5 workplace trends to be thankful for

When you’re slogging through the daily grind of work or a job search, or when you’re dealing with a difficult boss or coworkers, it can be easy to forget what we should be thankful for at work. But there are some significant changes underway in the American workplace, and they’re offering workers real advantages that most people didn’t have a decade ago.

Here are five positive developments that have been changing the workplace in the last few years – and changing many people’s work lives for the better.

1. Telecommuting options continue to grow. It wasn’t all that long ago that companies that allowed employees to telecommute were a rarity. That has changed dramatically in the last decade, and in the last few years in particular. 30 million Americans now work from home at least once a week, and the Telework Research Network expects that number to increase by 63% in the next five years. Given all the benefits to employees that telecommuting provides – no commute, saved gas money, being able to work from home while you wait for the cable guy – it’s not surprising that a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found a larger increase in the number of companies planning to offer telecommuting than the increase in any other benefit.

2. Flex time continues to increase. It used to be that if you had an office job, you could expect to work the same set of hours as everyone else, like 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But as workers have increasingly looked for new ways to juggle work obligations and personal lives, flexible hours have started becoming more accepted and even ingrained in American workplaces. Flexible schedules make it easier for workers to pick up kids from school or child care, attend classes, juggle medical appointments, or even just avoid rush hour. And employers have discovered that offering flex time helps attract and retain top-tier employees, who more and more are looking for flexibility in their work lives.

3. We’re seeing a move toward more paid sick leave. If you’ve always had jobs that offered paid sick leave, you might take it for granted. But in fact, no federal law requires employers to offer paid sick leave, and some employers don’t provide any at all. However, the landscape on this issue is starting to change. We’re seeing a growing recognition that paid sick leave is good for both employees and employers, because it discourages employees from coming to work when sick and infecting others and improves productivity and morale. And Connecticut, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, the District of Columbia, and a growing number of additional jurisdictions have passed laws in the last few years requiring paid sick days, and dozens of states and cities considered paid sick days proposals in the most recent legislative session. President Obama even called for paid sick days in his State of the Union address earlier this year.

4. The pay gap between men and women is getting smaller. Overall, men still earn more than women for doing the same work. But that’s changing, and looking at how it’s playing out among the latest cohort to enter the workforce gives some pretty fascinating indications of what might be to come: A Pew Research analysis of census data found that Millennial women – who are better educated than their male peers are – are now earning 93 cents for every dollar earned by men. That’s still an unacceptable difference, but it’s far better than the average wage gap among all age groups, which is 84 cents to every dollar. That shrinking gap bodes well for what’s to come.

5. Options for non-traditional career paths are increasing. The Internet has made it possible for huge numbers of people to launch freelance careers or side businesses that wouldn’t have been feasible in the past. Leaving full-time, traditional employment to strike out on your own can still be a risky move, but there’s no doubt that technology and the more accessible playing field provided by the Internet has made it a heck of a lot easier than it used to be. As a result, millions of workers are striking out on their own and shaping their own careers with far more autonomy than was previously possible.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. Jill-be-Nimble

    It’s thanks to this blog that, when I came down with a really bad bout of bronchitis last week, I knew I could ask for paid days off from my temp agency. (I’m in D.C. and have been working with this temp agency for almost a year now.) My temp agent didn’t even know that they were supposed to be offering paid sick days! I was able to stay home and not be a vector of illness just because I needed the hours, which really made all of the difference.

  2. Sascha

    I love telecommuting for when I’m sick…there’s a lot of times when I don’t feel quite good enough to be around people in the office, but I can get on the computer for a little while from the comfort of my couch. I think telecommuting is an awesome benefit and I’m glad it’s becoming more widely accepted.

      1. Allison

        Yup. I’ll drive in the snow if I absolutely have to, but I like the option of not driving to and from work when it’s snowing, or when we’re expecting a storm. Not only is driving in the snow a pain (and, quite honestly, a bit scary), but digging out my car is one of the last things I wanna do first thing in the morning.

    1. Vanishing Girl

      Me too! Sometimes getting dressed and being at work all day is too much, but I can sit up and work on my couch. I have a new position and have the ability to work from home when I need to. It really adds to my satisfaction with my job and company to have that flexibility.

      1. Sascha

        This benefit is making it really hard to leave this job! I hope employers realize how powerful it can be for retention.

        1. VintageLydia USA

          My husband can realistically get $15-20K more a year in salary at another company, but he’d have to give up being able to work from home 95% of the time. The extra money is nice, but he likes being around here more (especially in the DC metro area where the typical commute from our city is an hour or more.)

  3. Mimmy

    My husband works from home just about every day even though he still technically has an office. This has been hugely helpful in that it saves on gas, and allows for flexibility in case I need a ride somewhere or we need to have work done to our house. In fact, just about everyone with this company telecommutes most days. Unfortunately, though, his employer is apparently considering clamping down on that some.

  4. Midge

    Alison, not sure you have any control over this, but the caption has a typo. I’m assuming it’s supposed to say “work from a boat”, not “from from a boat”.

  5. On My Phone

    I telecommute full-time (I still have an office on-site) and I come in when need be for meetings with the big boss etc. I work for a F50 company in IT and there are rumors that the company wants us to start coming back into the office to work. The idea is that working on site promotes spontaneous collaboration and one off meetings. We are global, in 1000’s of different offices spanning all time zones. It seems like we are taking a step backwards. Any other telecommuters out there that are dealing with the reverse telecommute issue?

