The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Business

November 7, 2013

Balancing Act: 10 trends that affect the way we work

As we wind down the year, I’ve identified major workplace trends affecting the way we work.

From an individual perspective, understanding these trends will give you an advantage. From an employer perspective, it will help make more informed business decisions. Here are my top 10 that I believe will define 2013 and reshape the way we work in 2014.

1. Flexibility rises in importance. Ask employees what benefit they most value: Flexibility is at the top of their wish lists. Most say it is a key factor they consider when looking for a new job or deciding between offers - and they’re often willing to sacrifice salary to get it.

“Flexibility“ has evolved to mean leeway in when and where work gets done. What might surprise you is that most working parents (80 percent) say they have “at least a little“ flexibility in their current job.

That number rises a little each year, according to Moms Corp., a professional staffing franchise that has a focus on flexible placements. In the past, flexibility programs were viewed as a perk for working mothers, but now they’re looked at as a way to retain talent.

“What managers are starting to realize is that they have to model behavior that lets employees know it is OK to use flexibility and that it won’t affect your career,“ said Mary Jane Konstantin of Ceridian LifeWorks, a provider of employee assistance and wellness programs.

2. Job stress gets attention. More than 8 in 10 employed Americans are stressed out by at least one thing about their jobs - mostly poor pay and increasing workloads, according to a 2013 Work Stress Survey by Harris Interactive on behalf of Everest College.

The stress has permeated all levels within organizations. Lindsey Pollak, Gen Y career expert and spokesperson for The Hartford Insurance Group’s My Tomorrow campaign, said stress and anxiety are the top reasons millennials use disability insurance.

In 2013, she found 45 percent of Gen Y signed up for employer plans for disability insurance, and a high percentage of those who used it cited mental stress, anxiety and depression as their reason, she said. “With student loan debt, a bad economy and a faster pace of life, stress is a big issue for millennials.“

In the past three years, Ceridian reports a 30 percent increase in calls related to stress. Konstantin said employers are addressing this growing concern through stress-reduction workshops, on-site chair massages and wellness programs: “It’s within a company’s best interest to think through how it can support activities to help employees better handle stress.“

3. Freelancers rise in numbers. Right now, midsize and large businesses are hiring freelancers in record numbers to help deal with the rapid pace of change and innovation in the global economy and control costs. New data show one-third of American workers are freelancers.

Next year, there will be millions more freelancers replacing full-time workers, reports NBC News. A study by Accenture, a management-consulting firm, shows that “even top-level managers and executive teams are being replaced by temporary CEOs, CFOs, COOs and other highly skilled troubleshooters.“ Accenture found that the top fields for freelance work include sales and marketing, IT and programming, design and multimedia, engineering and manufacturing, and writing and translation.

4. Overtime pay heats up. Employers continue to be besieged by wage-and-hour lawsuits. The wave of class actions started with claims that employers were misclassifying employees as independent contractors to avoid paying benefits and overtime. Settlements of wage-and-hour cases totaled about $2.7 billion from 2007 to 2012, with $467 million coming from last year, according to a new U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform trends report.

“Certainly, the trend in wage-and-hour class actions is they are growing and they are here to stay,“ said Paul Ranis at the Greenberg Traurig law firm in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He said employers must do a careful analysis of all independent contractors and be able to explain to workers why they are classified that way: “If the workers really are employees and not independent contractors, there are serious consequences for misclassification such as liability for back taxes, workers’ compensation premiums and claims for unpaid overtime.“

5. Collaboration gains importance. Companies want their staff working in teams, sharing ideas and solving problems. The concept has sparked changes in staffing, office design and the way work is done. It has even triggered some companies, such as Yahoo Inc., to bring remote workers back to the office.

Eric Holland, a senior associate principal at ADD Inc., an architecture and design firm in Miami, said clients from accounting firms to call centers have hired him to redesign their workplaces to decrease worker isolation. Many clients want more open layouts with shared spaces and more break rooms, he said. He also said that some clients also want less hierarchy: They want workers at all levels to occupy the same size offices or workstations so they can move and work together more easily.

“The idea is to not have to break down walls to shift around and make someone part of the team,“ Holland said. He thinks technology is fostering this trend: “You had huge computer terminals, but now you have laptops and iPads, and you can have a meeting with a group and share information anywhere. It’s more casual.“

6. Generational shifts take hold. The shift in workplace demographics is happening in a workplace near you. Boomers are starting to retire, freeing up positions for Gen X and Gen Y managers to move into.

“There will be (shifts) in leadership and the way companies are run,“ said Lisa Bonner, senior vice president at Roberts Golden Consulting Inc. “If there is no pipeline, we’re going to see some gaps. That’s going to be a challenge.“

7. Work-life boundaries erode and get reset. Technology enables many workers to take their jobs home with them and their personal lives to the office. “We’re not hemmed in anymore by walls or clocks,“ Konstantin said.

Yet for all the benefits, workers are feeling exhausted by being “always on.“ Konstantin said companies are realizing it - yet many have set up the expectation that their workers are on call 24/7. Now, the conversations are about finding the middle ground and how to create boundaries, she said.

8. Women outpace men in workplaces. One billion women will enter the workplace in the next decade. Research shows that they are more educated than men and are starting to take more leadership positions.

Already, 4 in 10 American households with children younger than age 18 include a mother who is the sole or primary earner for her family, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

Jennifer Van Buskirk, president of Georgia-based Aio Wireless, plays that role in her family. “It’s empowering,“ she said. “You establish your values, priorities and what you want to accomplish.“ But at home, the new dynamic does require marital negotiation: “In my family, we discuss how Team Van Buskirk is going to approach life, and we divvy up responsibilities. It all works.“

9. Employees take to social media. Companies are struggling with policy around use of social media at the office. Some will start to leverage their talent and use employees as social-media advocates to recruit staff and market to customers online. Of course, employers will continue to need to remind workers to use common sense on the Internet.

10. Companies embrace employee retention. Employees have lost their enthusiasm.

According to the latest State of the American Workplace Report from Gallup, 70 percent of U.S. workers don’t like their jobs.

In 2013, companies began realizing that they should be concerned about this because it’s costing them money. Disengaged workers can impact everything from customer service to sales and other business areas.

The best companies will take the time to understand what drives their workforce and customize a plan to motivate their employees.

Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at balancegalgmail.com. Read her columns and blog at http://worklifebalancingact.com/.

 

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