Every year I publish my forecast of the top 10 workplace trends that will impact how we work and live for the upcoming year. The purpose is to help businesses prepare for the future and equip workplace professionals with the insights they need to drive their organizations forward. You can read my predictions from 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, which have been read by over one million people worldwide.
These trends are based on hundreds of conversations with CEOs, HR leaders, and other workplace professionals; a series of national and global surveys conducted by my firm, Workplace Intelligence; and secondary research synthesized from hundreds of different sources, including colleges, consulting firms, think tanks, non-profits, the government, and trade associations. These trends are further refined at speaking engagements throughout the year, when I explore how each trend manifests itself differently depending on industry, culture, and environment.
So what will the world of work look like in 2022? Unfortunately, COVID-19 will continue to play a significant role in shaping the workplace. Leaders will need to address new vaccine mandates and remain committed to keeping their offices safe. At the same time, the pandemic has accelerated many positive trends — from the emergence of the hybrid model to a renewed focus on employee voice, well-being, and benefits. We’ll also see career development and training come into the spotlight as people seek to regain control over their lives.
Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact global economic growth. For 2022, Goldman Sachs has downgraded its forecast for annual U.S. GDP growth to 4% from a prior estimate of 4.4%. Meanwhile, regional growth in Europe and Central Asia is forecast to moderate to 3.4% in 2022, and the World Bank notes that the outlook remains highly uncertain.
In other areas, things look more optimistic. WorldatWork reports that salary increase budgets are projected to grow to 3.3% on average in 2022, up from 3% in 2021. "This data signals continued economic recovery and an increasingly tight labor market," the organization reported. Meanwhile, the U.S. unemployment rate is down from 4.7% in 2021 to a projected 3.8% in 2022.
While a variety of factors affect these economic indicators, efforts to increase vaccination rates will play a key role in stabilizing the global economy. For example, the World Health Organization has launched the Strategy to Achieve Global Covid-19 Vaccination by mid-2022. The new strategy outlines a plan for achieving WHO’s targets to vaccinate 40% of the population of every country by the end of this year and 70% by mid-2022.
The top 10 workplace trends for 2022 include:
Trend #1: Most companies will adopt a hybrid or remote-first approach
Many companies had hoped to transition to a hybrid model in 2021, but the emergence of the COVID-19 Delta variant caused most of them to put their office re-opening plans on hold. However, things look more promising for 2022, at least in the U.S. where cases are dropping or staying relatively steady in all but five states.
In fact, research from my company and WeWork found that 79% of the C-Suite will let their employees split their time between corporate offices and remote working, if their job allows for it. Organizations that have already announced plans to adopt a hybrid approach include Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Citigroup, and many others. Meanwhile, companies like Twitter, Dropbox, and Amazon are taking a fully remote approach and allowing their corporate employees to work from home indefinitely.
In addition to offering workers more choice over where they work, in 2022 businesses will also allow their people to have greater control over when they work. In my research with WeWork, both employees and the C-suite noted that flexibility, schedule control, and work-life balance were the top benefits of the hybrid model. A few companies, including Kickstarter and Bolt, are even piloting a 4-day workweek to help combat widespread burnout among their workers.
Trend #2: The hybrid model will create a two-tiered workforce
While the hybrid model offers many benefits, it also has its drawbacks. One issue that’s already emerging is that remote workers may not be treated fairly compared to their office counterparts. In fact, new research from my company and Kahoot! confirms a strong bias against remote workers. We discovered that over 6 out of 10 HR leaders say that office employees are more likely to get promoted and receive regular raises, and they’re seen as harder workers and more valuable.
Many CEOs and leaders agree that the hybrid approach could lead to a two-tiered workplace. Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of GitLab, has described the hybrid model as "the worst of both worlds.” Zillow CEO Rich Barton has also expressed his concerns, emphasizing that “We must ensure a level playing field for all team members, regardless of their physical location.”
In 2022, business leaders will need to focus on overcoming this bias if they want the hybrid model to succeed for their business. A cultural shift will certainly be required, and managers will need to take steps to ensure that all workers are treated equally and feel included. However, our study revealed that best-in-class collaboration technologies can also play a critical role in ensuring a fair workplace for all.
