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Our 2022 Workplace Predictions

Today’s post comes to us from the Executive Director of The Workforce Institute, Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been grappling with the pandemic for two years now — and the frustration, grief, and turbulence employees and employers have withstood together.

Last year, The Workforce Institute and our advisory board predicted that trust, inclusion, and empathy would be foundational in 2021 — and across the globe, we watched as organizations stepped up to the challenge and found new, creative, and necessary ways to support their people, their customers, and their communities alike.

The collective investment in care and compassion has only just begun. Months of talking about the importance of resilience, engagement, and leaning in to succeed despite the struggles have fed workplace burnout and emotional apathy that leaders must address in 2022.

And as COVID-era policies — from the regulatory impact of hybrid work and safety mandates to renewed workplace expectations and a shift in the employee-employer power dynamic — catch up to us in the new year and create an added layer of business disruption, we must be prepared to learn from our experiences in 2021 and foster workplace continuity and stability that will bolster us throughout the pandemic and beyond.

With that, here are our top five predictions for companies and employees in 2022:

1. Employee expectations will challenge employer capabilities as the shifting labor market creates ripples across the talent pool.

Between March and April 2020, one-third of shifts worked at U.S. businesses evaporated almost overnight, and the International Labour Organization estimated an 18.7% drop in hours worked worldwide from April–June 2020. Over the course of 2021, employers worked hard to resume pre-pandemic levels of business operations — yet the global labor market shift is far from over. This year will bring continued uncertainty and fluctuation in light of increased retirements, changing career paths, and a plateauing labor-force participation rate.

As employees leverage the power of choice, employers need to be even more creative with the benefits and programs they offer in order to win the war for talent. Higher wages, schedule flexibility, hybrid working opportunities, competitive time-off plans, and family-related leave and care benefits will be necessary to attract and engage office and frontline workers alike. This means business leaders and HR departments will need to have honest and transparent conversations about what they can feasibly afford to offer to meet — and ideally exceed — employee expectations.

2. Increasing employee apathy will motivate business leaders to listen and invest even more in a people-centric experience.

People aren’t built to be resilient for years on end. Yet, the ongoing pandemic has forced us all to grapple with continuously interrupted personal lives, career pathing, and planning for the future. Constant resilience gives way to apathy as employees prioritize personal preservation and self-care over professional passions and performance.

The importance of listening to employees and acting on their feedback takes center stage in 2022 as business leaders and people managers work to grow engagement, respect personal and professional lives, and, ultimately, boost brand loyalty. By establishing necessary support mechanisms, employers will be better poised to build a caring culture where people can enjoy meaningful work.

3. Manager training — including emotional support — and mentorship programs will become critical in the fight to retain great talent.

If 2021 was the year of the HR department, attracting and hiring top talent to meet growing consumer demand, then 2022 is the year of the people leader, retaining and training a rearranged workforce to bolster business growth. Employee movement amid pandemic-related business closures, reopenings, and the ongoing Great Resignation will drive a renewed focus on retaining great leaders — so they can retain great people — resulting in more comprehensive and applicable training programs to better educate and empower people managers.

Strong, people-oriented managers who prioritize intentional leadership — and the productivity and performance it brings — will be an invaluable piece of the post-pandemic workplace puzzle. Winning organizations will improve support systems for people managers, empower people-first decision-making skills, and find new ways to cultivate a manager experience built on trust, transparency, and care.

4. Organizations that proactively stay ahead of the legislative “catch up” come out on top as employers of choice.

Remote work. Minimum wage. Family leave. Vaccination mandates. Workers’ rights. Data protection. Artificial intelligence (AI). The list of disparate rules and regulations for employers to know, track, and account for is ever-growing and constantly changing across country and county lines. The challenge of compliance has only been exacerbated as compensation plans, tax codes, family leave policies, and more are up in the air as employees have switched companies, moved fully remote, or physically relocated due to changes in work.

Legislation will catch up with pandemic-driven organizational and business changes and the hybrid desires of workers, sharpening the compliance curve around workforce practices and workplace regulations. In 2022, employers across the globe must reconcile these international regulatory challenges to support the choices of their employees, meet continued customer demand, and ensure compliance throughout their organization. Unified and AI-powered workplace technology platforms will become a strategic priority for employers, particularly global corporate entities, looking to automate the process of compliance adherence.

5. ESG will emerge as a make-or-break asset for business stability and growth.

Many employers made important commitments relating to diversity, equity, and social justice over the past two years. This year will bring revitalized employee expectations and public accountability for chief executives and business leaders to take firm action on the issues most meaningful and relevant to their people and their business. People leaders and HR departments will use surveys, team newsletters, and other feedback channels to gauge internal alignment and perspectives on key focus areas.

This will drive corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) efforts of employers to evolve from a nice-to-have to business necessity. In the face of global social activism, growing concerns around environmental impact, and fair and equitable business practices, corporate stakeholders — including employees, customers, and investors — will expect organizations to publicly set goals, track, and report on annual progress.

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We’ll be exploring these topics at great length and from diverse perspectives over the year, as well as sharing actionable insights on how HR and workforce management professionals can better navigate these developments.

As we move away from the Great Reset, amid the Great Resignation, and into the great unknown, let us take time to reflect on what has and hasn’t worked, respect our unique boundaries and balance of life and work, and reimagine a truly employee-centric future of work.

Here’s to a safe, fulfilling, and productive year ahead!

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