2018 Workforce Trends: 6 Ways to Elevate Your Talent Game

Want to attract talent with less effort, expense, delays or headaches in the coming months? Or keep’em from jumping ship to a competitor in a year or two?

Today’s workers have shrinking tolerance for inefficiencies, delays, and wasteful practices. They don’t want to exist amongst “live-to-work” conditions. Rather, they crave jobs that enhance their lifestyle with built-in flexibility, growth opportunities, and support for life facets impacting job performance, such as financial and mental wellness.

How do we know? Beyond routine feedback from employers we serve, we poured over a stack of market studies, reports and insights, noting a few recurring themes. Below we highlight six trends impacting your recruitment and retention outcomes in the weeks and months ahead.

1. Upskilling & New Learning Credentials

Investing in employees’ professional development has always been a smart move — it’s both an investment back into internal capabilities and a way to show workers you value them. For many employers, it’s also a necessity as they struggle to cover skills gaps, and reduce their reliance on external service contracts.

Workers are also hungry to upgrade their skills, opting for self-directed training and online certifications over traditional learning, reports the Pew Research Center. “Younger generations are starting to resist the traditional degree due to the ever-increasing cost of tuition,” writes Dan Schawbel for Forbes. Instead, they’re seeking out low-cost online courses and mentoring.

For that reason, you’ll notice a growing number of candidates with credentials from Coursera, Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, and the like. Candidates also favor an employer who’ll continue to invest in their skills.

In any case, growing employee skills will benefit your bottom line: “When teams are appropriately trained, companies save an average of $70,000 annually and receive a 10% increase in productivity,” writes Schawbel.

2. Tech Tools: Automation & AI

Want to turn off top talent and drive them to other employers? Then ignore their digital addiction.

Adopting tools that mimic the ease, access and instant gratification of social media and texting can help you fill positions faster, and with less effort.

Josh Miller, who runs a pre-employment testing company, tells Forbes that 2018 is the year when tech tools will drive recruitment efficiencies, including:

  • Recruitment of passive candidates you might find in online forums, social media, and other channels
  • Accelerating candidate screening and responsiveness by texting them
  • Blind hiring to counter potential bias by interviewers
  • Remote worker management and communications
  • Gamification, turning tests and performance goals into fun interactions
  • Gathering instant feedback
  • Eliminating manual processes

Along those lines, you’ll also see a big jump in automation and artificial intelligence (AI) adoption in the workforce. “Almost every new device and service will contain AI in the next few years,” writes Schawbel. He cites chatbots as an example, which are expected to save companies more than $79 million in salary expenses each year.

Other employers in your space may be further ahead in the technology game than you suspect. In early 2017, Deloitte researchers reported 41% of surveyed companies said they’ve fully implemented or made significant progress in adopting AI technologies within their workforce, and another 34% have pilot programs underway. Don’t be part of the remaining 25% still twiddling their thumbs.

3. Financial Wellness

With eight out of 10 Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck and swimming in debt, workers are struggling financially, and it’s crippling their job performance, writes Schawbel. “Northwestern Mutual reports more than a quarter of millennials say financial stress affects their job performance and made them feel physically ill and depressed,” he adds.

It’s no wonder many organizations are adding financial guidance to their menu of perks, sponsoring classes, helping with loans, and offering identity theft protection, among other benefits.

Employee Benefit Adviser (EBA), a magazine for employee benefit professionals, recently reported on a survey by the Society for Human Resources Management. Nearly 50% of surveyed employers said they offer investment planning, 48% offer individual retirement planning, and 44% offer retirement prep guidance. Overall, that’s about a 12% increase in financial guidance in the past five years.

As an example, EBA cites the Denver-based Regional Transportation District (RTD), which helped some of its employees pay off more than $60,000 in debt by offering Smart Dollar, a program by money management expert Dave Ramsey. At a cost of $125 per employee per year, RTD deems it a good investment “because financial upset causes a lot of problems in the workplace.”

You’ll also notice wider adoption of benefits that promote mental wellness and physical health, for the same reasons — both impact employee performance, retention and ROI. 

4. New Retirement Patterns and the Return of Older Workers

Many workers entering retirement soon find they’re unfulfilled, have much more to offer the marketplace, or simply can’t afford to stop working. Health insurance and drug costs alone are compelling many retirees to return to the workforce, reports U.S. News. Many others are living longer and healthier lives than past generations, and have no desire to slow down.

In all, two-thirds of workers say they plan to work in retirement or not retire at all, says CBS News, citing data from AARP and Transamerica studies.

That’s good news to employers. Older workers often come with deep expertise and understanding of their strengths. Plus, “reengaging older workers who are non-participants in the job market can be up to 25% cheaper than poaching an employee from a similar company,” writes Estelle Pin of TINYpulse for Human Resources Today.

And yet, retirement dollars still matter. CBS News says more than half of all workers aren’t covered by a retirement savings or pension program through their employer — an attractive benefit to workers of all ages.

You know what else is attractive? Unbiased help with retirement planning, as opposed to counselors who might be more interested in making a sale. Robert Powell, editor of Retirement Weekly, told CBS News he expects software-based robot-advisors will rise in popularity, enabling better decision-making. In any case, retirement trends and offerings are changing quickly, and you’ll want to keep an eye on them.

5. Flexibility: Wider Adoption & Demand

Work-life balance is an old concept, but one that many employers struggle to deliver. It remains a key consideration for job seekers and existing employees mapping out their next career steps.

Amenities like ping-pong tables, video games and snacks haven’t quite cut it. What workers really want is more flexibility and control over when, where and how they work.

Don’t get us wrong: Looking for ways to infuse fun into the workplace still has its value, but companies that facilitate work-life balance have greater hiring successes, says Estelle Pin of TINYpulse. That includes the flexibility to work remotely, generous or even unlimited paid time off, and flexible work schedules.

Your organization might also benefit from considering candidates who’ve chosen the freelancing or consulting route so they can better control their time and career path. In fact, a study by Randstad titled “Workplace 2025” predicts 69% of workers will choose agile careers (i.e., temporary, contract, consultant or freelance roles) by 2019. You might find your best candidate may not be a permanent or full-time employee.

6. Meaningful Engagement

Employee engagement is one of those buzzwords employers like to work into their scripts and promotional materials, but few manage to get it right. Those that do see a significant growth in productivity and profits — benefits that are widely reported and well documented.

Put simply, an engaged employee believes their work is purposeful, their contribution is valued, their voice is heard, and they see opportunities for growth where they are.

No job, no matter how low or high on the totem pole, should be a dead end. To ensure no dead ends, supervisors are encouraged to periodically sit down with each employee to map out a career path and professional development plan, based largely on the employee’s aspirations.

Other ideas include one-question surveys employees can answer in an instant, with a tap on their smartphone or web-enabled device, and the ability to chat with human resources and select leadership anonymously. Those communications tools are especially helpful in making remote workers feel included and engaged.

Finally, we’ll witness the death of the annual performance review in 2018 and beyond. That once-a-year formality is getting replaced with continuous conversations around goals and metrics year-round, enabling workers to adjust as needed, ask for help and resources along the way, and ensuring better outcomes with less stress. 

Parting Thoughts

 Keep in mind you don’t need a massive strategy makeover or technology investment to experience quick wins. Pick one aspect of your recruiting, screening or onboarding process you can improve now — even if it’s just eliminating one wasteful step — then gradually layer other improvements over time. The sooner you start, the less likely you’ll be to lose that perfect-fit candidate or stellar employee to a competitor.