Trend #3: A strong digital mindset will support ongoing business continuity
Many companies who were unable to find workers during the pandemic turned to automation technologies, and this area will continue to grow as businesses grapple with millions of unfilled jobs. Robots will be widely deployed to clean buildings and handle manufacturing tasks, and AI solutions like chatbots will replace call center workers and other roles.
In 2022, we’ll also see explosive growth in an area called hyperautomation. This approach involves the orchestration of multiple automation technologies, which allows organizations to transition to a more connected and effective automation strategy. Gartner predicts that the worldwide market for hyperautomation technology will reach nearly $600 billion in 2022, and it expects that businesses using this approach will lower their operational costs by 30%.
Of course, technology will also play a key role in the hybrid workplace. Collaboration tools are a given, but we’ll see other technologies emerge as well. For example, over 80% of organizations will adopt cloud-based room systems by 2022. Businesses will also offer tools for when staff go into the office, for example apps that support contact tracing, room or desk booking, or a touch-free workplace. We’re even likely to see all-in-one employee management apps come into the spotlight next year, to drive a more seamless experience for workers and leaders alike.
Trend #4: Organizations will fight to attract & retain talent amidst the “great resignation”
Since April 2021, more than 15 million people have left their jobs in what’s being called the “great resignation. All signs point to the quit rate continuing to accelerate in 2022, and 55% of workplace professionals say they expect employee turnover to increase next year. It’s no surprise, then, that CFOs’ top concern right now is labor availability.
So what will employers do to combat the labor shortage in 2022? Some are starting with the basics — companies like Amazon, Costco, and Walmart have increased their salaries in a bid to attract workers. Others are building out their benefits packages and offering perks like stock options or financial wellness incentives. And many businesses are focusing on upskilling or retraining their existing workforce.
But for most people, perks and pay won’t be enough. New research from my company and Oracle finds that 88% of workers feel the meaning of “success” has changed, and they’re now prioritizing work-life balance, mental health, and having a meaningful job over a steady paycheck. That’s why in 2022, people will no longer tolerate companies that treat them poorly, and they’ll hold employers to a higher standard than ever before. Employers have no choice but to step up to the plate if they want to attract and retain talent amidst an employee-driven market.
Trend #5: Leaders will rely on employee input and feedback more than ever before
One issue that the pandemic uncovered is that the voice of some employee groups has long been ignored. These include essential workers and caregivers, and now we’re seeing that remote workers may also be left behind. A global study from my company and UKG drives this point home, finding that 86% of employees feel that people at their organization are not heard fairly or equally.
Companies that don’t seek out or listen to their employees’ feedback may struggle to retain talent, at a time when workforce retention is key. They’ll also be missing out on ideas and innovation that can help drive the bottom line, because workers won’t speak up if they feel their input isn’t wanted. That’s why in 2022, leaders will go beyond just listening to their people — they’ll translate insights into action with a focus on improving business outcomes and the employee experience.
To achieve this, companies will create robust employee feedback programs that leverage technology and incorporate multiple feedback channels. IBM, for example, holds global Innovation Jams that help leaders gather and make sense of the voice of the employee. Meanwhile, Microsoft surveys more than 2,500 employees every day. Put simply, the future of employee voice is so much more than an annual engagement survey.
Trend #6: Workplace benefits will evolve to better meet employee needs
As companies ramp up their efforts around employee voice, one piece of feedback they’re hearing is that their benefits package needs to evolve — and soon. In fact, the pandemic has forever altered the workplace benefits landscape, with most changes centered around the shift to remote working and a renewed focus on employee well-being.
In 2022, workers will still expect standard benefits like medical coverage and paid leave. However, they’ll also look for mental health support and other offerings that promote their well-being. In addition, employees will put a premium on benefits that support their needs as parents or caregivers, including paid family leave and childcare support. Although legislation is moving through Congress that would give most workers 12 weeks of paid family leave, employers who wish to retain their talent — especially working mothers — would be wise to take action now.
Flexibility is another “must have” benefit for 2022. In fact, a global EY study finds that 54% of employees would consider leaving their job post-COVID-19 if they are not afforded some form of flexibility in where and when they work. And most people believe this benefit should extend to hourly workers as well: research from my company and MyWorkChoice finds that 88% of employers believe that hourly workers should get the same flexibility as salaried workers.
