Every year I give my forecast for the top 10 workplace trends for the upcoming year. The purpose is to help prepare organizations for the future by collecting, assessing and reporting the trends that will most impact them. You can read my predictions from 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. These trends are based on hundreds of conversations with executives and workers, a series of national and global online surveys and secondary research from more than 450 different research sources, including colleges, consulting firms, non-profits, the government and trade associations.
In 2019, the forecasted GDP growth in America is set to slow to 2.4%, while salary budgets are projected to rise by an average of 3.2%, up from 3.1% in 2018. The unemployment rate is projected to continue to decline to 3.3% in 2019, down from 3.9% in 2018. In 2018 there were 6.9 million unfilled jobs and this is predicted to continue to grow into 2019. The biggest workplace trends you’ll see in 2019 include:
1. The co-existence of workers and robots. While the global workforce fears the introduction of artificial intelligence removing jobs from the economy, they will eventually have to work side-by-side with these technologies in order to become more productive and free up time to do emotional labor. There are many conflicting reports about robots having a net positive, neutral or negative effect on the labor market. The one certainty is that the workforce is getting incrementally used to both using and communicating with robots, in and out of the workplace, whether they realize it or not. For instance, in a study we did with Oracle, we found that 93% of workers would trust orders from a robot and a separate study by Tractica found that 145.2 million users rely on virtual assistants to complete tasks. We use voice technology outside the workplace, such as Alexa and Siri, so we are more likely to desire the same technology in the workplace. The benefits workers receive from AI are greater than the drawbacks. We found that AI helps improves operational efficiencies, faster decision making and reduces costs. Companies are starting to implement AI in order to add to the human experience. For instance, SAP has an app called Cultivate, which is a digital coach for managers. It allows managers to track how they spend their time using data, in order to help them improve. or when they are working too much. Another example is IBM’s Watson AI platform that compares an executive’s email against models and figure out its emotional range and the sentiments that are being exhibited, which helps them communicate better. Another study by The Augmented Human Enterprise found that companies augmented by automation technologies are 33% more likely to be ‘human-friendly’ workplaces, in which employees are 31% more productive.
2. Employees want a more flexible workweek. In 2018, a 240-employee New Zealand firm called Perpetual Guardian offered a 4-day workweek to their employees without changing pay. After the two-month trial period, they reported that employee stress level declined by 7% and work-life balance increased by 24%. Further global research we conducted with Kronos of over 3,000 employees found that nearly half of workers say it should take less than 5 hours each day to do their job of uninterrupted time. 71% of employees said that their work interferes with their person life. Another study found that 60% of full-time employees would choose to start the working day before 9:00 AM so they could finish earlier and over one-third would choose to work from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Workers desire more flexible and younger workers would rather have it than healthcare coverage and learning and development opportunities. Employees continue to be under more pressure to work harder, and longer, without additional compensation, so employers need to offer more flexibility so they can cope. In the UK, labor unions are fighting for a 4-day workweek and the Japanese government is now allowing workers to take Monday morning offs with “Shining Monday”. In 2019, more countries and companies will continue to offer flexibility in terms of days and hours worked. Two examples are PwC and eBay. PwC offers the Flexible Talent Network, which allows employees to work shorter weeks to only working for a few months a year. They created the program based on an internal study of 2,000 employees, where they found that almost half prioritized flexible hours when choosing a job. eBay is offering the eBay@Home program, which will allow 300 full-time customer service reps to work remote, with more in the upcoming year.
3.The loneliness epidemic and rise of work friendships. All over the world, people are feeling lonely because communities are falling apart and our addiction to technology devices. This feeling of loneliness impacts our workplaces in many ways, including lower productivity and well-being. It’s a global epidemic that is affecting countries including the U.S., U.K., Japan the most. A study by The Economist found that 22% of Americans, 23% of Brits and over 9% of Japanese adults feel lonely, lack companionship or feel isolated. Additional research from Cigna found that about half of Americans feel alone and two-fifths feel that their relationships are not meaningful. In the U.K, more than 9 million people feel lonely, over 200,000 adults haven’t spoken to a close friend or relative in the past month and loneliness is costing employers up to $3.5 billion pounds annually. Tracey Crouch was appointed the U.K.’s Loneliness Minster to try and solve the issue. Finally, in Japan it is estimated that 30,000 people die because of loneliness each year. In a global study we did with Virgin Pulse, we found that more than half of the workforce feels lonely as the result of using technology to communicate over in-person meetings. Since employees spend so much of their lives doing work, it’s essential that they become friends with those they work with, yet 7% have zero friends and work and half have 5 or fewer. In another study by Ultimate Software, they found that 93% say that trust in their manager is essential to staying satisfied at work. Organizations will need to provide more off-sites, social events, parties and team building activities to enable their employees to get to know each other and further their relationships.
4. Companies use mindfulness to relieve stressed workers. 94% of workers are stressed out at work and a third report that their level of stress is high to unsustainably high, which impacts their health and productivity. The same study found that over half of employees say that work stress impacts their home life at least once each week. In addition to stress, over 40% of workers report high levels of anxiety and anxiety is the most common mental illness which impacts about 18% of the U.S. population annually. In reaction to high stress and anxiety, which leads to burnout and turnover, companies are investing in mindfulness programs for employees. Companies believe that part of the solution is mindfulness and meditation, which is set to become a $2.08 billion industry by 2022, with an annual growth rate of 11.4%. McKinsey, Nike, Google, P&G, Intel, Adobe, Apple and General Mills have already implemented these programs for employees. At General Mills, they had a 7 week mindfulness and meditation program, which resulted in 83% of participants saying they took time every day to optimize their productivity, 80% of senior executives improved their decision-making process and 89% said they became better listeners. There is a clear demand of mindfulness solutions and apps that have already amassed millions of users including Insight Timer, Headspace and Calm.
