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How have predictions made at the beginning of 2020 changed?

When The Workforce Institute at Kronos published its 2020 predictions in January, nobody could have known what the year would throw at us. The WFI board of advisors met recently and agreed that four out of five of the predictions are still pretty relevant, even though the world has changed.

At the start of each year The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated publishes its annual set of workplace predictions. We reflect on the past few years, months, and weeks, and think about what might be in store for organisations, HR, people managers, and the frontline workforce as the future of work evolves. In short: What employers should think about in the year ahead.

When we published our 2020 predictions in January, nobody could have known what the year would throw at us: a global pandemic, a major recession, and an unprecedented socio-political reckoning led by the powerful #BlackLivesMatter movement – all in a year which additionally, in the U.S. was already expected to be divisive due to the upcoming election.

Our Workforce Institute board of advisors met recently and agreed that, as far as our predictions are concerned, four out of five are still pretty relevant, even though the world has changed in ways we couldn’t have imagined in January. Here are our thoughts in the second half of 2020:

  1. Original prediction: Wholistic employee wellness takes centre stage as total rewards strategies drive recruitment and retention in a tight economy

Board reflection: Wholistic employee wellness is top of mind more now than ever before. Those who are able are working from home, absent traditional commuting time, rolling from one virtual meeting to another, grappling with lunch breaks and personal (e.g. childcare!) commitments, and lacking the overall socialisation once enjoyed in the workplace. This has led to a major loss of downtime – which is surfacing as perhaps the biggest driver of true work-life balance as, without downtime, workers have little time to decompress, breathe, and think before transitioning from a worker to their home lives.

Many frontline employees are working overtime to meet the needs of anxious patrons and customers in an altered working environment where joint meal breaks are prohibited, and you must wear a face covering or PPE which inhibits social interaction and bonding – not to mention potentially worrying about personal safety while enforcing protocols that, sadly, not all patrons willingly abide by.

Humans are social beings living under guidelines of social distancing. Some are feeling a loss of community, some are stuck in never-ending work cycles taking precedence over personal wellness activities such as hobbies, exercise, and time with family – a dangerous mix which can easily lead to burnout and depression. Employers are putting even more focus on employee wellbeing to support the entire employee from creating a “home-office fund” to ensure a proper work set up, to developing virtual summer camps and story time hours to help working parents juggle childcare obligations.

  1. Original prediction: Modernising and regulating paid time off, family leave, and income stability will be hot button issues in a U.S. election year

Board reflection: Time away from work is a critical component of employee wellness at work. As mentioned above, the boundaries between work and life are increasingly blurring. More employees than ever are working from home and experiencing longer workdays and increased meetings that are rolling into family and life obligations, with no clear delineation between work and life.

For employees whose physical presence is required to do their jobs, there are long work hours, overtime and a heightened attention to policies governing employee schedules, all while they may have children being home schooled with childcare and camps being closed. Both office and frontline workers might also be fearful of job security in a down economy, so many may be putting in MORE hours to justify their role, or because they are covering for former employees who have been let go.

Though employees may feel resistant to take time off right now – because of issues around travel, quarantine rules and differing reopening of countries – it’s imperative to ensure they are taking time away from work to rest and recharge both mentally and physically. A big onus is on the manager as well as executive leadership to proactively bring up the topic of time-off, and managers should also lead by example and take time off themselves!

While there is no substitute for a full week or even two weeks off, many people can reap the benefits of time away from work by finding pockets of time for themselves on a daily basis, or even just taking a day off that creates a long weekend. Frontline workers are accustomed to shift work, and maybe the future of office work will take a page from their book to best balance work-life as we slowly get back to normal.

  1. Original prediction: Guidelines, ground rules, and guardrails: Handling political discourse, activism, and the employer-employee relationship in divisive times

Board reflection: Across the world, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has opened up discussions and debates, and the differing attitudes and opinions to enforced rules as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have split opinions. In the U.S., it’s an election year, and as states across the U.S. reopen and employees return to work, we have even more potential for divisive dynamics in the workplace. While some of this might have felt muted during the lockdown period, difficult and uncomfortable – yet critically necessary – discussions have come to the forefront in the workplace.

We all – as individuals and organisations as a whole – must come to terms with our discourse and behaviour in the wake of recent events, as well as how it will impact our ability to work together and drive business goals. Employers will need to decide how they will handle such sensitive conversations if and when they occur – and it’s likely they will as shown by a recent survey by Glassdoor and The Harris Poll which notes that, “1,200 employed adults reveal(ed) that, while U.S. employees prefer to keep politics out of work, most find they nevertheless still engage in political conversations in the workplace.”

As stated in our original prediction, the board unanimously agrees that organisations must lean into more formalised diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) strategies and establish clear guidelines for expected behaviour in the workplace to ensure all employees feel safe and respected while at work. 

  1. Original prediction: Alternative talent pools will fill the talent supply chain and help close the skills gap globally

Board reflection: This prediction is the one that has drastically changed. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the working world hard, swinging the pendulum from record-low unemployment to rising figures that are set to dramatically increase after the current furlough scheme comes to an end. As a result, after years of an employee-driven job market, the power dynamic has shifted in favour of employers, many of which were forced to lay off or furlough their workforce or, at the least, freeze hiring to conserve business operations. With positions lying dormant and countries in varying stages of reopening, talent are yearning to get back to work and may no longer have the pick of the proverbial litter when it comes to job opportunities.

As rehiring and returning talent pools take centre stage, employers have turned their attention to the concept of reboarding – the hiring/onboarding of existing or returning employees – but this time, with enhanced trainings and considerations under this new world of work. Organisations must carefully consider the ethical and legal ramifications of who they are rehiring and who they are not.

  1. Original prediction: Practical AI uses, access to data will narrow chasm between the HR “haves” and “have nots.”

Board reflection: The power of technology and the insight it provides to the world of work is essential today. To a large degree, COVID-19 forced the digital transformation of many employers and exposed organisations lagging on modern technology to empower workers to work from anywhere at any time.

The criticality of a modern workforce management and HCM solution is being realised as is the need for a wholistic view of the workforce, its unique schedules, locations, and the skills imperative for various decision making. Some organisations are adapting to a “contactless operation”, implementing the use of mobile and employee self-service technology, while others are leveraging workforce data for contact tracing, an invaluable tool for workforces large and small to help keep employees safe and businesses operational.

Our new normal will continue to develop and employers will need to realise more benefits of workforce management and HCM technology and see improvements in change management in order to persevere in the future of work.

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