2008 Workworld Predictions: Looking into the Crystal Ball, Part I — Big Picture Trends

This year, as always, many writers offer predictions for the coming year regarding various aspects of employment and human resources.

The following is an effort to summarize these forecasts from a number of sources and assemble them in one place for quick comparison, followed by a few humble thoughts of my own. However, the reader is urged to follow the links to the original articles, as each one contains much more thorough discussions, often backed by statistics and other hard facts.

Part II will look at predictions for specific occupations and industries, and macroeconomic trends.

It may be interesting to compare these predictions to our collection from January 2007



— WorldatWork: Human Capital Management Predictions for 2008 (Recruiting Trends) –

WorldatWork, an association of HR professionals, “recently released a whitepaper focusing on eight key predictions showcasing trends and events that may influence the nature of human capital management in 2008 and beyond.”

These predictions on the future of work are:

1. The successful organization of the future will excel at acquiring, organizing and strategically deploying global resources.

2. There will be increased global connectivity, integration and interdependence in the economic, social, technological, cultural and political spheres.

3. Technology will advance at an even more rapid pace than in previous decades.

4. There will be continuous, dramatic changes in the labor force.

5. Human capital will become an even greater source of value.

6. The way work is organized and performed will evolve and change continuously.

7. Outsourcing will increase.

8. Self-paced, self-directed individualized virtual learning will dominate business training.

Pretty safe, fortune-cookie-like bets, except possibly the last two, I’d say.

– i4CP (Institute for Corporate Productivity): Forecasts for the 2008 Workplace

Introducing its own list of eight, i4CP says: “Okay, forecast is too strong a word. Prediction is even more precarious. So let’s speak the truth and just call them educated guesses.” Here they are:

  1. Productivity “is going to be an even higher priority in 2008.” Factors cited: “U.S. has seen dismal productivity growth recently”; global productivity competition is heating up; “[c]ompanies are also going to worry . . . about the possibility of economic sluggishness partly brought on by a housing downturn and the subprime mortgage mess.”
  2. “Companies might also become more cautious about making new hires in the current climate even as they focus more intensely on issues such as performance management.”
  3. “A growing focus on legacies as well as retirements.” “[I]n preparation for impending retirements, more employers . . . are starting to examine internal practices and management practices.” Many “hard-working Boomers . . . have a more immediate issue to consider: What will they be leaving behind?” “In 2008, this question will loom larger as the Boomers . . . endeavor to leave behind professional legacies of which they can be proud.”
  4. Acquisitions of U.S. Firms. “[M]ergers and acquisitions activity in 2008 will be driven by corporate and foreign buyers.”
  5. Retaining and developing talent.“A 2007 i4cp Talent Management survey found that most . . . respondents do not believe their companies are especially good at talent management. That’s a problem companies will work to address in 2008.” “[T]op priorities of high-level HR executives over the next two years will [include] retaining talent and developing leaders.” “[M]any organizations will be focused not only on developing talent but also on systems for tracking talent and planning how it will be used.”
  6. Taking on multitasking. “The need to address productivity issues related to multitasking will grow.” “[I]n today’s complex, highly collaborative workplace, the desire to try to multitask is stronger than ever. In 2008, employers will focus more on tools and strategies for addressing this problem.”
  7. Tackling skills and knowledge deficits among young people. “In the U.S., worker skill levels will become a rising concern, especially in terms of reading abilities.” “Employers will increasingly need to consider ways of addressing this issue.” “[S]ome experts believe that a whole new approach to learning is in order, one geared toward the interests and habits of a generation growing up in a multimedia entertainment universe.”
  8. Staying agile and resilient. “Above all else, organizations must continue to be adaptable in 2008. They’ll not only need to be agile enough to move quickly toward new opportunities, . . . tough and resilient enough to take a hit, whether that’s in the form of an economic slump, a strong new competitor, or a radical change in the market. After all, by far the safest forecast for 2008 is that a lot of unexpected things are going to happen.”

– insiderecruiting: CareerBuilder Sees 8 Recruiting Trends Gaining From Slow, Steady Job Growth In 2008

Yup, another list of eight (whatever happened to “top ten” lists?)

Slow, but steady. That’s the prediction for job growth in 2008 from CareerBuilder. The largest job board in the U.S. says about a third of the hiring managers and HR professionals it surveyed expect to be adding new, permanent workers. Just under half say they expect no change.

CareerBuilder’s “2008 Job Forecast” report more or less tracks with a forecast issued earlier this month by Manpower. The staffing firm’s “Employment Outlook” found 60% of the employers it surveyed expect no hiring increase, 22% did. While the numbers don’t match because the methodologies are different, both surveys point to continued recruiting challenges in 2008.

CareerBuilder found that 27% of the survey respondents complained that the quality of job applicants had declined since last year, which may explain why 40% of employers have open positions for which they can’t find qualified candidates.

