2019 Workplace Predictions Realized?

This post is submitted by Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of the Workforce Institute. At the beginning of this year, we published our 2019 workplace predictions. In this post, we revisit our assumptions and assess our accuracy.

On January 2nd, we released our 2019 workplace predictions. You can find the full release here. In summary, our six predictions were as follow:

  • AI and machine learning unmask previously-hidden workforce data to make people-centric decisions.
  • Historically tight labor markets and emerging technologies put people managers in the spotlight.
  • The changing face of education redefines trades and challenges traditional hiring practices.
  • Further fracturing of employment laws globally, nationally, and at the local level will strain organizations.
  • Employee-agnostic flexibility, consumer-grade tech, and the rise of the occasional time worker redefine “work your way”.
  • Greater emphasis on disaster preparedness as a part of a holistic human capital management strategy.

I recently asked our board members to weigh in on how accurate they believe we were. The most frequently mentioned topic was AI – and the speed with which it’s taking hold in human resources. According to Mark Wales, “AI is advancing very rapidly. I recently heard of a startup that can measure on an ongoing basis the ‘culture’ of a company by analyzing its internal communication. ” David Creelman agreed, adding “At a broad level I continue to be surprised with how fast AI is advancing. Our prediction was probably too narrow in scope in just discussing workforce data, AI has many potentially revolutionary applications for HR.”

Dan Schawbel felt we were on target, saying “Flexibility and AI are the two topics I continue to hear about almost daily now. The changing face of education continues to be a hot topic and we’ll be doing a study on that in September. I wouldn’t say any of the predictions surprised me. ”

Bob Clements felt we were most on target when we predicted that “Historically tight labor markets…put people managers in the spotlight.”  He went on to say “We have been talking about the war on talent for decades, but it has never been more acute than it is today. This has put incredible pressure on our frontline managers to hit their goals with fewer-than-required headcount while trying to recruit and hire, retain existing staff, and when all else fails, step into the front-line workers’ role to fill in for the people-shortage.  Where this prediction falls a little short, is that organization are in firing fighting mode.  The organizations recognize the herculean effort that these managers are giving and are having higher-level managers help (i.e., district managers may help a store manager) but they have not yet shifted gears to provide better leadership development or technology to solve the problem.”

Mark Wales felt that people aren’t paying as much attention as they need to with regard to disaster preparedness. “It’s flying under the radar. There is now a disaster declared every 5 days somewhere in the US. Florida recently reported that 8 months after the hurricane there’s still been no affordable housing rebuilt so businesses have literally lost their workforces. “

Mark shared the example of a high school principal from the California Camp fire who resigned because he couldn’t find affordable housing for his family after his home was destroyed in the fire. The Camp fire killed 85 people and destroyed more than 18,000 structures. Before the fire, the vacancy rate in Butte County (where the fire occurred) was 1.5-2%. The fire destroyed around 6.5% of the available housing units. There are no doubt plenty of examples of workers like this principal who had to pack up and seek new employment

Some of our board members participated in a panel with me on this topic as well. You can listen to my conversation with John Frehse and Chris Mullen below to learn what predictions have resonated most for them so far this year.

Joyce Maroney, John Frehse and Chris Mullen discuss midyear predictions.

In summary, we were directionally on target with our 2019 workplace predictions, though some are moving at very different rates of change. Our board members didn’t reflect too much on the gig economy, but we are seeing workers push back on business models that rely on low wages and no benefits. Our own recent Gen Z research indicates that this generation values the flexibility of gig work, but also value stable schedules, adequate wages, and other employer benefits.

The high price and increasingly questioned value of a college education is already a 2020 election issue in the US. Yet we’re not yet seeing a big focus on beefing up alternatives to the belief that a 4-year degree is the holy grail for a meaningful career path.

We still believe that organizations that want to lead when it comes to attracting and retaining the talent they need will not only invest in leadership development, but hold managers accountable for improving their management skills. It appears to us that organizations who do so are still in the minority.

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