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Amber Stark

Top 10 Work Trends for 2021

A Year Like No Other Ushers in New Trends Along With Enduring Topics in SIOP’s 8th Annual Top 10 Work Trends List

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) is pleased to announce its eighth annual Top 10 Work Trends list. Based on member surveys, these are the issues expected to have the most impact on work in 2021. 

The topics on SIOP’s 2021 Top 10 list are multifaceted and complex—some have been on prior years’ lists and others are very focused trends resulting from the distress of a global pandemic and critical social issues that came to the forefront in 2020.

Below you’ll find a description of each of the top 10 work trends and a brief summary of some of the ways I-O psychologists are helping organizations address them. Throughout 2021, a diverse group of “Trend Champions” will be curating research and practice resources., so be sure to visit the Top 10 Work Trends page often for updates.

Trend #10: Virtual Learning

Virtual learning, the use of technology to deliver instruction and facilitate more effective learning, is our 10th most impactful trend identified this year. Although use of technology to enable digital aspects of learning and gamification has been evolving for decades along with more robust technology and algorithms; the global pandemic, which kept many at home and out of traditional classrooms, accelerated increased usage and adoption across workplaces and educational institutions around the globe.

I-O psychologists who focus on learning design, learning delivery, and measurement of outcomes have been helping in many ways including building and implementing platforms and tools like learning experience platforms (LXPs) to expand upon more traditional learning management systems (LMSs), updating design of learning programs to be mobile/remote first, integrating behavioral economics into approaches to facilitate actions, and measuring the impact of how learning is retained and applied differently because of new delivery approaches.  

Trend #9: Building Cultures of Agility and Adaptability

Identified as a top trend on a couple of our prior lists, this trend has once again risen to the Top 10. With so much disruption—in different ways across different industries and geographies—many businesses have had to pivot their business strategies and adjust approaches to getting work done accordingly. With some organizations implementing reductions in their workforce and others rapidly expanding, the amount of change experienced in a short time was immense. Some companies found it easier to navigate than others, and many who wouldn’t describe their organization cultures as agile and adaptive have started to embrace building this capability going forward.

I-O psychologists can help organizations respond by applying diagnostic tools, developing playbooks, and designing other interventions to help organizations adopt new values, shift mindsets, and grow their capabilities. Internal practitioners responsible for strategic HR practices like workforce planning, talent analytics, and other talent management and development practices are also helping their organizations increase their agility and adaptability by leveraging data to inform decision making and updating existing practices.

Trend #8: The Changing Nature of Work

For the 5th consecutive year, the Changing Nature of Work appears on our Top 10 Work Trends list. Many recent developments of this trend are being driven by the growing adoption of artificial intelligence, increased digitization, more automation, and approaches to who (employees, contractors, consultants, temps, etc.) does the work and how, often based on an evolution of new skills required.

Although artificial intelligence is influencing most technical domains, on its own it lacks any theoretical understanding of humans and how we work. I-O psychologists have a unique role to play integrating psychological research on job performance and individual well-being with cutting edge artificial intelligence techniques. Our opportunity is to strengthen the humanistic component of work by helping to leverage AI in ways that support us as individuals rather than solely focusing on organizational efficiencies. It is up to I-O psychologists to guide and steer AI so that it makes the workplace a better place for humans.

Trend #7: Work-Life Integration

After falling off the Top 10 Trends list last year, work–life integration re-emerged as a key trend, in large part due to the shifts which took place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Work and other aspects of life converged in new ways when large portions of workforces shifted to work from home. New adaptations are required for handling schooling for children; managing personal and family member illness; and other aspects including community, well-being, health, and other lifestyle components.

I-O pscyhologists help organizations understand the challenges employees face and help them update workforce practices that increase engagement, retention, productivity, adoption of healthy behaviors (e.g. introducing stress management tools), training, flexibility, and other key interventions.

Trend #6: Team Effectiveness Across Virtual and Distributed Environments

Appearing on our list 5 years ago, team effectiveness across virtual and distributed environments reemerged as a top trend this year, as many workers stopped working in their offices.  With significant developments in collaborative technology over recent years, some organizations have grown accustomed to working effectively without being physically co-located, but others are grappling with challenges to productivity as leaders, managers, and team members who relied on physical proximity are being required to adapt new ways of working.

I-O psychologists help organizations adapt to this trend through providing models and skill building to help prioritize goals, align resources, facilitate effective communication, conflict management, and other productive and effective behaviors that build and sustain team performance.

Trend #5: Social Justice

Elements of social justice, the process of ensuring equal rights and access to opportunities, regardless of individual factors has been integrated into many corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs and organizational practices for decades. Yet, when George Floyd was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis last year, it seemed to be the tipping point for many organizations to integrate these programs further into the fabric of their businesses.

