For work life advocates, 2010 was something of a wait-and-see year. With economic conditions still tight, employees weren’t stepping up to ask for flexibility. They weren’t asking for much of anything.
But if ever there was a time when the words “pent-up-demand” meant something, 2011 is it. Businesses are already seeing an uptick in voluntary quits. With three years of corporate belt-tightening and hard work behind them, workers are looking for new opportunities. According to one study, as many as 81% of our employees could be lured away.
Here are the top five work life trends we’re expecting in 2011:
- Employee exodus. It takes a lot to overwork a nation of chronic work-a-holics, but we finally did it. Productivity dropped for the first time since late 2008, and the recessionary mindset of doing less with more is starting to give way. By August, voluntary quits had exceeded layoffs. And according to Right Management, 54% of companies lost top talent, involuntarily, already in the first half of the year. Workers will continue to leave in bigger and bigger numbers, citing work life balance, a need for flexibility, and too much stress.
- Greater shift in gender roles. Women match men in workforce participation and are beginning to outpace them in educational attainment. And thanks to a recession that hit men especially hard, more women are finding themselves in the role of primary breadwinner. That’s just one reason men are stepping up and taking on more child caring responsibility. Proof positive? Men now win primary custody in 50% of contested divorces. No matter who the primary caregiver though, we’re going to see greater parity as both mothers and fathers take responsibility for the work/childcare juggle.
- Telework leads the way. Of all the flexible work strategies, telework will have the greatest acceptance rate. The explosion of tech tools, real estate cost-cutting, and other financial benefits means telework will continue to increase in American corporations—whether or not it’s tied to a bigger flexible work strategy. The government is modeling the way—President Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act in December 2010, mandating that government agencies step up their use of telework. But this is not just a U.S. trend: technology analyst TechCast predicts 30% of the industrial world will telecommute two to three days per week by 2019.
- Focus shifts to hourly workers. While the workplace flexibility discussion is well entrenched in our country’s top offices, only 13% of American families are led by “professional or managerial” parents. Forward thinking companies recognize that flexibility is achievable, but different, for hourly workers. To minimize work life stress for their hourly workers, organizations are finding success with tactics like predictive scheduling, shift trading, and new strategies for staffing unexpected overtime.
- Looking beyond flex policy. HR leaders are increasingly aware that policy is not enough to achieve the business benefits of flex. Award winning companies and newbies alike are rethinking their approach to flex implementation in order to address middle manager resistance. Even in organizations where executives support and encourage flexible work practices, middle managers steeped in traditional ways of working –think face time—resist alternative work strategies. Organizations are realizing that official flex policies mean little, if managers won’t get behind them.
Just as the rest of us start to take a deep breath and shake off years of economic tension, our recruiters and HR managers are beginning to feel the pinch. It’s time to refocus on our talent, and once-popular incentives like pool tables and bring-your-dog to work days just won’t cut it this time around.
Work life issues will be a driving force behind attrition. Companies that have already built supportive, flexible work cultures will rise to the top. Meanwhile companies that insist alternative work strategies are impossible—that “flex could never work for us”—will find themselves handling the bulk of future quits.
Kyra Cavanaugh is the founder of Life Meets Work, a workforce consultancy that helps companies drive results through successful workplace flexibility and results-oriented management.