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10 IT workplace predictions for 2016

10 IT workplace predictions for 2016

2016 is the year of talent -- how to find it, retain it, engage it and motivate it are at the top of organizations' to-do-lists. Here, workforce management experts share their predictions for the coming year.

Attracting, retaining and engaging employees is job number 1 for employers in 2016 as the IT talent crunch intensifies. The improving economy, aggressive recruiting practices and an emphasis on workplace culture have drastically shifted the relationship between employer and employee. Experts from The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated and the Staples Advantage 2015 Workplace Index weigh in on their top 10 workplace predictions for the coming year.

1. The year of talent

The improved economy, aggressive recruiting practices and websites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn have all contributed to a dynamic shift in the employer-employee relationship, according to The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated. Talented workers have more leverage than ever before, and it is nearly impossible for an organization to hide its true corporate culture from job candidates.

Progressive organizations understand that the only sustainable business model is to ensure they have the right talent, in the right place, at the right time, with the right skills. The C-suite will be more directly involved in talent management strategies in 2016 with a focus on winning with engaged employees, says Joyce Maroney, senior director, customer experience and services marketing, The Workforce Institute at Kronos.

"The ease with which existing employees can record their experience very publicly, and the ease that job seekers can find this information before they take a job is really changing the game. Sites like Glassdoor are a very legitimate way to get information about job opportunities and options. In fact, here at Kronos we find Glassdoor is one of the top drivers of traffic to our careers site," Maroney says. Bottom line: if your culture is toxic, it's critical to fix it or you won't make much headway in the battle for IT talent, she says.

2. Compliance, regulation and workers' rights

As the Obama Administration enters its final year and the spotlight on workers' rights shines brighter around the world, government regulation around paid time-off, overtime, minimum wage, healthcare, schedule fairness, family leave and more will put increased pressure on organizations to maintain compliance, according to The Workforce Institute. Organizations large and small will require tools and technologies to juggle different regulations across cities, states and countries where they do business while ensuring employees are treated fairly within the law with the capability to generate reports that prove compliance and avoid fines and penalties.

"The rising tide we see is not only around affordable healthcare, but also fair scheduling, raising the minimum wage, offering paid leave -- movements toward workers' rights, whether hourly and front-line workers or in the freelance economy, are gaining ground. This presents a challenge for smaller organizations to manage not just increased costs, but to engage your people so you're optimizing productivity," Maroney says.

While flexible schedules, continued training and career progression planning have been best practices for a long time, many organizations that felt they couldn't manage to do these things are going to have to step up to the plate, she says.

3. Regulations tighten around employee self-service, mobile, and scheduling technologies

Hand-in-hand with the consumerization of workforce management technology and a focus on workers' rights is a push toward wider adoption of employee self-service, mobile and intelligent scheduling technologies that empower the worker while unburdening managers, according to the Workforce Institute. Employees will have tools to take more ownership of their schedules, while smarter technologies will support greater equity in staffing models; the growth of the freelance economy will increase the need for white collar workforce features to be added to these tools.

However, as these technologies are implemented to balance productivity, compliance and fairness, organizations should expect increased government scrutiny on how workforce management innovations are used in the workplace, Maroney says. "There are very specific issues tied to scheduling around fairness, lead time and the like, and how technology can help ensure more worker-friendly policies. For example, in retail or hospitality, avoiding having a worker close down a shop at night and then report for work to open the next morning, or figuring out transportation, or scheduling child care or dependent care around changing shifts," Maroney says. While some of these technologies are mandated and legislated, employers should consider their own investments in automation and self-service, she notes.

"If you're looking for talent, make sure that these technologies afford them trust and transparency so that your workers get flexibility around their home lives. Anything that makes it harder for them to get daycare, or to schedule healthcare appointments is going to discourage them from working for you, and that's a problem," she says.

4. Organizations invest in the next generation of leaders

Organizations that have not begun investing in their next generation of leaders will feel the sting in 2016 as the exodus of Baby Boomers continues, the Workforce Institute says. Leadership development, succession planning and training programs that tackle the skills shortage will be major themes in 2016 as an increasing number of organizations will invest more in middle management to ensure they can properly hire, coach, and motivate their millennial and Generation X employees who are moving up the ranks and, in some cases, managing workers older than themselves.

"In 2015, for the first time, millennials were the biggest portion of the workforce, but because of the recession they haven't had as much investment in training and leadership development. Now, organizations are going to be paying more attention to succession planning and leadership training. Thus far, businesses have benefitted from Boomers staying in the workforce longer, but that seems about to change," Maroney says.

