The pandemic has pushed many to the brink, but it’s also been a catalyst for positive workplace reinvention—at least in progressive sectors. (We’re still appalled by the inequities and mistreatment so many workers face, particularly in industries like health care, retail and food service.)
We chatted with a career expert, a behavioral health psychologist and others to uncover four trends that are fast emerging as we head into 2022. Spoiler: It could be very good for employees.
1. Gig Employees Will Grow in Numbers
In 2021, independent workers—think gig employees, contractors, any type of freelancer—rose to 51.1 million, an explosive 34 percent increase over 2020, according to SoFi career expert Ashley Stahl. (Some are predicting that freelance workers will make up more than half the workforce by 2023.) The surge makes sense given the Great Resignation, and also the fact that certain segments of the population (ahem, working moms) have had to leave their jobs to prioritize childcare needs, then come back in a limited capacity. The societal shift towards gig work is a bonus if flexibility is your goal, but freelance work can be a double-edged sword since it often comes without benefits, steady paychecks or other worker protections.
2. The Four-Day Work Week is Coming
According to LinkedIn’s annual Big Ideas report, we can expect to see certain sectors embrace the four-day work week in 2022. Internationally, this trend has already become popular with companies like Microsoft Japan, Semco Brazil and the Government of Iceland making the switch. (Trial results show improved employee wellbeing, work-life balance and productivity, per LinkedIn News.) In the U.S., companies like Kickstarter, Unilever and Primary have begun testing the arrangement, and report similarly encouraging results. The CEO of Bolt, a commerce platform, recently joined LinkedIn’s Hello Monday podcast with Jessi Hempel, sharing that the transition to a four-day work week was “the best decision he’s ever made.”
3. So Are Mandatory Mental Health Days
In a recent study conducted by BetterUp.com, it was revealed that fewer than 40 percent of respondents took time off within the past three months to deal with mental health challenges. But here’s the rub: 61 percent of respondents reported feeling unable to work due to mental health challenges at least once during that same time frame. Even more problematic, one in three people made up an excuse when they had to take time off due to mental health. Dr. Erin Eatough, manager of behavioral science for BetterUp, says that going into 2022, she expects to see more official support from organizations to help address this. “The most forward-thinking organizations will see the value in investing in their team’s mental fitness to stay ahead of the curve,” she says. This includes communication from leadership about the importance of mental health days, HR declaring that sick days include mental health days and managers that lead by example.
4. Industries Will Better Support Parents
The rates of parental burnout are sky-high, says Dr. Eatough. But the pandemic has also boosted parents’ increased comfort with advocating for their needs, from shorter work days to better leave policies. And the good news is, as the Great Resignation carries on, companies will be forced to find ways to better support these needs, or else find themselves struggling to compete and retain talent. (The New York Times validates this idea, calling it “The Great Reallocation.”) Several big companies are already doing this. For instance, Accenture is helping subsidize the cost of childcare, while Adobe is allowing parents to set their own hours versus working a traditional 9 to 5.