The past year may have been a grim one in many ways, but for workers there were silver linings. A combination of low interest rates and high government spending juiced the global economy. In Canada, hiring increased as the economy reopened, and a shortage of workers gave those available more bargaining power than they’ve had in years. But will it continue? With factors related to both the business cycle and long-term structural changes at play, there are several trends we can expect to see in the new year:
1. The party starts to wind down: 2021 was a year in which workers had a big advantage, perhaps because they were prepared to vote with their feet and leave jobs they did not like, but also because economic and fiscal policies were lined up to support the economy. Whether or not the pandemic recedes, 2022 will see those factors start to reverse, not just in Canada but globally, which means a more cautious hiring picture and the risk of higher unemployment in some sectors.
2. Strife as a way of life: The last time runaway inflation was an issue for workers was almost 50 years ago, which suggests that almost no one in the labour force now has had to seriously bargain for more pay to cover rising prices. Look for 2022 to be a year of labour strife, not just for the unionized but for anyone who is trying to negotiate a pay raise to deal with ever-rising prices at the grocery store and maybe higher mortgage and loan payments as well.
3. The robot next door: Labour shortages plagued organizations in 2021, which is accelerating the move to automation. Robots can take orders and deliver food, stock shelves, make drinks, even help with medical diagnoses. Look for lots more in your neighbourhood café or grocery store or anywhere companies want things done by workers that make few demands and never call in sick.
4. Culture shift: The first year of the pandemic was about tolerating remote work; the second, about building better infrastructure to manage it. But 2022 will be about creating a culture around it. Deem this one the “acceptance phase,” as the realization sinks in that 2019 is done and organizations must cope in a world where out of sight cannot mean out of mind.
5. Office overhaul: Early in the pandemic, office buildings were abandoned in haste, kitchen tables were cleared off and laptops were fired up so workers could get things done at home. In 2022, organizations will increasingly redesign offices both to deal with a differently structured work force and to lure workers back to the office when it is safe for them to be there. Look for creative design and conference rooms meant to accommodate workforces that are spread out and for home offices to evolve as well.
6. Pay for performance: If you are in the office, your success depends on a host of factors ranging from whether you get in on time to how well you schmooze with the boss to what you bring to the office potluck. If you are working remotely, the focus may be more on the work but also how well you communicate via teleconference, as everyone learns to be a kind of performer. As a result, look for job descriptions to be rewritten, formally or not, as organizations realize they need different skills for the new way of working.
7. Climate crisis: With the reality of climate change dawning on organizations, environmental considerations will go into every strategic plan and, by extension, every human-resources plan as well. What are the climate implications of remote hiring? How should offices be restructured to be more environmentally friendly? How much travel makes environmental sense? The questions are starting to be asked, and the effects will snowball very soon.
8. Back to school: Bad as things may look now, it is becoming glaringly obvious that the mismatch between jobs and available workers is going to get worse. Accordingly, businesses and educational institutions will continue to forge alliances and launch training programs aimed at bridging the gap over the next few years. Look for more programs aimed at retraining and giving students hands-on experience with real-world platforms before they graduate.
For both organizations and workers, things will be in a state of flux as we deal with short-term business cycle issues and set up for big changes ahead. The future of work will look much different than the present, and 2022 will be a transition year to get us to that reality.
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