Workplace Trends to Watch in 2017

by Al Zink, SVP of Human Resources at Care.com

Maternity leave is so 2015. Like resolutions, trend forecasting has become a rite of passage around the arrival of each New Year. Through safe bets and bold predictions, we look ahead to what the year will hold. Over time, these trends cease to be trends—they become entrenched in our workplaces, and they mature.

Workplace trends

That’s what I expect for 2017. Where telecommuting was the trend in years past, in 2017 we’ll see new trends emerge as companies adapt to distributed workforces. Not long ago, maternity leave was the trend to watch, but now progressive employers are pushing forward policies more inclusive of our multi-generational workforce.

Here are six workplace trends to watch in 2017.

1. Consumerism in HR

For some time now, organizations have been moving gradually away from providing strictly defined lists of employee benefits and toward more of an à la carte menu of options that employees can choose from based on what works best for their individual situation. This trend toward consumerism in HR reflects how savvy people have become as consumers of products and services.

In response, we as HR professionals must design well-rounded, flexible benefits packages that meet the needs of our multigenerational workforce and provide transparency of information that allows our “customers” to make informed choices. The challenge on this is government intervention.

Many programs: medical, disability, and leave of absence are being dictated by federal and state government, in some cases even cities are getting in the act—San Francisco has a requirement that employers in the city pay into a medical insurance fund. A second factor is that insurance companies will limit how many plans or types of plans that one company can offer. They want to have a larger number of employees in one plan than multiple plans with small constituents.

2. Taking Care of Distributed Talent

Thanks to technology advancements, talent distribution across the country—and the world—has been a game-changer in our global economy. Today, forward-thinking companies are able to hire the best person for the job, without having to worry about where he or she is located. Dell, for example, has the publicly stated goal of moving to a 50% remote workforce by 2020.

To this point, we have done a very good job of equipping distributed talent to work from wherever they are. Our next challenge is figuring out how to give them the same quality of employee experience as those who are at HQ. How do we extend culture and benefits equality to provide an “umbrella” of culture to remote employees or satellite offices while allowing for some local customization of programs and policy? When you visit different locations and facilities what exactly are the values and culture and how are they implemented?

Tackling this challenge will be a big trend in 2017 and beyond. It is already influencing how we select vendors, deliver benefits, and communicate with employees—and we’re just scratching the surface. And a lot more thought will need to be given to managing from a distance (hiring, firing, feedback, coaching, personal issues, etc.).

3. Pushing Paid Leave Forward

By now, it might feel like companies upping the ante on paid leave benefits is old news, but this story is far from over. Following a few years of momentum building around paid maternity leave and, somewhat later, paternity leave, this year we’re likely to see more employers introducing paid family leave policies inclusive of all manners of caregiving.

This is an important recognition of the demographic shifts—Boomers aging and Millennials becoming parents—which have led to massive segments of the workforce providing unpaid care for family members. Deloitte and Nike were among the notable examples of companies who expanded paid leave to cover care for parents, partners, siblings, or children in 2016, and we could very well see more follow suit this year.

4. Returnships

Another work-family trend on the rise in 2017 is the emergence of avenues supporting the re-entry of caregivers who have taken time away from the workforce. The opportunity here is enormous. From moms who stayed home to raise families to mid-career professionals who left jobs to care for an aging or disabled loved one, millions of caregivers have taken career breaks.

Recently, several female-focused companies, including Landit and Power to Fly, have launched with the goal of providing a playbook for women who are looking to pivot or relaunch their careers. Many of our Care@Work clients have had success supporting the transition back to work following parental leave through ramp back programs that encourage employees to take advantage of flexible work arrangements and family care benefits.

By keeping—or re-engaging—caregivers in the workforce, we have the opportunity to improve corporate diversity, support working families, and provide a boost to our economy.   

5. Finally Getting Millennials

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “We’re trying to figure out this whole Millennial thing.” For years, we’ve been mystified by hoodie-wearing, basement-dwelling, feedback-craving creatures. After a decade in the workforce (Can you believe older Millennials are hitting their mid-30s?) it turns out, they’re not all that different than the rest of us … they’re just much more vocal about it.

As our largest demographic begins to enter leadership positions, we may begin to see their influence on corporate culture at scale. A few examples of this would be our movement toward continuous feedback, an emphasis on employee experience and, perhaps, some reclamation of the work/life balance we’ve lost over the years.

This is going to happen and if you haven’t figured it out—it’s too late. They are here, they’re quickly becoming the majority, and will soon be the leaders setting the policy and philosophy—if you don’t get it, just wait, and they will tell you.

 6. Time as Currency

What’s one thing employees value (almost) as much as money? Time. For many of us, life is an unending series of tightly scheduled events. So it’s no surprise that employees place a high value on flexibility and work/life balance in their jobs.

In this sense, time is like currency. Giving employees time back in their days—whether that’s through flex work, compressed work weeks, paid time off, or even helping them hire a housekeeper—leads to more loyal, engaged workers. As more employees rate flexibility and work/life on par with salary in terms of importance, we can expect to see companies leverage these benefits for employee recognition and talent acquisition. And yet, there’s risk when time and flexibility are given before the effect on productivity and process are considered.

Unless we want to treat this as a pendulum (give flexibility, then take it away when the business is impacted, then give it back when retention is impacted) then we do need to think about this holistically when it is designed—not after the fact. Business are all lumped together as though they have barrels of money in the back room. What Exxon or Yahoo! can do will be different than what a little start up in Boston can do—company size and type do matter and the response to these new initiatives needs to be thoughtful.

As the Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Care.com, Al Zink directs all Human Resources initiatives for the company’s employees worldwide, including talent acquisition, total rewards, education and organizational development, policy, and HR systems. With more than 30 years of Human Resources experience in fast-growing global enterprises, Al was most recently the vice president of Human Resources at QuantiaMD, which brings physicians together in an online community.