5. Unique benefits become a competitive advantage

The talent-first focus in 2016 will cause many organizations to rethink and retool their benefits strategies to create a competitive advantage in the war for talent, the Workforce Institute says. Since benefits will be used to attract and retain the most diverse and multigenerational workforce in history, there will be an emergence of unique benefits that target employees at different stages of their lives, from student loan repayment programs, unlimited vacation, and paid time off for hourly workers to expanded parental leave, child care support, retirement assistance, and medical benefits that help care for aging parents.

"You have to set yourself up to tailor your benefits to the needs of the employees. Things like healthcare, dependent care, paid time off -- those are just table stakes. Consider benefits tailored to your workforce, like student loan consolidation services, college scholarships for employees' children; you can't do 'one-size-fits-all' anymore with such a multi-generational workforce," she says.

6. Employers will invest further in wellness

Initiatives that power employee productivity and help control healthcare costs will be critical in 2016 as employee burnout erodes productivity and rising healthcare costs continue to chip away at the bottom line, according to Staples Advantage 2015 Workplace Index, which surveyed 2,602 employees in May 2015.

At a time when 66 percent of employees claim burnout is eroding their productivity, wellness efforts that focus on physical and mental wellness can be valuable ways to enhance employee health and productivity. Wellness initiatives also play a role in retaining top talent, as 38 percent acknowledge that burnout is a motivator for a new job search, says Neil Ringel, executive vice president, Staples Advantage.

"As the workplace continues to evolve, companies are continually challenged with recruiting and retaining top talent. It's critical for businesses to implement strategies focused on improving employees' productivity, health and happiness. While the talent crunch definitely holds true for IT companies, every organization should aim to foster a work culture that creates a collaborative, inspiring and enjoyable place for employees to work every day," Ringel says.

7. Desire for workplace flexibility will continue to drive the freelance economy

Among part-time freelancers, nearly half acknowledged they would quit their primary job to freelance full-time if they could achieve more work flexibility, the Index revealed. Nearly four in 10 employees said workplace flexibility would increase their workplace happiness, and 24 percent report flexible schedules motivate them to do their best at work. In addition, one in five employees identify the ability to have a flexible work schedule as a leading contributor to their loyalty.

"The Workplace Index revealed that work-life balance is top of mind for employees in the United States. Organizations can take a number of steps to facilitate this, such as providing flexible work options to avoid employee burnout and better motivate workers," Ringel says.

8. There will be a reconfiguration of the traditional office space

Traditional office space will be reworked to serve multiple functions and accommodate a diverse, mobile workforce, according to the Index. Nearly half of employees surveyed say they would like more attention paid to office design, and they think a well-designed office would improve creativity, interest in their work, and their work ethic. In addition, 31 percent say a well-designed office would improve the amount of work they do.

As the physical workspace needs to accommodate an increasingly diverse, mobile workforce, a reconfiguration of the physical office will become a need, not just a want. It's not just workspace, but "break" space that will need to adjust, according to Ringel, "Nearly half of employees feel they cannot get up from their desk to take a break, 45 percent eat lunch at their desks, and 53 percent are burnt-out.

To combat this, employers should encourage employees to take break times to refresh and recharge so they come back to their desks ready to tackle their work. The onus is also on employers to provide a well-stocked breakroom where employees can relax and disconnect. Employers should ensure the breakroom is stocked with healthy snacks and beverages as well as comfortable furniture to allow employees to unwind," he says.

9. Employers will begin to leverage sustainability as a recruitment tool

Sustainability will be a major factor in employers' employee value proposition in 2016, rather than just a corporate social responsibility (CSR) and reputation management initiative, says Ringel.

"While CSR and reputation are the biggest drivers of sustainability efforts today, it's likely they will be front and center in recruitment strategies. When making an employment decision, half of millennials say an eco-friendly company is important, so we'll see employers leverage sustainability more this year as a tool to recruit and retain top talent," he says.

10. Continued investment in mobile technology

As millennials continue to gain ground and power in the workplace, so does the technology that powers an increasingly mobile workforce. The majority of telecommuters say that remote work improves work-life balance, work productivity and their overall happiness, according to the Index. As more and more employees work outside the physical office, and nearly two-third of employees attribute poorly performing technology to decreased productivity, employers will need to ensure they have the right technology in place to maximize ROI and enable a more flexible work model.

"Empowering workers with the right technology is also very important to promote work-life flexibility. The majority of millennials say increased flexibility will improve their happiness and productivity, so it's no surprise that we see more businesses offering more flexible work options, whether it's flexible hours or technology enabling them to telecommute," Ringel says.

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