Evolving Employment Trends – 2022

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

July 19, 2022

Two trends impacting current employment practices are evolving in response to both the COVID-19 pandemic and the technological disruption of traditional work structures. First, workers are rethinking their job expectations and reevaluating their loyalties to their employers and their careers. Second, enterprises are trying to maintain their competitiveness within industries that technology is redesigning daily. How to keep workers happy is just one puzzle they must solve; how to remain ahead in their sector is another.

What’s becoming more apparent is that both sides of the employment relationship are restructuring how they view their contribution to that pact. Their efforts are remaking how ‘work’ will be considered and experienced in the future.

 

The Employee-Centric Workplace

Historically, employers would post their job openings, and potential hires who filled those qualifications got the work – on the employer’s terms and under the employer’s rules. Those days are gone; high employee turnover and its accompanying costs are driving employers to offer more than just a paycheck to their current staff. Instead, their workplace now supports employee ‘engagement and satisfaction’ initiatives, which are quickly becoming the workforce norm, especially for businesses that struggle to find the quality workforce talent they need.

Many businesses are taking up an ’employee-centric’ mindset as they work to lure and retain top talent in a very heated job market. These are just a few of the employee retention efforts being seen across America’s labor market:

Some companies are offering high salaries coupled with fewer work hours. Over the course of 2021, annual salaries grew by 4% (over the historical norm of 2%), and companies that could afford those increases made that choice. Companies that did not have that financial resource elected, instead, to reduce the number of workweek hours, which had the effect of increasing pay. It also responded to the employee’s quest for a better work-life balance.

How employees feel at work is also being considered, as employers invest more in ‘worker well-being’ programs. The belief is that these efforts will encourage both higher employee performance metrics and better retention metrics for the business. A 2020 Gartner survey revealed that of 52 leaders polled:

94% had invested in enhanced worker well-being programs;

85% put at least some funds into mental health support;

50% added physical health supports, and

38% added financial health incentives to their worker benefits packages.

A ‘Chief Purpose Officer’ may now be patrolling office corridors, keeping an eye out for signs of disgruntled workers or employee discord. To encourage a more inclusive workforce, many organizations are asking their staff to bring ‘their whole self’ to the office, including their personal preferences and beliefs. Often, these disparate views and opinions can cause disagreements or worse; the CPO’s role will be to calm ruffled feathers and return worker demeanor to its more productive stance.

Creative responses to both employee demands and a stressed job market will help most employers find and build the workforce they need.

 

The Employer-Centric Effort

Ultimately, a happy workforce builds a successful business, but that’s not enough for the organization to withstand future sector upheavals. To guard against more workforce instability in the future, some employers are building in new and novel ways to ‘future proof’ their business:

They are adding ‘career pathways’ as elements of their hiring and onboarding processes. Rather than simply filling a job opening, business leaders are looking at how that sometimes limited occupation might expand in the future and are hiring to fill both the current and prospective roles. Engaging in ‘career conversations‘ early in the onboarding process gives the new hire a clearer vision of what will be expected of them and, therefore, what they can expect from their employer. Further, both the worker and the employer gain confidence and optimism when those discussions include notes on future possibilities and expanded career opportunities within the company. Again, keeping the employee engaged and looking forward to more work satisfaction is an excellent retention tool.

Companies that build in advance training opportunities to enhance employee skills are also ahead of their competition on the ‘future proofing’ scale. Rather than looking at the actual ‘job’ to be done, corporate leaders are looking at the skill sets they need to accomplish those tasks. In many cases, similar occupations may have ‘adjacent’ skills that can enhance the work—filling job openings with existing employees whose adjacent skills match those needed both provides a new career path for the worker and retains highly skilled talent for the organization.

Some companies go further by converting the ‘enhanced training’ opportunity into a ‘career training’ exercise. They see the new hire as a long-term employee, capable of working towards loftier – and better paying – roles within the enterprise. Hiring with this long-range view in mind can reduce turnover while also giving the organization the long-term stability it needs.

Another element newly emerging as a critical ‘future-proofing’ tool is the ‘soft’ skill set. Many jobs these days are ‘middle-skilled’ jobs – they don’t require the advanced education of a four-year degree, but they need more training than a high school diploma provides. It is becoming more imperative to business success to add ‘soft’ skills to the middle-skill set. ‘Soft’ skills are those that require some level of critical thinking or analysis to accomplish the set goal. Rather than just ‘run a machine,’ for example, operators will be expected to review incoming data streams and make decisions based on minute-by-minute developments. Middle-level employees who bring these soft skills to their work also bring their employer a better, more comprehensive employee.

 

The work world is considerably different from how it was just a few short years ago. These days, both employees and their employers are seeking better, more fulfilling outcomes from their employment effort. Organizations that follow these trends will most likely thrive as the world adapts to a post-COVID, revised economic reality.

 

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