children facing enormous student loan debts, or they may still be rebuilding retirement savings they lost in the 2008 recession. Many have attained status and respectability in their careers and remain healthy and interested in the work, so why quit for a retirement that could last decades?
In Germany, tech company SAP runs a “mature talents” program, a two-way mentoring program between younger and older employees. It is designed to ensure that employees who are about to retire effectively transfer their knowledge to the next generation of workers.
Attracting and retaining younger employees is vital to your company’s success, of course. Yet older employees represent a treasure trove of knowledge and experience. Looking to the needs of an aging work force so this knowledge can be used and ultimately passed on should be a facet of your strategic planning.
7. Increasing Reliance on Freelance Workers
Particularly in the U.S., the “gig economy” is huge. Caleb Gayle reported for The Guardian in June 2018 that 16.5 million Americans are working in “alternative” or “contingent” roles. Many people freelance as their primary means of employment, while others pick up side gigs in addition to their full-time jobs. To ensure your processes run smoothly, you need to make accommodations for freelance workers to avoid continual interruptions whenever one employee leaves for another gig.
One way to do this is to create a remote, virtual workplace in which freelancers can learn the necessary skills fast. Managers also need to be able to continuously deliver feedback, even without the face-to-face, trust-building relationships that take place in an office.
How you treat freelancers is as important to your employer brand as how you treat your full-time employees. Whatever you do, don’t discount the contributions freelancers make to your company. Even though they don’t have salaries, freelancers may prove to be some of your most valuable employees.
Excerpted with permission from the book Elephants Before Unicorns: Emotionally Intelligent HR Strategies to Save Your Company by Caroline Stokes. © 2019 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc.