New Year Brings New Workplace Trends

December 29, 2003 ( - As the economy begins to turn up, employers can expect some changes in workplace behavior, from how employees take vacations to a renewed importance on company benefits in recruiting and retention efforts.

Bernadette Kenny, Executive Vice President of global career management services company Lee Hecht Harrison says among the key drivers of workplace trends in the new year will be lessons learned by employees and companies during the economic slump as well as optimism about the recovery. “There’s a sense we’re on the cusp of a shift in the economic tide,” Kenny said. “Such conditions are particularly conducive to changes in workplace norms.”

In particular, Kenny points to seven workplace trends companies can look for in the year ahead. One of those trends is the role company sponsored benefits will play again in an organization’s recruitment and retention efforts. However, unlike the late 1990s gold rush days when extravagant perks were the norm, companies will instead be expected to do a better job of providing the basics, such as health care, disability, employer-matched 401(k)/profit sharing plans, and career development programs.

Further, while the desire to retire will not completely disappear, more and more people will continue to work on a project, consulting or part-time basis even though they may have officially retired. This in turn will spur the need to more leadership transitioning. With corporate leadership now largely in the hands of aging baby boomers, expect to see companies not only increase their leadership development budgets, but also restructure pension plans so boomers can still retire with optimum pensions even if they move into less demanding jobs. This will encourage boomers to free up top posts yet stick around to facilitate the transition to new leadership, Kenny says.

Other forecasted trends include:

  • Informal reference checking – to get around the “no comment” or “neutral” job reference policies many companies have adopted to avoid defamation lawsuits, more hiring managers will seek out acquaintances who worked at the same company as the job candidate for their honest opinion.
  • Return of “accidental entrepreneurs” – many who were forced by the recession to strike out on their own, but were not otherwise inclined towards entrepreneurship, will seek a return to traditional jobs.
  • Taking working vacations – thanks to the proliferation of cheap cell phone plans and widespread Internet access, the lines between vacation and work are growing increasingly blurred, as more and more workers check in on the office and field pressing problems even when on vacation.
  • More terminations for poor performance – during the lean times, few employees have been explicitly terminated for poor performance. Most dismissals have been part of mass layoffs driven by a need for cost reduction or strategic redirection. Employers tolerated underachievers in deference to their tenure, history and degree of organizational influence. But widespread turnover in corporate leadership, increased public scrutiny, and new demands brought on by an expanding economy, will make termination for performance more common, Kenny says.