For almost four decades representing management in labor and employment matters, I have been advising and defending companies large and small in a wide range of employment disputes, negotiations, and investigations.
In recent years, even before this pandemic, the workplace was experiencing dramatic changes in the law, workplace policies, and culture. Now, with the 2020 health crisis and economic shutdown as a catalyst, the most effective corporate leaders, as always, are those who play a long game and remain nimble while simultaneously anticipating change.
Three major areas of change employers should anticipate include, remote work as a norm and creation of new types of work; a transition from an employer-sponsored health care system; and greater pay equity.
Leaders who do the research and strategic planning for these seismic changes will be best positioned for the future.
Continued expansion of remote work and alternative work
Most employers have become accustomed to employees working from home or remotely some or most of the time. The pandemic of 2020 made that a reality for even the most resistant employers. With the implementation of 5G and other advances in communications technology, the trend toward remote work has turned to necessity and will grow.
Investing in technology and programs to manage a workforce that increasingly is absent from a common workplace is vital to organizations that want to attract and retain employees and contingent personnel.
Related changes employers will have to adapt to are travel only when necessary rather than as a norm, and workplace health becoming as much about exposure to illness as prevention of injuries.
Just a few months ago, few companies were adapting to these changes. Now, attention must turn from short-term precautions during a pandemic to permanent change addressing trends that were previously just beginning to emerge.
Another challenge for employers over the coming decade and beyond is also technology-driven. That is preparing for jobs that presently do not exist. Managing and maintaining artificial intelligence systems is one example and, in that field, the U.S. is behind in education and training. Some future-looking HR and education professionals estimate that, among children today, more than half of them will enter the workforce in jobs that presently do not exist. Forward-looking CEOs should be pressing for public and private investment in the future of the American workforce.
Employee health coverage
Employee benefits represent an estimated 30 percent on average of employees’ total compensation packages. Employee welfare plans are one cost center that is likely to take on a much different character.
Our historical reliance on employers as the source of health coverage for most Americans will likely wane in the years and decades ahead. Multiple factors account for this, among them an aging population, alternate sources of labor becoming a major segment of the workforce, mobility of the labor supply, and public concern about the percentage of Americans without access to affordable health care.
The vulnerability of America’s health care system unmasked by COVID-19 will accelerate the shift. Business leaders should begin exploring eventual alternatives to health care coverage for their workers (employees and others) and identifying opportunities resulting from alternatives to employer-sponsored health care.
Income gap and pay equity
Among major U.S. employers, the historical gender gap in compensation has been gradually declining. That is positive. There also remains a long way to go.
Companies that do not have effective programs in place to evaluate and address problematic pay disparities must correct that. A related issue is the general compensation gap. Despite widespread criticism and concern about the vast gap between the higher and lower rungs in American business, that chasm has widened. Long term, that is not a sustainable trend.
To remain competitive, CEOs and compensation committees will best serve the long-term interests of their companies and shareholders by addressing the range between the high and low ends of the compensation spectrum.