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5 of the biggest workplace trends to watch in 2019

Debby Carreau, CEO of Inspired HR and a member of the CNBC-YPO Chief Executive Network
Key Points
  • Demographic shifts and data analytics are spurring change in the workplace.
  • Gen Z workers are expected to comprise 36 percent of the workforce by 2020.
  • Seniors will work longer putting off retirement.
  • More employees will want to align with employers that have a social mission.
  • Increasingly employers will track workers using data analytics.
Jonah Stillman is a Gen Z consultant and public speaker that advises on how his generation fits in the workplace and gives tactics on how to market to them. 
Courtesy of Jonah Stillman

Every year brings unique and sometimes wacky new workplace initiatives. 2018 brought us examples such as such as implanting RFID microchips in employees or only allowing them to expense vegetarian food, but there are also important trends that you might see arriving in your workplace in 2019. Some of the more creative initiatives we have seen are Vermont offering a $10,000 incentive for remote workers to move there, and an insurance firm in New Zealand conducting an academically rigorous trial of a 4-day work week with great success.

From welcoming a new generation into the workforce to understanding how your company collects data about you, these are the 5 biggest workplace trends that you'll see as we move into 2019:

1. Gen Z is joining your workforce

Gen Z is rapidly joining the workforce with the oldest members of the generation being 23 years-old. They're expected to comprise up to 36 percent of the global workforce by 2020, and companies are adapting their people strategies to ensure that they can attract and retain young talent. These new entrants are digital natives who expect strategic use of software and technology in the workplace, as they are the first generation to grow up entirely in an internet-centric society.

Even if you're not a member of Gen Z, you'll start seeing software strategies, solutions and training trickling into your workplace because if your organization doesn't offer them, Gen Z will find an employer that will in short order. The flipside of their technological competence will be a decrease in soft skills such as professional written communication and somewhat ironically, an emphasis or preference for in person meetings versus electronic. As a teammate you can help their transition into the workforce by making sure that you listen to their ideas and being transparent with them from day one. Being aware of Gen Z's idiosyncrasies can assist you in integrate them into your existing team more quickly and efficiently, and help ensure your workplace is the right fit for everyone.

2. Your 100-year life span

In addition to focusing on young employees joining the workforce, a similar emphasis is being put on shifting career and life paths across all generations. In developed nations with more access to effective healthcare, more and more people are reaching their 100th birthday, meaning that careers will be longer than we've ever seen before. Companies and their employees are planning for rising retirement ages by reviewing the role of pensions, benefits and physical or schedule accommodations for older and more senior employees. As an example, Japan expects half of all babies born currently to live to or past 100 and is taking the idea of the "100 Year Life" so seriously that Shinzo Abe's cabinet worked between September 2017 and June 2018 to create a formalized structure for a 'Human Resources Revolution'. The plan will allow the government to provide businesses and educational institutions support aging workers with initiatives such as increased pensions and medical supports.

Musketeer | Getty Images

If you are looking for career growth, consider asking your manager about moving horizontally across your organization instead of just aiming for the traditionally vertical promotion. With people changing careers and jobs more frequently throughout their longer life spans, companies are preparing for a more dynamic workforce with workers looking to continually expand their skillsets cross-functionally. Diversifying your resume and skillset will allow you to contribute to your business, while also giving you increased job security and flexibility across what could be a very long career.

3. Be better than good. Period.

As a lot of tech and retail giants have seen recently, doing good isn't good enough. With a tumultuous global political climate, and governments that respond to crises at the pace of moving glaciers with little accountability it is up to business leaders to pick up the slack and as such, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become more important than ever. Societal expectations and employee demands are becoming the rules by which companies must now operate, and they must be willing and ready to respond to these new demands. Amazon and Target launching livable wage initiatives setting minimum wage targets of $15/hour following public outcry is a perfect example. Employees' ethical concerns also have an increasing presence in strategy, an example being Google's recent scrapping of a Pentagon cloud computing proposal after employee outcry over the possible weaponization of AI.

Companies are increasingly working to align their mission, vision, and values with those of their employees. However, 56 percent of organizations don't have CSR as a priority and you have the voice and ability to be a part of bridging that gap. If your company doesn't have any CSR programs in place, consider suggesting a potential CSR initiative. CSR comes in many forms including providing livable wages, supporting environmental sustainability initiatives, facilitating community programs, charitable donations, volunteering, or getting a certification of social responsibility (i.e. becoming a B Corp).

4. Prepare for the rise of the gig economy

It's no secret that the gig economy – comprised of individual contract or project work – is on the rise at the same time as many companies are seeing increased turnover. You may have seen the effects in your own workplace. Employee engagement is low globally, and in addition, younger employees indicate that they are significantly more likely to leave their organization within five years than to stay beyond five years. Because of these factors, businesses are now moving away from trying to keep employees around longer and are instead reducing costs associated with turnover and embracing the gig economy. It is particularly prominent in industries that have changing labor demands for different projects – one project may need 15 people while another may need 150.

While the flexibility and control offered by contract or gig work can seem appealing, it is important to be aware of the limitations and challenges it represents versus full-time employment. Contract workers often don't receive health benefits and generally have less job security which may necessitate a shift in the way that the workforce approaches employment decisions. For example, families may need to have one spouse working in a traditional or full-time role to ensure their family receives health benefits coverage, leaving the other partner free to participate in individual contracts and projects. As well, if you are working in the gig economy ensure you are consistently developing a diverse and current skillset to remain competitive.

5. All about you (and your data)

Consumer data has been a hot-button issue as businesses use it to inform their decisions, but companies are now starting to gather more employee data for similar purposes. Employee data has historically been used to inform people strategies such as recruitment, retention, performance management and training. With more tech and social media in the workplace, employers have a greater ability to collect and evaluate employee behaviors. Some companies are analyzing communication patterns on internal messaging systems, tracking geographical locations, and giving their employees health trackers to collect health data.

Health tracking in particular is expected to see significant growth as smart watches with health tracking functionality like the Apple Watch are now being included in employee wellness plans. It is anticipated that by 2021, 90 percent of wellness plans in the U.S. will include health trackers.

As an employee it is advisable to be aware of what data your employer is gathering and what they're using it for. Collecting data without compromising employee trust is imperative, and businesses must be transparent about what they are collecting and using your data for. It may be a cause for concern if they are not communicating the strategies and initiatives that justify their data collection. Most often there is no cause for alarm, but it is important for employees to educated and informed regarding data collection, just as they would in their personal lives.

As the workplace continues to evolve to meet rapidly shifting demands, it increasingly falls on employees to be self-advocates and educators to avoid being left behind. Continuously expand your skillset, stay open-minded to new individuals and experiences, and understand how you fit into the future of your workplace to remain competitive as we move into 2019 and beyond.

By Debby Carreau, CEO of Inspired HR and a member of the CNBC-YPO Chief Executive Network

About YPO

CNBC and YPO have formed an exclusive editorial partnership consisting of regional "Chief Executive Networks" in the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific. These Chief Executive Networks are made up of a sample of YPO's global network of 26,000 top executives from 130 countries who are on the front lines of the economy and run companies that collectively generate $9 trillion in annual revenue.