The “Job Forecast” identified eight recruitment and retention trends for 2008:

  1. Bigger paychecks. Of the 80% expecting to increase wages, 64% say it will be by at least 3%; 17% say 5%or more.
  2. Flexible work arrangements are on the rise. 60% of employers offer flexible work plans now – typically shifted start and quit times, condensed work weeks, or telecommuting; 39% expect to offer some form of flex-time in 2008.
  3. “Online candidate screening will grow, and not just the use of qualifying pre-app questions, but full-blown searching of social networking sites and search engine checks.”
  4. “Boomerangs and retiree hires will increase as companies feel the steady pressure from the loss of more and more experienced workers.”
  5. “Recruiting diversity workers, especially those bi-lingual in Spanish, will continue to be an important focus of recruiters. Survey respondents specifically mentioned Latinos, women, African Americans, and mature workers.”
  6. “Contract workers will continue to be a key part of the workforce mix for 31% of the companies responding to the survey.”
  7. “Perks and benefits will get more attention from companies who want to remain competitive in attracting and keeping workers. “[O]ne in five employers say they plan to offer more comprehensive or better health benefits.”
  8. “26% of the surveyed companies are likely to provide more promotions and career advancement opportunities in 2008.”

– WSJ CareerJournal: What’s Ahead for Volunteering, Flex Time and Working Moms

It’s been a year of significant work-life gains for many employees, with the expanding economy driving increases in work-at-home and other forms of job flexibility.

Although a shaky economy could jeopardize those gains, other new patterns are emerging, driven in part by a new generation of young people in the work force.

Three work-life trends for 2008:

  1. “High-quality part-time gigs for skilled workers will multiply, amid growth in staffing firms and job boards promoting flexible hours.”

  2. “Volunteer work will start looking more like career tracks,
    as at-home mothers cultivate skills that will transfer to paid jobs.”
  3. “Mothers will announce their pregnancies earlier at work, reflecting a cultural tell-all trend. . . . outing one’s pregnancy before the customary second trimester will seem normal.”

Bravely, this forecaster also took “a look back”

My 2002 forecast that at-home dads would wax and wane with the economy was borne out. The proportion of married fathers at home with kids peaked at 5.5% in 2003, following the recession that began in 2001, then eased to 4.8% in 2006 as job opportunities lured men back to work.

My forecast in 2000 of a back-to-basics trend in employee benefits wasn’t true for long. I underestimated the impact of trendsetters such as Google, where such lavish perks as on-site massages and gourmet cafeterias are raising the bar for employers competing to be seen as good places to work.

– KansasCity.com: Here are some workplace trends for 2008

This workplace journalist starts with a modest disclaimer:

My crystal ball is only as good as the ones used by the experts, the so-called experts, and the John and Jane Does who communicate with me.

She then offers “some sure and not-so-sure bets for 2008″:

  1. Workplace regulatory changes will likely be “put on hold pending the outcome of the presidential election.”
  2. “[I]f and when a Democrat takes the White House, expect to see the Employee Free Choice Act,” which would require employers to bargain with unions if a majority of employees sign union cards, without an NLRB secret ballot election.”
  3. “Workplaces will become more actively involved in saving natural resources and slowing energy consumption.”
  4. More employers will “create — and push employees to take advantage of — healthful lifestyle programs.”
  5. Health insurance costs will continue to increase, and more small-business operators will say they can’t afford employee health coverage.
  6. More small businesses will “look for ways to reduce the cost of benefits administration by turning to professional employer organizations” (PEOs).
  7. “Expect the long-predicted wave of baby-boomer retirements to gain steam.”
  8. I”[E]xpect more age discrimination charges to be filed.
  9. Expect to see some major tests of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which offers job protection for military personnel called to active duty.”
  10. “Expect more attention to security in the workplace.”
  11. “Expect to see the employment door continue to revolve. Job tenure is spinning … down to less than four years in the private sector.”

Whew! Still with me?

Here are a few things in my personal employment law crystal ball:

  1. Wal-Mart will not settle its sex discrimination class action (in 2008).
  2. The Supreme Court’s ruling on “me-too” evidence will be far from unanimous, will be hailed as a victory by both sides, and in the end will not change the law very much.
  3. As companies tighten their belts for economic reasons, reductions in force will lead to age discrimination claims as usual, but perhaps fewer than in previous slowdowns. (Yes, I do expect a slowdown, if not full recession.) At least some companies will have learned from past mistakes. Many will play it safe with more generous severance packages being exchanged for full releases.
  4. Class-action employment litigation will proceed apace and multiply, especially in the areas of hiring and promotion discrimination and overtime.
  5. Noncompete and trade-secret litigation will be a growth area, driven by diminished employee loyalty and longevity, and by the ease of using electronic means (e.g., thumb drives, email, cell phone cameras) to steal trade secrets. Effective use of electronic discovery by employers will catch some such purloiners red-handed.
  6. The uneasy alliance of employers and unions on health care reform will strengthen, as both parties seek to get this issue off the bargaining table and focus on others (flexibility, productivity, and wages, for starters).

Photo credit: Isobel T via flickr
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