As the country recovers from a recession, our workplaces are moving forward in new ways with new rules. Changes are afoot from how our offices look to who runs them and what equipment will be used.
Here are the trends we saw in 2012 and what to expect in 2013:
• Employee engagement. There’s no polite way to say it — workers have had it. In 2012 we lost our happy-to-have a job mindset and now we want appreciation. For some of us it’s been a few years since we’ve had a raise or bonus. An October survey by by MSW Research and Dale Carnegie Training found only a mere 29 percent of employees are fully engaged. Experts say if our employers want us more engaged, they need to boost our confidence in senior management and look for ways to reward us. “Companies are going to have to decide, do we want to invest in our people again?” says John Hollon, vice president for editorial at TLNT.com, which follows workplace trends. “They will need to reconnect with workers in ways haven’t had to worry about for about 5 years now.”
• Top performers are lifelong learners. It hasn’t been easy, but American workers finally realize we need to take control of our careers. Most companies cut way back on training and on education reimbursement at the same time we discovered a need to add to our skills toolbox. Being the top sales person, or even the best doctor now means we have to keep up with new technology, trends and approaches and we have to do it on our own time and our own dime.
• Social media at work is a complicated mix. Through social media, companies now have an amazing way to market their handbags or food delivery services. But this new outlet for driving sales is also driving management crazy. As American workers turned to Facebook and Twitter to rant about cheap bosses or snotty customers, we saw employees getting fired and employers getting sued. Meanwhile labor lawyers are busy drafting social media policies for companies trying to protect themselves by letting workers know what’s acceptable. The rise of social media in the workplace isn’t likely to slow and employers will have to prepare themselves for the benefits -- and the hazards.
• Flexibility is king. Sure we want to be paid well. But more importantly, we want to know that our employers “get it.” We want the day-to-day flexibility in how, when and where we work to better manage our lives. This year, we even saw reports that claim almost half of all workers would give up some of their salary to get more flexibility. We also saw smart employers of all sizes begin to position flexible work as part of their culture. Guillermo Rotman, president of Regus Americas, predicts more businesses will offer their employees flexible work options going forward, particularly as technology untethers us from our desks.
• We’ve got to get up. This was a breakthrough year in understanding how we work affects our health. Sitting at our desks, staring at a screen all day is making us fat and unhealthy. We saw a new pressure on employers to encourage workplace heath initiatives and pay more attention to physical activity at work. And we’ve realized we need to work differently, to get up and move around because mini-breaks, just one minute long throughout the day, can actually make a difference.
• Wellness programs are on the rise. Our employer really does care if we eat that doughnut or go for the apple. In fact, he cares so much, in many instances, he’s going to pay us to lose weight or participate in a wellness program. By now, employers realize that if we engage in healthy behavior, they benefit from lower healthcare costs. Expect this trend to get even more attention because The Affordable Care Act will expand the ability of employers to reward workers who achieve health improvement goals.
• Overtime. Is stopping on the way in for doughnuts for coworkers considered on the clock time? It could be. Companies are running into trouble with workers who claim there’s a rampant disregard for overtime pay provisions. In 2012, employees filed more than 7,000 federal lawsuits commonly known as wage-and-hour cases against their employers or former employers, records show. Losing these cases proved costly for some employers, and lawyers say they see these types of lawsuits continuing in 2013 along with a new interest in management training on what counts as a violation.
• Boomers retiring. We’ve been told it is coming, now it is happening. Experts say 2013 is the year that kicks off a wave of boomers retiring from careers they held for decades. “Some industries already are very focused on how to replace those exiting employees,” says Jennifer Schramm, manager of workplace trends and forecasting for the Society of Human Resource Management. Others will have to work hard and fast to develop the next generation of corporate leaders. At the same time, retirement creates a need for older workers to find ways to stay productive. Look for retirees to seek out opportunities to find work that helps them contribute to the greater good or causes they care about, says Marci Alboher, VP of Encore.org and author of The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life. “They will be looking for opportunities to do something impactful.”
• Newly designed workplaces. Our workspaces are changing along with our work habits. As collaboration becomes more important, we are finding that workplaces that allow for sharing ideas are the new norm — open floor plans and collaborative work environments, standing work stations and dual monitors. We also see an increasing number of co-working or shared office space and virtual offices, preparing us to say goodbye to office cubicles of the past and look forward to opportunities for better networking. And while we’re at it, we will likely be bringing our own device with us to the office of the future. A Cisco study showed a staggering 95 percent of organizations permit employee-owned devices in the workplace. This includes laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Leading organizations recognize the challenges and opportunities that these trends bring. For most, the belt tightening is over and 2013 will be the year to refocus on top talent and move forward together.
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit worklifebalancingact.com.