Trend #7: Employee health and safety will continue to be a top concern
Over the past year and half, companies have used different tactics to address employee burnout and mental health concerns. Some offered mental health days, others provided free or subsidized therapy, and companies like JPMorgan Chase and LinkedIn actually required their staff to take time off. However, KPMG finds that 94% of employees are still stressed — and with COVID-19 far from over, companies must continue to prioritize employees’ mental health in 2022.
But it’s not just mental health that employers should focus on. Research from my company and One Medical discovered that 54% of employees deferred getting medical care due to COVID-19. Not only has this resulted in negative health outcomes, but the leaders we surveyed predict that it will elevate their healthcare costs by 7.5% in 2022. However, 97% of employers are taking steps to reduce costs and improve their healthcare offering, including offering virtual care and care navigation solutions.
When it comes to COVID-19-related safety, in 2022 employers will need to deal with the rollout of booster shots and the implementation of new vaccine requirements. It won’t be easy to navigate these uncharted waters, but smart employers recognize that a commitment to safety will be critical since 42% of workers are worried about returning to the office for fear of contracting COVID-19.
Trend #8: Organizations and employees will prioritize new skills for the remote workplace
There’s no question that the pandemic has accelerated the need for companies to upskill their current workforce, a matter made even more pressing due to the growing talent shortage. In fact, it’s estimated that 40% of workers will require up to six months of reskilling by 2025. If no action is taken, over the next decade the U.S. will likely experience a shortfall in its workforce of up to 12.5 million people.
Of course, digital skills will be in high demand. Research from Microsoft projects that 149 million new tech jobs will be created by 2025 as a result of accelerated digitization. However, soft skills will also become much more valuable in the hybrid or remote workplace. These include skills like emotional intelligence, managing dispersed teams, and effective digital communication.
Many companies and workers recognize the need for upskilling or retraining, and 2022 will be a year when we see action. PwC finds that 77% of employees are ready to learn new skills or completely re-train, and 74% see training as a matter of personal responsibility. Meanwhile, organizations like JPMorgan Chase, Amazon, and PwC are investing millions or even billions of dollars to upskill their employees and help them adapt to the changing world of work.
Trend #9: Workers will regain control over their careers, and they’ll look to technology for support
Amidst the evolving skills environment, employees are also struggling to navigate the pathway to career growth. A new global study from my company and Oracle finds that 75% of people felt stuck in their professional lives over the past year. But while 83% of workers are ready to make a career change, 76% say they’re facing major obstacles, including a lack of employer support.
What’s novel for 2022 is that people will look to their employers not just for traditional forms of support — they’ll also expect technology-based solutions like AI career advisors. In fact, our survey revealed that 85% of people want technology to help define their future, and 82% say robots can support their career better than humans. That’s because they believe robots are better at giving unbiased recommendations, answering quick questions, and finding jobs that fit their skills.
Some companies are already paving the way in this space. Last year, Sanofi launched an AI-based tool designed to empower employees to take control of their career development and help management facilitate internal mobility. Similarly, IBM uses AI software to direct its employees to projects and job opportunities within the company. In 2022, we’ll see even more employers get on-board with new technologies to support their people.
Trend #10: Companies will use new tactics to move the needle on ESG issues
Global challenges amplified by COVID-19 have made Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues even more urgent. While tackling these issues is simply the right thing to do, 78% of executives also believe that ESG performance creates organizational value and stronger financial performance. That’s because consumers and job-seekers, especially Gen Z and Millennials, are paying much more attention to how companies respond to issues like climate change and diversity, equity and inclusion.
To help move the needle on these issues, in 2022 a growing number of businesses will link their executive pay to ESG metrics. Apple has already added an ESG “bonus modifier” to its cash incentive program, and at Chipotle, 10% of executives’ annual incentives will be based on achieving the company's diversity and environmental goals. In fact, Willis Towers Watson finds that 4 in 5 companies are planning to incorporate ESG measures in executive pay plans over the next 3 years.
However, in 2022 companies will drive even greater accountability and alignment by reporting on the Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics, a set of universal disclosures developed by the World Economic Forum. During the Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2021, the Forum announced that over 50 companies have begun including these metrics in their mainstream reporting materials, including annual reports and sustainability reports.
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