Which trends took off?

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

I started our Tea & Toast series for 2021 with a look at workplace trends that were tipped to take hold over the year. It seemed like the decent thing to review them at this end of the year.
The nine trends were from an article by Brian Kropp in HBR. I’ve also taken some peeps ahead using Visier’s Workplace Trends 2022.

Crystal ball on sand with bright sky
Photo by Louis Maniquet on Unsplash

Trend 1: Employers will shift from managing the employee experience to managing the life experience of their employees

The idea that my life experience might be managed by my employer continues to strike me as slightly sinister.


So I’m relieved to see Visier’s trends for 2022 include “Employee experience elevates to customer experience levels”. That suggests the shift to managing life experience hasn’t taken universal hold. I wasn't aware of employees having life experience managed in New Zealand, but maybe I don’t mix in the right circles!


The idea of putting employee experience on par with customer experience sits more comfortably with me. Like customers, employees have a choice about whether to engage with a business. And if they don’t have a great experience, they can move on. Employees are a foundation of business success, so managing their experience makes sense.


Trend 2: More companies will adopt stances on current societal and political debates

When I responded to this trend in February, I anticipated it showing up through employees investigating employers’ commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi, environmental issues, the living wage, or commitment to diversity and inclusion.


It was quick work to find examples of companies that have taken these stances.


Te Hiringa Hauora is an example of an organisation that has integrated Te Tiriti o Waitangi into its strategic direction. The name, which means ‘the unrelenting pursuit of wellbeing’, guides the work.


Thirty-three New Zealand companies have B Corp certification, joining a global community of business which meet ‘the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.’


The campaign to ensure all workers get paid a living wage continues. The New Zealand Living Wage hourly rate for 2021/22 was set on 1 September 2021 at $22.75 per hour.


And we’ve certainly seen an increase in demand for work on diversity and inclusion, although this still feels like tentative exploration rather than wholehearted adoption of a stance.


Trend 3: The gender-wage gap will continue to increase as employees return to the office

New Zealand is bucking this trend, particularly in the public service. But the impact of the pandemic threatens progress because of the disproportionate impact on jobs that are filled by women.


In 2000, the gap was 14% across the whole workforce, and 17% in the public service. By 2020, the gap in the public service closed to just under 6%, and to 9.5% across the whole workforce.


In 2021, it’s down to 9.1%. According to the CTU, relative to Pākehā men, Pākehā women started working for nothing on 15 November. Pasifika women reached that milestone on 22 September, Māori women on 3 October, and Asian women on 23 October.


Trend 4: New regulations will limit employee monitoring

The pandemic demanded that people work from home and accelerated the normalisation of flexible working. These changes have tested organisations' willingness to trust employees: what are you doing, for how long, and to what effect? Employers can monitor employees to answer these questions, but without conversation and connection, the measures may not tell the whole story of performance.


Employment New Zealand sums up the risks beautifully:

"Monitoring staff can affect their morale and productivity because they may feel that they are not trusted by their employer. Employers need to be mindful of the different privacy concerns that arise when monitoring or filming occurs in the employee’s home environment."


Trend 5: Flexibility will shift from location to time

Auckland’s 107-day lockdown, from August to December 2021, proved that many jobs can be done away from the usual workplace. At this point I can’t find research on when that work happened, but look forward it being published eventually.


Anecdotal stories suggest that work wasn’t always done between 8am and 5pm. Does the time of completion affect the value of a piece of work? Or should the questions be about the possibilities for collaboration?


Another element of flexibility with time is the notion of what constitutes a full-time job. Visier’s trends for 2022 include “Productivity focuses on output—not hours put in”. It cites the Icelandic experiment with paying people the same rate for a four-day working week as for five days, and seeing an increase in productivity—and happiness.


Trend 6: Leading companies will make bulk purchases of the Covid vaccine for employees—and will be sued over Covid vaccine requirements

This trend assumes a culture and appetite for litigation that I would have said was not part of the New Zealand culture or psyche. Turns out I was wrong!


As of 7 December 2021, 88% of eligible people are fully vaccinated and 94% partially vaccinated.


But not everyone wants to be vaccinated and some don’t see the need. A couple of groups have mounted legal challenges to the vaccine mandate. One from midwives was dismissed in the High Court, and others are pending.


Some business owners have decided to close rather than be vaccinated or require staff or customers to be vaccinated. Lee Vandervis, an elected Councillor in Dunedin, was unable to prove his vaccination status at a Council meeting in December and was trespassed from the building. He argues that restricting him based on vaccination status is illegal.


Trend 7: Mental health support is the new normal

This is more of an ‘if only’. The collective experience of lockdown did bring mental health conversations to the surface. Some of those conversations were about the strain on an under-resourced system.


In the absence of a magic trick to produce mental health professionals and services from nowhere, advice on simple measures is increasingly available. Never underestimate the power of talking: ‘Take time to korero – a little chat can go a long way’ was the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021.


Trend 8: Employers will look to “rent” talent to fill the skills gap

In February, my response to this was to think about the skills gaps around cultural competency. Yes, I’m looking for examples that validate my response and I found it in the vaccine rollout. Māori health and community leaders make a compelling case for the lower vaccination rates amongst Māori being an inevitable outcome of applying a ‘one size fits all’ approach. In this case, perhaps it’s more accurate to say funders did not realise the value of culturally competent talent.


And that’s the nub of it: understand the skills gap. What problems are you facing? What skills do you need?


Trend 9: States will compete to attract individual talent rather than trying to get companies to relocate

This trend loses something in the translation from the US to the New Zealand context. The pandemic has highlighted the extent of our reliance on the international workforce, as seasonal workers and specialists. Visier’s trends for 2022 offer a possible response, “Work becomes an experiment in radical flexibility”. The suggestions are about flexibility within workplaces. New Zealand as a whole has to take a more flexible approach to getting the talent we need, and some steps are underway.