5. Companies move away from open offices. As of 2017, 70% of U.S. offices had low or no partitions and are considered open offices. Over the years, companies had moved away from cubicles to these open offices because old research showed they were less expensive and lead to a more collaborative culture. Yet, new research has found the opposite. One study from William Belk found that 58% of employees need more private spaces for problem solving and over half said their office environment is too distracting. While open offices are proven to allow employees to have more physical activity than private offices and cubicles, they reduce face-time by 70%. Aside from having less face-to-face time, the use of email increased and productivity decreased after traditional offices were converted to open floor plans.
6. More companies are offering healthcare. Healthcare costs continue to outpace employee earnings and inflation. A study by PwC’s Health Research Institute found that employers and insurers are expecting a 6% increase in healthcare costs in 2019. As a reaction to increases in healthcare costs, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan Chase formed a non-profit health care venture to lower costs for their employees. They newly formed company will offer a technology platform that provides simplified and high quality health care at accessible costs. Apple launched primary care clinics called AC Wellness for employees to promote health behavior. Other companies have invested in their own on-site medical centers. USAA has one where employees get cancer screenings, flue shots, physical therapy and more. Cisco has one called LifeConnections Health Center which provides concierge health care exclusive to employees. These companies realize that a healthy workforce increases retention, lowers absenteeism, increases productivity and creates a better culture, where employees feel like their core needs are accounted for.
7. Companies use robots to close their skills gap. With 6.9 million unfilled job openings in America, which is costing companies about $1 million annually. In a study we did with The Learning House, we found that instead of upskilling and retraining employees, 40% of employers believe artificial intelligence will help fill the skills gap. The Japanese government believes that robots will be able to fill the largest labor shortage they’ve experienced in more than 40 years. Filling the skills gap is impacting all industries including hospitality, retail and agriculture. The hospitality industry has 844,000 unfilled positions, which is an eighth of the job openings. Dunkin Donuts conducted focus groups with former employees using artificial intelligence to understand what tasks to automate, minimizing the hires they will make. In Boston, there is a restaurant called Spyce, where robots serve customers at $7.50 per dish because of the lower operations cost they have without employees. Retail job openings have outpaced hiring, with 757,000 unfilled jobs, forcing them to offer extra perks like paid time off. The $45 billion agriculture industry in California produces half of America’s fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. They have introduced robots to perform high-precision tasks on farms like corn planting.
8. Companies under pressure to take diversity seriously. The diversity conversation takes another step in the right direction as companies become more transparent. While the progression of women in diversity roles is slow, it’s finally being taken more seriously. The percentage of women CEOs in the S&P 500 has almost doubled from 2.8% to 5.4% in the past decade. Dion Weisler, the CEO of HP, told their vendors that they have to make gender and racial diversity a priority or they won’t do business with them. Amazon created a Women in Innovation Advisory Committee to become more inclusive of women and minorities through practical solutions. Diversity in Silicon Valley, and tech companies in general, has gone under scrutiny and will continue to. Only 21% of tech executives are women and only 2.2% of venture dollars went to women in 2017. As a result, Google has spent $265 million on diversity initiatives and Spotify has published their diversity data publicly as a way to show they are committed to improving. Slack has triple the representation of minorities compared to other technology companies and women make up 31% of leadership positions and 34% of technical roles. In France, companies that discriminate against women over compensation have three years to change before they face fines.
9. Paid Leave on the rise for both women and men. With one million new millennial moms and dads each year, more companies are beefing up their paid leave policies.The Family Medical Leave Act currently gives women 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave and Deloitte found that one-third of men are worried about taking time off to tend to a newborn. Estée Lauder announced the expansion of their parental-leave policy with 20 weeks of paid leave, a back-to-work transition program, $20,000 towards fertility treatments and $10,000 towards adoption. Facebook allows for 4 months of paid parental leave and at Twitter, fathers gets 20 weeks of paid leave. Netflix gives 52 weeks of maternal and paternal leave, which is the highest of any company, followed by Microsoft and Airbnb at 22 weeks. In 2018, Starbucks, Lowe’s, CVS, TJX, Dollar General, Chipotle, and Gap Inc. all bolstered paid-leave policies for hourly employees. While only 13% of employees have access to paid family leave currently, look for more to get it in 2019.
10. Natural light and views important to employee wellbeing. After interviewed over 1,600 North American employees with View, we found that employees said natural light and views of the outdoors were their most important office perks, ranking higher than onsite cafeterias, fitness centers, medical care and childcare. Employees say that access to natural light and views improves their overall happiness and well-being (78%), work satisfaction (73%), work performance (70%) and organizational commitment (54%). Millennials value natural light as the top feature they would like to have in their office environment over break out areas, TV, a game station and a bar. Workers in office environments with optimized natural light reported an 84% drop in symptoms of eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision symptoms. A separate study found that 75.8% of workers say that natural light is important to them but only 56.9% are satisfied with the light in their workspace. Compared to workers in offices without windows, those with windows in the workplace received 173% more white light exposure during work hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night.