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Five Workplace Issues We’ll Be Talking About In 2018

In a year filled with hot-button issues, we look forward to seeing where 2018 will take our workplace conversations.

Five Workplace Issues We’ll Be Talking About In 2018
[Photos: Alex Knight, Baim Hanif, Keenan Constance, Parker Byrd, geralt]

We thought 2016 was a year of turning points. But we had no idea how 2017 would shape up to hold far more moments that affected the workplace, from the current administration’s changing positions on labor policy issues, to whistleblowers sounding the alarm on sexism, racism, and other unfair practices, to the shifting demographics of the workforce itself with the first members of gen Z making their entry into full-time employment.

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Here is a look at some of the more significant trends that will continue to dominate the conversation around work in 2018.

Unequal Pay

Even though transparency is a core value for many companies, the Trump administration is actively working against measures that would make salary data more open to ensure there is no wage discrimination.

The amendment that would have safeguarded federal funding to administrate the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) equal pay data collection initiative was voted down by the House of Representatives.  As the March 2018 deadline looms for the Obama-era mandate that requires companies with over 100 employees to report pay data by race, ethnicity, and gender, the acting chairperson of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Victoria Lipnic, is also suggesting they might not have to do it at all if the commission appoints two Republican nominees. Of course, the wage gap varies by state, position, race, and other factors. For example, female financial advisers make an average of 55% what their male counterparts earn, according to an analysis of jobs by SmartAsset

In an effort to make things more equitable, the cities of Philadelphia, New York City, and San Francisco, and the states of Massachusetts, Delaware, and Oregon have passed laws to make it illegal for employers to ask about salary history. Prior to these rulings, candidates could refuse to discuss their previous salaries with unintended consequences.

The wage gap will likely have more far-reaching consequences in 2018. SmartAsset’s vice president of financial education A.J. Smith said that when it comes to things like housing, women may be even worse off than the pay gap suggests. “There are only seven cities, out of the 100 we analyzed, where the average woman’s earnings would allow her to be unburdened by housing costs,” Smith said, “Meanwhile there are 63 cities where men typically pay less than the recommended 30% of their income on rent.”

Closing the wage gap could add trillions to the economybut it’s estimated that it will take 42 years to get there at the current rate of change, according to a report from the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. Monique McCloud-Manley, CEB’s total rewards practice leader, observes that companies stand to benefit in the short term if they achieve pay equity. “Organizations that work to close gaps now will pay less than those that wait to take action,” she says. “The average cost to correct gaps increases by $439,000 each year.”

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Workplace Harassment

The year 2017 was punctuated by news of fed-up workers coming forward to tell their stories of discrimination and harassment at the hands of those in power. Allegations led to the resignation or firing of many prominent male executives, celebrities, and politicians.

Sexual harassment protections vary from state to state, not to mention by workplace, even as these high-profile cases appear to have emboldened women (and men) to speak out. The reality is that many U.S. employees still have no legal recourse if they are reporting harassment at work, particularly those employed at small businesses. And many continue to fear backlash and blacklisting. No wonder the (EEOC) reports that about 70% of those who experience sexual harassment at work don’t tell a superior about it. 

In light of these developments and the tension between them and preserving the status quo, employees expect their leaders to restate their values and workplace policies.  “Until now, the question has been, “How could this have happened?” says Jim Barnett, the CEO of HR tech firm Glint. He believes that in 2018, the question will be: What can we do about it? “The way this will be accomplished is twofold: It starts taking with a more meaningful, conscious approach to leadership and continues with a concerted effort to change the way organizations monitor employee engagement, with participation throughout the company,” says Barnett. In the coming year, Barnett believes leaders “move beyond check-the-box engagement metrics to dig in and do deeper work developing cultures that emphasize and deliver on inclusion and belonging by using HR technology.”

“‘See something, say something,’ has taken people and companies by storm,” says Geri Johnson, the senior vice president of innovation at SSPR. She says that while companies have conducted training and implemented policies, this past year has opened up a new era of coming forward. But she believes that having more women as mentors may help in the long run. “Mentorship will not solve for the overarching harassment issues we see coming to a head in 2018,” she says, “but it will show you who is interested in change, becoming a well-rounded leader and someone who values diversity.”

Generation Inclusion

This year marked the first for generation Z’s college graduates to enter the workforce full-time, creating a varied quilt of employees in the fabric of the U.S. workforce. Despite the debt load that many have from college, Andrew Heyes, managing director, South, of Harvey Nash Professional Recruitment, says that a survey conducted by the company found that 64% of 18-24-year-olds were taking free courses or reading in their own time to develop new skills, compared to only 56% of 30-35-year-olds.

