Kasey Hickey

Head of Content at BetterUp

Posted in: Organizational Learning

7 Key Workplace Trends To Watch in 2018

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7 Key Workplace Trends To Watch in 2018

What we deem to be “the future” of work is constantly shifting, for obvious reasons. But if the last few years are any indication, work is becoming more than a job for many professionals (and not just millennials). Organizations are evolving to support a wider variety of work styles, leadership styles, and, slowly but surely, diverse thoughts and ideas.

Simultaneously, more and more knowledge workers find themselves stressed and burned out. While many have touted a focus on “work-life balance,” the rise of remote workers and technological advancements have ushered in a much more integrated approach of “work-life blend.” Still, navigating the world of work remains tricky for both leaders and organizations.

Reconciling these sometimes conflicting priorities and challenges isn’t going to be easy. But as more progressive organizations begin to embrace a Whole Person approach to development, recognizing that work and well-being are intertwined, the leaders of today and the future will be better equipped to handle new challenges and periods of professional and personal transition.

Together with our team of experts, we’ve compiled a list of the seven workplace trends we predict will be big in 2018.

Inclusion will become a core management skill

Traditional diversity initiatives in organizations seek to include a wide range of groups inside the organization, and make hiring decisions with that in mind. But there’s an alternative model for building a diverse organization: creating an inclusive organizational culture.

According to Deloitte’s Stacia Sherman Garr, Candace Atamanik and Dani Johnson, organizations that deliberately foster inclusive talent systems are two times as likely to be innovative and agile, and four times more likely to effectively manage performance. Speaking onstage at Impact, a Deloitte-sponsored human resources conference, Garr, Atamanik, and Johnson identified a set of four components for building an inclusive culture: value and belonging, safety and a sense of openness, respect and equality, and empowerment and the ability to grow. As entrepreneur, coach, teacher, and investor, Fern Mandelbaum so aptly stated, “Diversity for diversity’s sake doesn’t help anyone. What we should really be striving for is a culture that isn’t just diverse, but inclusive of diverse points of view, backgrounds, and experiences.”

In 2018, inclusive leadership won’t just be something we’ll see from exceptionally progressive companies, but at organizations across industries, at every level of management as simply a way of “being.”

Emphasis on sustainability in response to the ultimate well-being crisis

The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America™: The State of Our Nation survey results recently revealed that “nearly 6 in 10 adults (59%) report that the current social divisiveness causes them stress.” But even if we factor out the current economic climate, workplace-related stress is on the rise. MediKeeper, a San Diego-based technology firm, found that investing in individual well-being can not only decrease stress, but positively affect organizational culture (and in turn, lead to more productive employees). Stress is likely not going anywhere anytime soon, but how organizations tackle it on an individual level may dramatically change the course of their success and retention efforts.

Our CEO, Alexi Robichaux, wrote, “For the vast majority of professionals, outer work is where most people spend 99% of their work day. In fact, we devote so much time to outer work, we hardly even think about it — and that’s part of the problem. Because when it comes to making tough decisions, coming up with creative solutions to problems, and being an inspiring leader, outer work plays a small role. I’d argue that in a knowledge economy, what we’re really getting paid to do each and every day is fueled by critical inner work. And there’s a profitable side effect of doing it, which is exponentially elevating the value of our decision-making and productivity.”

While inner work may not be an established practice at leading organizations yet, we’re already seeing signals that sustainability hangs in its balance.

The return of compassion and kindness as a virtue and trust-building practice

Management (and mismanagement) were thrust into the spotlight in 2017, as we lived through the very public disgraces faced by the likes of Wells Fargo, United, and Equifax. Although we know that trust is the foundation of any successful organization, the practice of trust-building is one that many companies have found elusive (both with employees and customers). SVP and chief human resources officer at Uber, Liane Hornsey, told Fortune that she encouraged employees “to email her with all their questions and concerns” and committed to “respond to all of the messages within 48 hours—even if it meant sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night to do so (which it did.)”

In a time when many individuals are deeply divided, empathy is not enough. Organizations need leaders who can build bridges in the face of challenges and difficult conversations, and do it with compassion. In order to become more inclusive — and thus, more compassionate to those who are different from us — we must embrace each other’s unique strengths as opposed to covering up aspects of our identities when we come to work. Going into 2018, we predict a recommitment to trust-building practices in an effort to establish more civil engagement amongst leaders, managers, employers, and the consumers they serve.

