Trends

Take a closer look at the top 4 workplace trends of 2017

Say hello to the workplace of 2017: performance reviews and permanent jobs are out, and the gig economy and family violence leave are in.

By Nicola Heath

Like much of life in the 21st century, the way we work is in constant flux. The top workplace trends we’ll observe in 2017 reflect dramatic changes in management practices, working conditions, technology, and social attitudes.

1. End of the performance review

Annual performance reviews are out and regular feedback is in.

Organisations like Accenture, Deloitte, GE and Adobe are replacing annual reviews with ‘continuous conversations’ that provide ongoing feedback throughout the year.

“Traditional cycles of annual reviews, forced rankings and ratings are increasingly unsuited to today’s work environment,” says Stefanie Bradley, KPMG’s national managing partner in People and Change. Annual appraisals, she says, are often perceived as prioritising compliance over the improvement of performance and employee engagement.

A new best practice model is yet to emerge. “We are in a phase of experimentation,” says Bradley. Some approaches de-couple performance ratings from pay decisions, while others move away from “focusing on the negative side of past performance and instead focusing on employees’ strengths as opportunities for growth and development.” 

At Deloitte, a new performance management framework features weekly or fortnightly conversations, quarterly performance snapshots, an eight-question pulse survey for employees and a four-question performance check-in for managers.

Experts are weighing in too. Dr Tim Baker, author of The End of the Performance Review and director of Winners At Work, advocates switching focus from time-consuming performance reviews to performance development. Jon Windust, chief executive of HR software provider Cognology, says performance management should be a forward-looking process, not a backward-looking review.

No matter what system is adopted, good planning, fairness and transparency remain paramount. KPMG has developed a checklist for organisations seeking to update their performance management approach:

  1. Active endorsement from the top and clear link to the business strategy
  2. Increased focus on talent management in the company
  3. Attention to the employee experience and the psychology of performance
  4. Training for managers along with time allocation to do PM well and incentives / recognition
  5. Change management and communications effort to the impacted groups
  6. Push to identify low performers
  7. Approach to developing top performers
  8. Alignment of reward mechanisms

2. Family violence leave

Domestic violence is firmly on the national agenda. Statistics show a disturbing picture in Australia, where one in four women have experienced domestic violence.

Its economic cost is beginning to be better comprehended too. A 2015 PwC report estimates that domestic violence costs the Australian economy $21.7 billion a year.

“We’re seeing increasing recognition that workplaces have a positive role to play in supporting their people experiencing domestic violence,” says Elizabeth Shaw, President of UN Women Australia National Committee and Deputy Chair of Inclusion WA.

Part of that role is the proposed addition of family violence leave to workers’ benefits. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has made an application to the Fair Work Commission to include 10 days of family violence leave in all award wage agreements. 

As it stands today the National Employment Standards under the Fair Work Act 2009 allow an employee to request flexible working arrangements on the grounds of family violence.

“We’re seeing increasing recognition that workplaces have a positive role to play in supporting their people experiencing domestic violence.”

ACTU president Ged Kearney says domestic violence is more than just an economic issue. “If we don’t do something now we will be guilty of turning a blind eye to the single biggest contributor to death, illness or disability of women between 15 and 44 years of age,” she said in a press release.

“Family and domestic violence affects one in six women and two thirds of these women are in paid employment. We know that employment is one of the most significant factors in determining whether a person stays, leaves or returns to a violent relationship.”

On this issue, the private sector is leading the way, says Shaw. “Australia’s leading organisations are introducing domestic violence support policies, aiming to keep their people safe and support them to remain in the workplace.”

Telstra, National Australia Bank, Dulux and KPMG are among high profile businesses in Australia that offer staff some form of domestic violence leave. NSW dairy cooperative Norco is the latest major employer to grant employees domestic violence leave, offering three days paid leave in a deal brokered by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

“Importantly, leaders in these organisations are speaking out about why violence against women is unacceptable and the link between violence against women and gender inequality,” says Shaw.

Workplace trends: gig economy

Millennials are embracing the gig economy. Credit: iStock/gpointstudio

3. The rise of the gig economy

In 2017 we’ll see the continued rise of the gig economy.

Once, a career meant a permanent, fulltime role, with four weeks’ annual leave and paid sick leave. Nine-to-five (or in practice, eight-to-six) offered stability and a safety net. The cost was flexibility.

Today many professionals are opting to work on a freelance basis, forgoing a permanent job in favour of the flexibility afforded by self-employment. Technology means that people can work from anywhere and have access to digital marketplaces like Airbnb, Uber and Etsy where they can sell their services.

The gig economy is particularly suited to millennials, who make work-life balance a priority and will change jobs and careers many times during their lives.

For business, an ‘on-demand’ workforce has many advantages. Savings are made on employee benefits, smaller offices and reduced training costs. It also makes more affordable access to highly-qualified, highly-paid individuals who can be employed on a short-term basis.   

There is a downside for workers. Reduced job security can result in higher levels of work-related stress. While it might suit the highly-skilled, who can set their own price, some worry the system risks creating an exploited “digital proletariat” of workers who are paid very little for piecemeal work. And then there is the possibility of “the rise of an anxious, disenfranchised workforce glued to their smartphones or laptops, waiting for the next gig to materialise.” 

4. Automation

Automation could replace 40% of Australian jobs in the next 15 years. Automation could replace 40% of Australian jobs in the next 15 years.

It’s widely acknowledged that up to 40 per cent of Australian jobs could be replaced by automation in the next 15 years.

What jobs are at risk? Anything that involves repeatable, analytical tasks, says Kristin Alford, Director of the Science Creativity Education (Sci.C.Ed) Studio at the University of South Australia. “Anything where you’re looking over a database and trying to find information, we’re getting better and better at automating that process.” 

Jobs in transport will also be among the first to go. In October 2016, a self-driving truck owned by San Francisco start-up Otto (bought by Uber in 2015) ferried 50,000 cans of beer from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs. The 200-kilometre journey marked the world’s first autonomous truck delivery.

Autonomous vehicles are already in use in the mining industry, which is also using automation to make dangerous jobs obsolete. Construction is set to be affected too, thanks to the rise of 3D printing. 

Chatbots are replacing call centre staff thanks to advances in voice recognition technology which Alford says is becoming more and more intelligent. “We already respond to chatbot helpers on screen to sort out low level issues,” she points out.

Customer-facing roles are also being automated. In many stores around Japan, customers are greeted by Pepper, a humanoid robot able to recognise human emotions. In Australia, last year property services firm JLL installed Sydney’s first humanoid robot receptionist, known as JiLL, at its Carrington Street office.

Considering the enormous scope of automation’s potential application in a diverse range of industries, “40 per cent starts to be a little bit conservative,” says Alford.

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