“Gen Z came of age during the 2008 economic crisis, and many within the generation are more interested in job stability than their millennial peers, who have gained a job-hopper reputation,” says Pranam Lipinski, CEO and cofounder of Door of Clubs. “Employers should be thinking about fostering growth opportunities rather than simply looking to pay them more to keep them loyal.”

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Mixed generational management will be at the top and throughout organizations, with gen X and millennials leading, while boomers and traditionalists migrate to project and consultative contractor roles, notes Elaine Varelas, managing partner, Keystone Partners. “Older millennials are entering the C-Suite, and they will be asking boomers to help them as advisers, coaches, or mentors,” she says. “They will look for advisers who have broad experience in a range of economic cycles to map strategies to each organizational goal,” says Varelas, “as long as the advisers work transparently, are open to change, consider the best way versus the traditional way, and move quickly.”

Heyes notes that employers that are more forthcoming with courses and training to enable young people to grow into the type of job roles–management or highly experienced roles–that can protect against ageism in later life.

But Darren Shimkus, vice president of Udemy for Business, says that those efforts don’t have to stop when people reach higher levels in their career. “More employers are recognizing that this shift puts pressure on them to support their workers’ continuous upskilling needs in order to maintain performance and productivity,” he says. Shimkus expects that learning and development teams will get more flexible and creative in order to accommodate diverse learning preferences now that all four generations are active in the workforce at once, such as by enabling mobile learning on demand.

Flexible, Remote, and Freelance Work

Nearly every survey we’ve seen this year stresses the importance of flexible work for both the already-employed and for job seekers.

A recent study from Staples bears this out. This year, only 32% of employees spent all their time working in or at their office, and 43% of employees say remote work is a must-have. 

Laura Handrick, HR analyst of online publication FitSmallBusiness.com, analyzed data from Global Workplace Analytics, Gallup, and others, and also found that telecommuting and working from home is on the rise. “We also found investors are putting more money into hybrid work-live spaces, with companies such as WeWork and WeLive spearheading this trend, and mixed-use (live-work) rentals have increased by 25% over the past seven years.”

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Handrick predicts that not only will more companies invest in remote workers, but those who require workers on site will do everything possible to make work feel like home. “Builders will adapt with mixed-use developments that bring workers closer to the office.”

Alongside this is the rapid rise of the freelance workforce, which is growing more than three times faster than the U.S. workforce overall, according to the annual “Freelancing in America” (FIA) survey by Upwork and the Freelancers Union. The number of U.S. freelancers now stands at 57.3 million, representing an 8.1% jump over the last three years. Just don’t call them gig workers. Many freelancers balked at the term, according to the survey, because it suggests they aren’t calling the shots. Indeed, most are not driving for ride-hailing companies, and as many as 36% are earning over $75,000 per year. 

Freelancers are also more proactively building skills than their counterparts who are employed by companies. As many 65% of independent workers claimed to be staying on top of career development as jobs and skills evolve, in contrast to 45% of non-freelance workers who are taking similar steps.

Robots and AI

The most recent report on the future of work from McKinsey suggests that as many as 375 million workers around the world may need to switch occupational categories and learn new skills, because in about 60% of jobs, at least one-third of the work can be automated. Fear not, only 5% of jobs can be completely eliminated by automation, but it does mean that workers need to be prepared to make a change.

With AI infusing even more technologies from Amazon’s Alexa to smart home devices and cloud computing platforms, Chris Bolte, cofounder and CEO of Paysa, says that a recent company survey revealed that this will create more demand for workers skilled in artificial intelligence. “Just over the past six months alone, we’ve seen AI investment increase dramatically at $1.35 billion,” says Bolte. “These include big technology companies like Amazon and Apple, automotive like Uber and Ford Motor Company, and financial services companies like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.”

Indeed this year, there’s been no shortage of AI in apps and platforms designed to ease the way for workers to find great jobs. Crafting a resume has never been easier, nor has landing an interviewHowever, Arvind Raichur, CEO of MrOwl, an app that is using AI, cautions that certain applications that rely too heavily on AI to construct a psychological profile on an applicant before they’re onboarded could be problematic. “The danger is that you create exactly what’s happened in regard to the “Filter Bubble” on social media for your applicant pool,” he says.

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About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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