Change Ahead: Workplace Trends For 2017

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You don't need a crystal ball to know that big changes are coming to the workplace. President-elect Donald Trump's plans for health care, taxes, regulations, and more will certainly keep employers and their HR teams on their toes in the coming months.

But the new president's plans aren't the only forces that will affect the workplace in 2017. As the team at FirstPerson gathered for our annual discussion of the trends we see emerging in the workplace, we saw employers also facing a changing healthcare delivery system, new technology, redefined executive positions, and more. The best news? We see many employers abandoning the reactionary role they’ve been forced into in recent years so they can face 2017 more strategically.

That's the short version of what we see ahead. Following are more details for the workplace trends we identified for 2017:

Post-election, part 1: Big picture

Here we go again. Expect big changes, affecting everything from health care (see next item) to maternity leave (Donald Trump called for six weeks of paid leave during the campaign) to 401(k) tax impact and more. The problem? Nobody knows what those changes will be. The trend? Employers holding course until they get a better sense of the new direction.

Post-election, part 2: ACA

Donald Trump promised to make repealing the Affordable Care Act his top priority. The truth is, nothing will happen in a hurry, which means the uncertainty we’ve experienced from day one of the ACA will continue. Expect President Trump to chip away at Obamacare but not make sweeping changes. With this is mind, smart organizations will do what they’ve always done: Work with a multi-year benefits plan guided by an overriding people strategy, and adjust to course alterations as they come.

It’s all about value

After years of being told they should be better healthcare consumers, employees are finally finding a marketplace that functions with the consumer in mind. With micro-hospitals, pharmacy-based clinics, creative prescription solutions, and more, employees truly are able to seek out the best value for their healthcare dollars. Expect these options to increase in the coming years. The good news? As employees become better healthcare consumers, employers should see cost reductions as well.

C-Suite shifts: The rise of the CM&HRO and CXO

As the CM&HRO (Chief Marketing and Human Resources Officer) settles into the C-suite, he or she is taking on a more strategic role in the organization with a focus on designing the employee experience. This means less hands-on involvement in tasks traditionally viewed as HR functions (payroll, benefit management, etc.) and more involvement in crafting talent development, leadership training, workplace environment, and more. At the same time, the Chief Experience Officer (CXO) is helping to bridge the gap between the way firms treat their internal and external customers.

Technology pulls it all together

Today’s workforce is accustomed to using technology to access everything in one place, from sales data and project documents to playlists and family pictures. Savvy organizations are making HR information and services just as accessible, giving employees a single destination for everything they need – and making sure that destination is fully accessible by mobile devices. This makes technology not just a way to talk to employees, but a tool for enhancing the employment experience.

Exchange change: Return of the small groups

With the ongoing “exchit” (exchange exit) of insurers such as UnitedHealthcare and Aetna, we’re seeing a return of small business group health coverage. To provide viable plans that meet smaller groups’ needs, insurers are getting creative and offering options that didn’t exist a couple of years ago. So, once again, just when you thought you had a handle on all your options, you have more homework to do. The best approach? We’ll repeat ourselves here: Create a multi-year benefits plan guided by an overriding people strategy, and adjust to course alterations as they come.

A post-generation workforce

With as many as five generations in the workforce at once (Traditionalists, Boomers, Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z), organizations are realizing that the key to harmony is not to focus on the generations but, instead, to focus on the individuals and help everyone see what they have in common: They all benefit if the organization succeeds. Smart employers will respect generational differences but spend less time acknowledging those differences and more time building bridges.

Back to strategic thinking

With 2016’s focus on Fair Labor Standards Act compliance, employers were forced to think tactically about compensation, worrying over whether all positions were classified appropriately based on the salary basis, level, and duties test. In 2017, we expect employers to get back to strategic thinking on compensation, evaluating how their HR policies and programs support the work culture they want to build. Sure: Discussing when, where, how, and how long people work each day will be part of the conversation, but only part of it. The bigger focus will be on making sure people strategies directly support business strategy.

For the last few years – thanks to the Affordable Care Act, new regulations, and demographic trends – employers were often forced to focus energy on reacting to what was going on around them. Now, savvy employers are taking charge once again, strategically strengthening their firms by creating workplaces that give their people meaning, make them feel valued, and equip them to succeed in their careers and their lives. That’s a trend we can all appreciate.

Bryan Brenner is founder and CEO of Indianapolis-based FirstPerson.

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