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 2021. 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.
As the political and workplace leaders struggle to pave a path forward in the face of the COVID-19 Delta variant, employee health and wellbeing are once again center stage. Three trends that have emerged in this third quarter of 2021 are (1) vaccine mandates, (2) work compensation and design, and (3) AI and employee health.
We would be remiss to not touch on vaccine mandates as a major workplace health trend right now. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced an upcoming requirement that organizations with at least 100 employees will be required to mandate vaccines or test negative for COVID-19 weekly. Research has not yet addressed the potential strain of working with unvaccinated coworkers, or the negative outcomes for employees who do not wish to be vaccinated.
Second, while organizations have been drawing attention to a potential labor shortage, critics suggest that it is rather a lack of well-paying, decent jobs driving the number of job openings (see here for link between decent work and employee health).
These concerns come amidst increasing calls for employers to place a heightened focus on employee health and wellbeing, and a massive study on the efficacy of a four-day workweek. A forthcoming IOP focal article by Hüffmeier and Zacher discusses the role universal income could play in the future of work psychology, with an emphasis on implications for quality pay and decent work that prioritizes employee wellness. SIOP Fellow, Leslie Hammer, recently pointed toward the “band-aid” approach companies often take in addressing employee wellbeing concerns, rather than addressing root causes. In light of the shifting political and economic environment, these relationships may need to be reexamined.
To further underscore the increasing political and governmental interest in worker wellbeing, the Biden administration recently announced a workplace safety initiative to tackle heat stress. This may be particularly pressing given the current climate crisis, which has driven increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme heat waves.
Lastly, Amazon and other companies have found themselves under scrutiny for using artificial intelligence to track employees to set dangerously high productivity goals, which in turn causes psychological and physical threats among their employees. Conversely, AI has also recently made the news as a possible solution for workplace safety issues, though, again, by relying on high levels of employee surveillance.
This highlights the ever-important need for I-O psychologists to be present during the design, implementation, and evaluation of these policies and practices, but also for I-O psychologists to intentionally capture employee health and wellbeing as outcomes, as opposed to simply performance.
2021 2nd Quarter Update
When it comes to the topic of employee well-being in a pandemic- and post-pandemic world, organizations are putting their money where their mouths are: in 2020, the average employer spending on well-being programs increased by 40%. Halfway through 2021, the “new normal” for companies has continued to involve a heightened investment in employee health and well-being. Two trends in particular that highlight the attention on employee wellness are the rise of employer-sponsored (1) telemedicine and (2) personalized wellness apps.
Nearly one in four Americans utilized telehealth over the past four weeks, which can involve providing contact, advice, urgent care, and monitoring of patients with chronic conditions. According to a recent Wellable study on industry trends, 87% of employers are investing more in telemedicine this year. For instance, Amazon recently announced that it will expand its pilot telehealth program, Amazon Care, which provides free virtual consultations and in-home visits, to all employees nationwide. See Garfin (2020) for suggestions on how employers can harness telehealth to promote employee well-being during the pandemic.
Wellness apps offer a diverse range of health promotion and stress management techniques, and can target everything from mediation and therapy to daily nutrition, sleep, and physical activity. One mindfulness-based app, Calm, reported a 100% increase in corporate partnerships in 2020; meditation app Headspace reported a 500% increase in corporate interest. Although employers should be cautious about treating wellness apps as a catch-all solution, there is positive preliminary evidence for their efficacy. See Bostock et al. (2019) for a randomized control trial showing the positive effects of a daily mindfulness mobile app on worker well-being, distress, job strain, social support, and blood pressure.
In a world still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in health, well-being and safety at work is increasingly taking center stage. Many companies are still grappling with the consequences of soaring employees stress levels, and are taking steps to prioritize employee wellness moving forward. Three topics that have emerged in this first quarter of 2021 as trends in this area are (1) the gender-based effects of work on employee health, (2) mental health as something that deserves explicit attention by employers, and (3) building resilience.
Women have been particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns. According to research by SIOP member Kristen Shockley, they exited the workforce at higher rates than men, took on an even bigger share of housework and childcare and experienced worse mental health outcomes. SIOP members Samantha Paustian-Underdahl, Ashley Mandeville, and Asia Eaton’s Eaton’s work on pregnancy discrimination and mother’s health,.and popular business pieces by Gallup, Forbes, and HR Director, speak to the importance of supporting women’s and mothers’ health in the workplace.
A silver lining of skyrocketing mental health struggles during the pandemic is the fact that mental health is increasingly being recognized as a key player in the workplace. One estimate suggested “mental-health related workplace absenteeism costs soared to £14bn in 2020” with a total cost of £45bn in the UK alone. Mental health issues associated with working from home have also been highlighted, as has mental-health problem disclosure. In response, a growing number of companies report plans to increase employee mental health resources in 2021, including managerial training and offering low-cost online mental health services. SIOP member Lisa Brady's work on mental illness in management doctoral programs also taps this trend. Amidst all of these challenges, people are looking toward resilience as a potential buffer. Look for this trend to continue into Q2, following increased interest in how to build resilience, drawing on suggestions from the workplace and professional athletes.
Maryana Arvan, PhD & Keaton Fletcher, PhD
Maryana Arvan is an Assistant Professor of Psychological & Organizational Sciences at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her research examines how stressful experiences at work affect employee attitudes, health and well-being, and performance. Protecting and effectively managing vulnerable employee populations is another theme of interest. She received her BA from the University of Arizona, and her PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the University of South Florida.
Keaton Fletcher is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He studies leadership within organizational networks, and the interaction between workplace leadership and health. Keaton is an alumnus of Washington and Lee University where he received a BS in Neuroscience and a BA in Psychology, and of the University of South Florida, where he received his PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology.
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