I-O psychologists often help organizations address these issues by providing advice and a facilitated approach to identifying meaningful goals in the context of each organization’s ecosystem and developing related road maps (incorporating leadership commitments, employee and community involvement strategies, skill building, measurement tools, etc.) to address these complex issues.

Trend #4: Inclusive Practices to Get, Keep and Grow Talent

Appearing again on the Top 10 Work Trends are inclusive practices to get, keep, and grow talent. Inclusive practices are implemented in organizations in order to ensure that all people, especially those who hold minority identities across various dimensions (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, social class, religion, etc.), feel accepted and valued in the workplace. This topic has important implications for enhancing the extent to which the individual and organizational benefits of workplace diversity are realized. Effective management of diversity, equity, and inclusion means that diverse talent are excited about working at an organization, are able to put forth their best contributions, and desire to stay.

I-O psychologists are equipped to support this trend in various ways, such as providing organizations with knowledge of inclusive practices, evaluating current practices to identify areas of improvement, developing trainings to help implement them, examining the role of implicit and explicit bias in organizational processes, exploring disparities in job attitudes across groups, and designing interventions to address them.

Trend #3: Implementing Strategies and Measuring Progress on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belongingness (DEI&B)

Related to the above trend, implementation of new strategies and measurement of impact of various diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness programs emerged as its own trend this year.  This is in large part due to the continual evolution of talent analytics capabilities.  With the capture of accurate and consistent data over time, and the availability to key stakeholders of practical reporting and dashboarding tools, progress on DEI &B initiatives, or lack thereof, is becoming much more visible.

I-O psychologists can use their expertise in the management of large amounts of information and analysis of data to help organizations create reporting that leads to increased awareness and education through descriptive analysis, predictive insights, and prescriptive recommendations.   

Trend #2: Employee Health, Well-Being, Wellness, and Safety

Similar to last year, this trend remains a top priority for many organizations. Benefits costs continue to rise, and organizations continue to invest in helping employees manage stress to help reduce the physical, mental, and emotional impacts that drive increased costs. Those costs are both direct costs to the balance sheet and indirect costs like lower engagement, performance, and retention. With COVID-19, a much greater focus on safety emerged for both essential and non-essential workers; and many employees shifted to working from home and experienced greater integration between work and family.

I-O psychologists help organizations by conducting research to identify root causes of stress and design programs to decrease risks. In collaboration with other experts, I-Os provide advice on the design of ethical and practical benefits programs and work practices that contribute to health, well-being, wellness, and safety of employees and members of organization’s expanded workforces. 

Trend #1: Remote Work and Flexible Working Arrangements

Working remotely and flexible work arrangements emerged as our top trend this year. Although significant variation exists across industries, occupations, and geographies, the rise of remote work impacted many and has a broad array of implications for both employers and employees.

To support organizations in adapting to this trend, I-O psychologists help them evolve culture and leadership practices, and update the design of workforce strategies. In some cases, strategies will be less dependent on geography and in others will need to incorporate greater understanding of impacts on different types of workers. I-O psychologists also help organizations devise updated compensation practices, productivity measures, hiring practices, assessments of satisfaction, engagement, and career development.  

Resources for Using I-O Psychology to Solve Business Challenges

SIOP Members are industrial-organizational psychologists and work science experts who conduct research and apply their expertise to issues associated with work, the workplace, and the workforce They provide service to business, government and academia, many of them working across sectors. If you’re looking for an expert to help with your organization’s work challenges, visit the SIOP Consultant Locator to identify a partner specializing in your area of need.

Additional resources providing practical business applications on these and other key trends can be found in the SIOP White Paper collection. For more in-depth coverage of several of the core issues organizations face today, explore the SIOP Organizational Frontiers Book Series. You may also wish to read previous Top 10 Trends lists here.

Background

This year’s Top Ten Work Trends list was based on analysis of results from two online surveys sent to approximately 7,000 SIOP members in October and November of 2020.

To create this year’s Top 10 Work Trends list, SIOP asked its members to predict trends based on their recent experiences as well as their recent interactions with clients and colleagues. Themes were compiled, and then members prioritized the top 10 issues facing organizations in 2021.

More about I-O Psychology

I-O psychology is a dynamic and growing field that addresses work-related issues at the individual and organizational level. I-O psychologists apply research that improves the well-being and performance of people and the organizations that employ them. This involves everything from workforce planning, employee selection, and leader development to studying job attitudes and job motivation, implementing work teams, improving diversity and inclusion, and facilitating organizational change.

Many thanks to Amanda Woller, Visibility Committee Chair; Heidi Glickman, Media Subcommittee Chair; Media Subcommittee Members Nicholas Baldwin and Jaclyn Jensen, and SIOP Administrative Office partner Barbara Ruland for planning and execution, and to the 2021 Top 10 Work Trend Champions who’ll be monitoring and curating these trends throughout the year.

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