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Five Workplace Trends for 2012

As the year winds down, talent managers need to address and capitalize on workplace trends in an effort to move their organizations forward.

December 15, 2011
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The recession has impacted how individuals view work and the workplace. Though it may appear little has changed as employees who’ve managed to keep their jobs hunker down, try not to get noticed and wait things out, the workplace continues to evolve as new trends emerge. Leaders must proactively address these trends to ensure their organizations evolve toward growth.

Here are a few workplace trends talent leaders can expect to see in the upcoming year:

Movement from management principles to leadership values. Employees are savvy, and although they have been relatively quiet waiting for things to return to normal from the recession, they’ve been carefully watching. Cookie-cutter, old-school or command-and-control approaches to managing people are becoming less effective; employees can determine when an organization’s walk doesn’t fit the talk, and they are getting impatient working for managers who are less self-aware than they are. Instead, individuals today must lead with values such as collaboration and shared purpose. By engaging the workforce in a compelling shared vision and engaging their hearts as well as their minds, leaders can reap the best results.

A focus on workplace culture as a means to grow the business. Some of the best organizations — including Whole Foods, Panera, SAS and Google — spend little on marketing, yet put time, energy and resources into making sure they have a sustainable culture. When a company is perceived to be one that really cares about its employees, it can prove to be a great PR or branding opportunity. Customers patronize businesses that care about their employees, and will even pay more if they believe their values are shared by the company.

Diversity makes a comeback. Today organizations have a renewed interest in diversity, and it has to do with the customer and shareholders. From a customer relations perspective, companies need people inside their organizations who are representative of the people they are trying to reach outside. Recent research from McKinsey and ION shows a correlation between having more women on corporate boards of directors and higher company earnings. And in light of recent legislation mandating greater board diversity in Europe, many American companies are looking to get ahead of the curve. Diversity may become the new “green” or “sustainable.”

Rise of virtual work relationships. We are all aware of the downside of instant access technology gadgets that make employees feel on call 24/7, but the upside is that technology as well as social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook make it easier to maintain relationships with current and past co-workers. This enables greater amounts of information and expertise to be shared and leveraged, and employees are becoming known for who they know and can access, rather than how much time they log in the office. This will be particularly important as aging baby boomers stay in the workforce longer than planned, but demand more flexibility in where, when and how they work.

Organizations are getting flatter. In a similar vein, instant access technology means employees are not as dependent on the hierarchies of the past for information. Corporate downsizings have already winnowed down many layers of management. Employees realize they need their co-workers to be successful, but they are less interested in where people sit in the organization than in what they know. With these developments, managers can expect a new definition of teamwork. It used to be about “playing your positions,” but the new mindset is that everyone chips in and does what is needed.

Deborah Busser is a partner at Essex Partners, a consultancy that specializes in senior executive and C-suite career transition. She can be reached at

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