4 workplace trends to watch in 2016

Here are five workplace trends that we’re likely to see in 2016 that will heavily impact you as a manager and the way you run your team.

1. The dramatic expansion of remote work. It’s not news that companies are ever-more friendly to remote work, but look for a dramatic upswing in the practice in 2016. As technology makes remote work easier and easier, and the culture shift around telecommuting makes companies that have been reluctant to embrace it look increasingly out-of-date, the bias many managers still had against telework is crumbling. Companies that lag behind the curve are likely to find it harder to attract and retain great employees, and will be at a disadvantage against competitors who aren’t limited to a strictly local workforce.

2. Flexibility. Employees are increasingly expecting – and prospective new hires are sometimes demanding – flexible work hours. As people look for better ways to juggle work obligations and family or personal commitments, flex time has risen to the top of the list of what many workers value most. In 2016, look for the acceptance of flexible schedules to expand even more as employers find that flexibility helps attract and retain high performers who want the ability to plan their work schedules around picking kids up from school, attending classes, managing daytime medical appointments, or avoiding rush hour.

3. Backlash against intrusions of work into “off” time. In 2015, we saw a growing recognition of the ways that work – helped by technology – is intruding into people’s “off” time more than ever before, with many people feeling pressure to answer work calls and emails at night, on the weekends, and during vacations. But the idea that so many jobs should require round-the-clock availability is increasingly being challenged, and a backlash is growing against the expectation that work hours never really end. Look for this conversation to get louder in 2016, and for companies to be forced to grapple with their own role in the dynamic and what they need to do to prevent burn-out.

4. New laws for overtime. The federal government has proposed a dramatic change to the rules governing who must be paid overtime when working more than 40 hours in a week, which, if approved, would require more than 5 million white-collar workers to receive overtime pay. The change would require workers to be paid a minimum salary of $50,440 in order to be exempt from overtime pay requirements – up from the current salary threshold of $23,600. If the new rule becomes law, businesses will be faced with either tracking and limiting the number of hours a large pool of people can work or incurring potentially large new overtime costs … or, of course, raising salaries to the new threshold, which might be the most cost-effective way to proceed for employees who work significant overtime. Anyone managing a team should keep an eye on this one, which could have massive ramifications for how you staff (and pay) your team.

{ 71 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    As an ex-Target employee, I’m interested to see how the new overtime rules pan out for them. They were paying plenty of exempt store executives working at least 10-20 hours of overtime a week well under the new threshold.

    1. fposte*

      Every company has this, I’d say; it’s going to be a big change in employment. I’m also in a realm where we have exempt part-timers, and this will basically eliminate that category; it will be a royal PITA, so I’m hoping that they’re finding some way around that if these are enacted.

        1. KR*

          Agreed. I’m a big fan of paying people for their work. Also, if they’re part time they wouldn’t be working over 40 hours/week anyway so it wouldn’t really affect the end dollar.

        2. Jake*

          If they are part time, there is no OT to pay. Instead you’d have to pay hourly, which means a variable pay check. This could stinker for the worker, plus on the business side, now you either have to manage hours (pita) or have a varying budget week to week (pita).

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Exactly. Let’s say I’m in a truly exempt job — say, managing professional workers — and I’m half-time. In this role, my salary might normally be $70,000, but because I’m half-time, it’s $35,000. Under the current law, that’s over the exempt threshhold, so it’s all legal. I’m exempt, and I don’t need to track my time.

            Now the law changes, and there’s no special treatment for part-time exempt workers. So now I can no longer be treated as exempt (unless my employer wants to raise my salary by more than 40% to get me to the new threshold). That means that I have to track all the time I spend on work stuff, including checking email from home, taking occasional phone calls, strategizing in the shower about a tricky staffing issue, etc. It’s going to be a huge pain in the ass for me, and it also might prompt my employer to rethink the part-time nature of our arrangement, which might have been made at my request.

            1. BananaPants*

              This could be a real problem for the handful of employees in my organization who are working on half time or 3 day week schedules. All are women who negotiated these arrangements years ago when they had young children; they are relatively senior individual contributors but wouldn’t be over the higher threshold. The rest of us are all exempt and there is literally no non-exempt job description for what they do (especially at that level).

              1. fposte*

                Yup. Less than 40 hours per week. It’s a really popular parent-back-into-the-workforce arrangement around here.

                And they won’t get OT–there isn’t any budget to pay them OT out of. They’ll have to give up projects and hand them over to the rest of us. Whee.

                1. Clever Name*

                  But if the “part-timers” are working more than 40 hours a week, how can they be considered “part-time”? Does everyone else work 80 hours, so 40 hours is “half time”?

                2. Risa*

                  In some states, like CA, part-time is more than 8 hours a day or more than 40 hours a week. I can be PT at 25 hours per week, but like to work 2-10 hour days and 1-5 hour day. I wouldn’t get OT under the current rules, but the new limit would require 2 hours of OT for the two days I work 10 hours.