    1. Sascha

      Not dealing with that specific issue, but I don’t see how the spontaneous collaboration and one-off meetings are really hampered that much by telecommuting. We use an IM program and it works great for that kind of stuff. I know there is some value in being in the office sometimes, but at least in my experience, I get plenty of collaboration done over IM, and if that’s not enough, I’ll call my coworkers.

      1. Chinook

        “I get plenty of collaboration done over IM, and if that’s not enough, I’ll call my coworkers.”

        I think it really depends on how comfortable people are with IM. There are two women I work with who are on the dsame floor and I can go weeks withotu seeing them because we IM about everything. But, a lot of others, who I don’t interact with regularly, just drop by my office or ask me something when I am at the copier (I print a lot of stuff and this is also where the coffee is). I honestly think some of them may not know how to spell my name to find me on IM whereas others suddenly remember something when they see my face. Also, we also socialize over work topics, chatting about the greater theories about what we do or abotu historical jobs (that some of my colleagues were there for 20 or 30 years ago). This casual chitchat which has taught us newer types a lot just isn’t as conducive to IM.

        That being said, I think it is a horrible reason to take away working from home. It just needs to be acknowledged as being lost.

        1. Emily

          Yeah, I think it’s a personal preference more than one mode being superior. I have coworkers who prefer to just “drop by” my office and others who 99.9% of our conversations take place on IM. Personally, I prefer the IM folks because it’s an open line of communication all day long without me having to leave my desk and go somewhere – it makes the bar for “Is this worth talking to Percival about?” a lot lower for me. I also prefer it because I get everything in writing that I can look back at later instead of having to scribble down notes while someone is talking to me and hope I capture everything that was important to remember from the conversation. Plus, since I work on online stuff, so many in-person conversations end up including, “I’ll send you the link to X” or “I’ll forward you a couple of emails with background information,” and then I get this series of disjointed emails with bits and pieces of information, instead of everything attached to one email, the body of which explains the task.

    2. BadPlanning

      My Big Company did a back to the office initiative a couple years ago. It was around the same time as some other big companies did the push. We figure it’s a cycle. In a couple years, they’ll push for working from home again. Then the office, then at home. What is old is new again.

      In my area, we were mostly concerned if it affected our flex-time working from home (like waiting for the plumber to arrive, etc) and if they would rearrange product areas to geographies/work sites. Some of the latter happened. In the end, it was more of a “if you can come back to the office, do so.”

  6. Serin

    There are rumors that some positions in my company are soon going to be required to be full-time telecommuting positions. I can’t imagine how this would help the company, since it’s locked into a lease on a large building — not as though it could make everyone telecommute, shut down a physical location, and save on overhead.

  7. Allison

    I’m definitely thankful for 1 and 2! I love that my workplace allows me to come in early and leave early so I can pursue hobbies outside of work freely. I love that I can work from home when I’m sick, or when I need to see a doctor, or run an errand that can only be done during work hours, or when the weather is so bad that I’d feel unsafe driving to work.

  8. Anx

    Question for those of you who telecommute?

    If you have the type of job where you don’t need to be at a specific location to do the work, and you work from home that day, do you consider a workday the amount of work you’d do while at an office?

    Whenever I’ve had jobs that benefit from research, writing, planning, etc. I’ve always worked after hours as well and wondered how that would translate into telecommuting (I’m sort of odd too that I would sometimes to do personal work at work and do work work at home because it was the most efficient way to do things as I have difficulty with sustained concentration in some environments.).

    1. Koko

      Something like that. I work from home some days and in the office other days, but I generally try to keep 9am-5pm hours. I have a certain amount of work I need to get done each week and at the start of the week I try to roughly map out which tasks I’m going to complete each day to stay on pace to meet all my deadlines. Whether I’m at home or in the office, I generally will move on to tomorrow’s work if I finish before 5pm and work late if I don’t finish by 5pm.

      The main differences are:
      1) When I go to the office, I’m much more likely to arrive after 9 – my office doesn’t stand much on arrival time and folks trickle in between 9 and 10. When I’m working remotely I feel more of a need to be logged in and present on email/IM right away so that if one of my coworkers in the office needs something they don’t think, “Ugh, Koko is probably just sleeping through the first hour of work!”
      2) When I got to the office, if I need to work late, I’m more inclined to shut down by 5:30, go home to make dinner, and then open up my laptop later and because I’m out of work-mode I only do the minimum work I have to do (so, things that absolutely had to be done by tomorrow get done, but things that I would have liked to have gotten done today to stay on pace for the week but which aren’t due tomorrow get pushed to tomorrow). OTOH, when I’m working from home, I’ll just keep plowing through, carry my laptop to the kitchen and make dinner/eat while I work, and often even if I get through my day’s work I’ll keep on going til 7, 8, 9pm just because I’m in the zone and don’t want to quit. Not having to stop, pack up, and head home keeps me mentally “at work” longer and I don’t mind working late when I’m surrounded by all the comforts of home. (That said, I really enjoy my work–YMMV if you don’t!)

    2. JAL

      I work overtime hours at home and I learned that my productivity decreases greatly (my whole job is based on productivity). I couldn’t telecommute everyday (only under circumstances) and I give huge props to anyone who can do it the majority of the time.

  9. LJL

    My new job is telecommuting except when I’m traveling. I try to keep the 8-5 schedule and record such, but there is flexibility in the time. I’m available during the core hours of 9-4, but as long as the work gets done and done well, they don’t seem concerned about the timing.

  10. stanleyp

    AAM is my top resource for anything job related.

    Just curious about when your articles are on different sites, such as this one, are they the ones that choose the totally unrelated stock photo?

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