One small way leaders can do this is by practicing gratitude, which has been shown to improve well-being, increase resilience, and decrease depression.

The quality of professional development will get better

Job market transparency and a tight labor market has shifted some of the power from employers to employees. Employees are expecting employers to contribute more in ways and formats that they haven’t historically. Greater mobility impacts benefits programs, putting more pressure on markets to move to transferrable options. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, defined-benefit plan (pension) participants accruing benefits fell from 80 percent to 40 percent from 1975 to 2011.

Firms have moved their primary retirement offerings to easily transferable defined contribution or 401(k) plans and health savings plans are rapidly growing in popularity. Employers are competing on non-pay forms of compensation like leave, flexibility, child care, health and wellness benefits, access to volunteer opportunities, and L&D programs. Today, employees at every age value professional growth development opportunities, and not just vertically.

Simultaneously, as HR investments are becoming increasingly more data-driven, professional development must deliver strong ROI. As a result, the quality of (and access to) employee benefits — across the board — will improve.

Emancipation of leadership and rise of self-efficacy

Organizations are realizing that management and leadership behaviors are not limited to those in formal roles. Even more, to keep up with the pace of change, interconnectedness, and employee expectations, we can’t afford to have them limited to defined roles. Organizations need change to be driven at both ends — top down and bottom up and this particular time in our history is ripe for developing leadership behaviors like inspiration, judgment, and corporate culture.

2017 saw its fair share of explosive workplace scandals. Elite organizations have been rattled by sexual harassment claims that have brought issues related to women in the workplace and Psychological Safety to the forefront. On December 6th, TIME unveiled its annual “Person of the Year” issue giving the honor to “the silence breakers,” the women who began a #metoo movement aimed at exposing sexual harassers.

The movement is underpinned by a powerful current of self-efficacy, the belief that our actions will make a difference, which happens to be one of the four components of psychological capital. The latter is directly related to workplace outcomes such as productivity and retention. As more women (and men), make their voices heard, we’ll see an environmental (organizational) response that will increasingly reinforce more candid conversations around workplace norms, as well as the beginning of a new approach to leadership, in which individuals can choose to lead in the traditional sense (as people managers) and also become leaders in other ways — in the context of agile teams and as individual contributors.

A focus on meaningful work

Political, social, technical, and environmental forces are requiring more from workers and something different from work environments, in kind. As social and behavioral science has continued to make its way into organizations, we expect to see a renewed focus on CAMP at work — community, autonomy, mastery, and purpose (Colquitt A. Next Generation Performance Management: The Triumph of Science Over Myth and Superstition. 2017. and Maslow, Abraham H. “The farther reaches of human nature.” 1971)

The authors of “The Why of Work,” Dave and Wendy Ulrich, argue that helping individuals find meaning and purpose in their work is mutually beneficial to both the individual and the organization. When people are more connected with their jobs, they’re “happier, more engaged, and more creative.” And when they’re able to see how their work ladders up to their organization’s mission, “turnover goes down and productivity rises.”

The author of The Purpose Effect: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role, and Your Organization, Dan Pontefract, writes in the Harvard Business Review, “whether we enjoy our work often boils down to how our job fits with our sense of purpose.”

Helping individuals find meaning and purpose in their personal and professional lives deeply impacts their productivity, level of engagement, and loyalty — and we believe that mission-driven companies that invest in both personal and professional development of their employees will be better positioned to help individuals find the meaning and purpose they need to sustain their levels of engagement and performance.

Companies go all in the loneliness wars

It’s become abundantly clear that loneliness is a problem in the workforce. Countless studies have shown that (face-to-face) social connection is directly tied to well-being and something we should all be striving for. But the research hasn’t yet focused on what kinds of practices we can engage in to make us feel more connected to our teammates, who’s most at risk, and what this means for our future as employees. We believe that research will shed greater light on who the loneliest workers are, how managers can create better social support systems, and what organizations can learn from this psychological condition.

The world of work will continue to evolve, but one thing will undoubtedly remain unchanged: our identities as people will become more intertwined with our identities as employees — and only those organizations that are agile, inclusive, and focused on long-term sustainability will rise above the challenges of the modern world of work.

Thanks to: Eddie Medina, Alexi Robichaux, Dr. Gabriella Kellerman Rosen, and Shonna Waters for their insights and guidance on this piece.

Original art by Theo Payne.

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