Outlook 2018: The Top Five Workplace Issues to Watch

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By Genevieve Douglas

While many workers will be toasting the New Year with holiday cheer, HR professionals may have their champagne tempered with thoughts of what 2018 will mean for the workplace.

Here’s a list of the five issues HR professionals will likely be watching in 2018.

1. Sexual Harassment

Attorneys anticipate an increase in sexual harassment and discrimination claims and lawsuits in 2018, largely as a result of the public scandals that have erupted in Hollywood, news media outlets, and on Capitol Hill. “There is a cause and effect between the sexual harassment public scandals and public dialogue, and workplace lawsuits filed,” Gerald Maatman Jr., a partner at Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago, told Bloomberg Law.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 12,146 charges of sexual harassment, and that number grew to 12,573 charges in 2015 and 12,860 charges in 2016, according to the agency’s data.

There will be a “laser focus” from leadership and HR on sexual harassment and discrimination, Laurent Drogin, partner and head of Tarter, Krinsky & Drogin’s labor and employment practice, told Bloomberg Law. “We are seeing a much more heightened awareness and a lower tolerance for any sort of behavior that is going to put a company in harm’s way.”

Organizations should be prepared to “get out ahead of the problem” by making clear that this kind of conduct will not be tolerated in the new year, Drogin said.

The real challenge will be in addressing claims and instances of alleged harassment or discrimination that do arise. First and foremost, HR departments will need to be equipped to train personnel on avoiding violations of policies that prohibit discrimination or harassment, Maatman said. More importantly, they will need to be able to respond to internal complaints, resolve them, and create workplace due process for these individuals, according to Maatman.

“Stopping the claims before they start is still the best defense” to a class action or lawsuit, he said.

2. The Gig Economy and Flex Work

There will be a growing demand for “gig work” and “next gen work” in 2018, Nicole Francis, director for the Center of Recruiting Excellence at Manpower U.S., told Bloomberg Law. The labor workforce is almost at full capacity, and companies are experiencing huge talent shortages, Francis said. Attracting the right workforce now means offering part-time, gig, contract, or flex work to attract the right talent. “It’s not the traditional 9 to 5 for everybody anymore,” Francis said.

Approximately 8.4 percent of U.S. workers participate in independent contractor work as their primary job, a 22 percent increase over the last decade, and a larger fraction, 30 percent, participate in independent work as a primary or secondary activity, according to a 2017 study of Uber drivers from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“Employers are looking at remote work as more of a business strategy and less of a perk,” Brie Reynolds, senior career specialist at FlexJobs, told Bloomberg Law. At the same time, employees are proving they are capable of working remotely by being productive and effective outside of the office, she said.

But working remotely, or in the gig economy, or in a flexible arrangement isn’t yet something that’s available to organizations throughout the country. “In urban and suburban areas, the technology component of remote work has made it,” Reynolds said. People in those areas can find what they’re looking for and work remotely successfully, and technology is fully able to support this work, she said. In more rural areas, however, big chunks of the populace might not have access to high speed internet, or are limited in providers and pricing.

Companies in Colorado, Kentucky, and Minnesota, for example, are working with local governments and agencies to bring this technology into the community, and those efforts will likely increase in 2018, Reynolds said. “Remote work in those areas can mean a difference between an economy that can support people” and an area that continues to lose out on top workers who seek employment in other areas of the country, she said.

3. Millennial Technology

2018 will also likely usher in a new age of communication for workers, recruiters, and businesses alike. Younger generations of workers are bringing a style of communication to the workplace that makes it “quick and instant,” Elaine Varelas, managing partner of career management firm Keystone Partners, told Bloomberg Law. Very few people are using laptops as their primary technology tool to communicate with others, instead using video conferencing, texting, instant messaging, or other social media platforms, she said.

Less traditional styles of communication will also be expected by potential job candidates, Francis said. “The way we recruit new talent is also going to continue to evolve in 2018.” Francis cited texting, chat bots, social media, and other platforms as the “new normal” for millennial job seekers.

Companies should also be thinking creatively about how they can expand their reach and talent pools to better access talent, Francis said. This is especially necessary for finding diverse groups of workers that may not typically have access to certain jobs or industries. For example, Manpower Group is currently working with a manufacturing company to train veterans to work in technology in manufacturing. “This is such a huge talent pool that’s untapped that benefits both the company and the workforce,” Francis said.

Another millennial technology transforming the workplace is the advent of big data and the ability to measure HR functions, Varelas said. Data analytics gives HR a way to measure employee engagement, productivity, corporate culture, retention, and streamline an organization’s practices, Varelas said. It “is going to inform everything” in 2018, and all generations of employees will need to be ready for how it can affect their work.

4. Workforce Skills Gaps

The introduction of new technology to the workplace means employers will look for and need new skill sets in the next year. Industries like construction and manufacturing, for example, will be looking for highly skilled individuals to take on new roles in the digital world, Francis said.

“It’s touching every industry and it’s going to continue to increase,” and at the same time the talent pool is getting smaller as the labor market tightens, Francis said.

Employers will need to invest in training and development programs that can “upskill” workers to take full advantage of “the digital world of 2018,” Francis said. In fact, twice as many companies in the last year are looking at how to find these new skills in current employment populations than in years past, according to research from Manpower Group.

5. Local Laws and Compliance

States and localities are increasingly taking the initiative in areas where the federal government has yet to weigh in, creating a complex web of laws with which businesses must comply.

The slew of new employment laws on local levels will be a big challenge for employers, Drogin said, because “they haven’t been thought through or battle tested.” In states like California and Massachusetts, and cities like Philadelphia and New York, employers will have to keep track of changing requirements when it comes to background checks, pay history inquiries, and decriminalized marijuana statutes.

“When these laws go live, there will be many compliance challenges because there’s no history to know how these administrative agencies are going to be applying the laws. Lawyers and companies aren’t exactly clear on what compliance looks like for bans on criminal history, salary history, etc.,” Drogin said.

Additionally, many employers may not have the needed resources to review on a regular basis hiring applications and other documentation used by HR because the standard forms may ask questions that are now illegal, Drogin said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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