Top Ten Work Trends Quarterly Updates

A diverse group of SIOP members are serving as Trend Champions for the people-related work trends that SIOP members collaboratively predicted to be the most impactful in 2022. Each Trend Champion has expertise in and professional passion for their trend subject. SIOP appreciates their service to the profession in providing quarterly updates on their chosen topics.

Find the full list of topics and links to the other Top 10 Work Trends here

Trend #1: Employee engagement and organizational commitment of remote workers

2022 2nd Quarter Update

If there is a mega-trend of work trends in 2022, it would arguably be wellness (3 of SIOP’s Work Trends are about wellbeing, burnout and health this year). This makes sense as the global pandemic has underscored the importance of wellbeing, but also the vital role work patterns play for our health. As more people work remotely than ever before, HR teams, leaders and researchers have been asking what it takes to work well while you are working remote. 

Eliminating the commute, focusing productively on important activities all day and having the flexibility to enjoy family or leisure time on-demand is the fantasy of the remote worker; but as many (hilarious) parodies have pointed out, there are also many significant pitfalls. The lack of natural breaks in the day, the increase in sedentary lifestyle, and the reduction is social contact all create an increased risk of exhaustion and burnout for many people. Interacting for long periods on video also causes many people to experience lower levels of energy over time and impact mental health. It seems the commute can be useful for more than just traveling to and from an office to see people – it’s also a natural break in your day. Interestingly some people have found remote work easier to adopt, particularly those who are less extraverted and conscientious – perhaps because these people have a more relaxed attitude to work in general. 

Researchers diving into this topic have found that social support via digital channels can help to buffer against declines in wellness for remote workers, but not remove them entirely. Some have also looked into the importance of working remotely from different places – like co-working spaces, coffee shops or hotels - as a way to boost wellness. Others have explored manager behaviours, and have found that clear work structures, flexibility and considerate treatment help to maintain worker wellbeing. What strikes me is that many of these things are no different from what it takes to be a good manager in any context – but of course, doing them well while someone is working remotely requires much more intentional action, and probably more skill.   

Remote working is here to stay – not least because the talent market is so tight at the moment that many organizations need to find talent anywhere they can get it. The strategies organizations use to help people stay focused and engaged as more and more people work remotely need to continue to evolve in order to maintain employee wellbeing and engagement. Innovating how we manage workforce wellness, and especially the support that people get when they are not in a psychical place of work is likely to remain a priority for the foreseeable future. 

2022 1st Quarter Update

While remote working is not a new practice, most organizations or individuals have never experienced it at such a significant scale. After two years of managing the pandemic, data suggests that many people expect to adopt a more frequent remote work lifestyle – having proven that they can maintain their productivity while working away from the office. This has drawn the interest of researchers and practitioners who are looking to find out if new styles of working also generate enhanced employee wellbeing and performance. 

Research into remote work has benefited from the rapid adoption of new digital tools that generate a lot of data about the way people behave and interact. We can now see how people are behaving and communicating in real-time. These new tools are vital for the IO community to understand and influence, especially as they are likely to become “normal” streams of leadership data in the near future. They are also likely to generate data that can supplement or replace traditional survey tools that psychologists depend on for data gathering. 

While a lot of research and discussion over the last two years has focused on whether people want to work remotely (or whether people want other people to work remotely), more recent work has started to look at the impact on drivers of engagement and commitment – especially feeling of control, job embeddedness, collaboration, and belonging. 

Recent data continues to show a very mixed picture. While remote work can increase feelings of control and empowerment, it can also enhance feelings of loneliness and disconnection. Going deeper, analysing data on employee behaviour found remote working caused communication to become more siloed and less “real-time” which made it harder to share information across the organization network. Relationships weaken and it becomes harder to interact informally which creates barriers to the social ties that generate feelings of belonging. This said, some workers from diverse backgrounds or with different needs have found a reduction in the demands from the office to be beneficial – perhaps because informal interactions in the office made them feel less included or valued. As with many things in life – one size does not fit all, and the discussion of how remote work can help improve fairness and equity is ongoing. 

Increasing the overall scale of remote working also creates additional demand on the skills of managers, who need to be more structured and less passive to engage people they see less often. Employees have also found that they need new skills. As digital remote working has a tendency to remove the boundaries in people’s lives (especially time and space), employees need to learn new ways to segment and manage their day. For example, if employees are no longer commuting, then they have no clear start and end to their day, which can lead to overwork. Research suggests that the way people segment their day moderates the impact of work on wellbeing. 

The key point to note here is that new ways of working require new skills and behaviours from everyone. As research and practice develop, I expect that we will learn how to make remote work more effective and less stressful without reverting to pre-pandemic practices that would reintroduce friction that many people have eliminated in the last 24 months.  

Champion: Lewis Garrad

Lewis Garrad

Lewis is Partner and business leader for Mercer’s Singapore Career business. Voted a Top 101 Global Future of Work Influencer, he is regular contributor to publications such as the Harvard Business Review and speaker in the areas of people science, HR data, employee engagement and leadership. In his commercial work, he leads a team of economist, social scientists, engineers and consultants to help clients and customers implement data-driven reward, talent, leadership and employee engagement programs to improve organizational performance.