                3. fposte*

                  The part-timers work twenty hours one week and forty-five the next; they have flexibility depending on child care or whatever, and nobody has to track it because they’re exempt. (Percentages range from 50 to 66 to 75 and there’s probably an 87.5 in there, so it’s not simply half time either.)

                  Yes, it is conceptually weird to have somebody simultaneously working as exempt, with no hourly restrictions, and a stated percentage of full time. The upshot is that you work less than the full time people do, basically, and negotiate the rest of the details as you go with your boss. So it certainly could be a way to make a 50% position work 60 hours a week, but in that situation you decide if it’s worth it the same way anybody working 60 hours a week does. And when it does work, it’s a real boon to people in the position.

      1. Jake*

        It’s not an issue for either company I’ve been with. Due to our line of work, if you are exempt, you’re automatically going to be over either limit.

        Then again, my companies have both been great about making sure folks are properly classified as exempt.

        I’d guess that many workers in that range are actually misclassified as exempt to begin with. Not necessarily in your case, just in general.

  2. Laurel Gray*

    YES to more flexibility. I need it and thankfully I have it now. However, I want to move on from my current employer in the near future and I fear that finding a company with “real” flexibility in its culture will be one of my biggest challenges. I am hoping to find a position that allows for flexibility in my office hours and some remote work.

    1. Bwmn*

      I’m with you on this. In my previous job, flexibility was essentially nonexistent which resulted in me being very proactive in finding odd loopholes that did exist to milk any potential flexibility that was possible.

      However, now that I can say “I have a doctor’s appointment at 1 near the office and will mix coming in early/leaving late/and my lunch hour to account for it” – and no one cares – that’s fantastic.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      This. I’ve never had a flexible job until now, though I did spend all that previous time at the front desk, which is inherently inflexible. I would not want to give that up to be butt-in-seat at damn o’clock in the morning if nothing happens that can’t wait until half-damn.

    3. BananaPants*

      I have a reasonable amount of flexibility but that’s officially at the discretion of one’s manager. My bosses has mostly been fine with working remotely when it’s actively snowing or the roads suck because of winter weather. Likewise when we have a kid home sick from school/daycare I have to work a half day from home or use a half day of PTO so that Mr. BP and I can trade off (his job is 2nd shift but has little flexibility).
      I would absolutely love to WFH 2 days a week as a matter of routine. Unfortunately, successfully negotiating full or partial telecommuting is extremely unusual. Face time is still really important in terms of senior management perception of employee value, and WFH full time for any length of time pretty much guarantees you’ll never get another promotion.

  3. Adam*

    1. This has never applied to me, but if it gets a bunch of people off the road so my morning commute isn’t typically a slog I’m all for it.

    3. This isn’t something I’ve ever had to deal with myself, but even then when I read the reports of how increasingly people are “forced’ to always be plugged into their jobs, particularly ones where there aren’t sudden life or death emergencies like medical professionals and public service people would face, it just makes me angry. The vast majority of events are not important enough to demand instant gratification on every single thing that comes up after they’ve punched the clock. Let people have their downtime else you are going to have a hoard of burned out zombies for staff.

    1. Regina 2*

      I think most companies have determined they’ll put up with a burned out staff and turnover because there’s always someone else hungry out there who’ll put up with that crap for a couple of years. What’s the company’s incentive to encourage downtime? May as well wring every last second out of the person you have for free (since it’s not like exempt employees get paid a dime over 40 hours, when they frequently put in 10-20 hours more each week).

      1. Adam*

        That mindset has always confused me though, because I’ve also heard many an employer say that (in America) hiring people is both a real hassle and expensive when you consider all the government regulations they have follow. If both are true then they are literally slamming their own hand in the door.

        1. Jake*

          The types of companies operating this way don’t tend to have enough vision to even realize they are doing it, let alone put enough pieces together to realize the damage they are doing.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Yes, and if they think they’re saving money by paying these people less, they’re really not, because hiring and staffing constantly ends up costing them more. Not just in costs but in time.

        2. AnotherHRPro*

          Only if it is actually causing turnover. Just look how many people on this site complain about their job but they have not all resigned. Sadly, people will put up with a lot for stability and not having to change jobs.

          1. Adam*

            Guilty, admittedly. Thing is I actually need a new job first before I can leave the old one. I just go through valleys and peaks of motivation in finding one…

          2. JeanLouiseFinch*

            Ask any lawyer how “part time” their supposedly part time jobs are. I was at one job where they were paying me for part time and I ended up working 60-80 hours a week (plus I was working for someone who I think was descended from a baboon – i.e., someone who was abusive and cruel to pregnant women.) Needless to say, once I pointed out my hours I was given the choice to change the partner I was working for. I still left that job shortly thereafter, as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

  4. Rhiannon*

    These all sound lovely to me. I would love to have a real unplugged vacation, the ability to work remotely once or twice a week (totally possible in my role but not allowed by my company), have flexible hours, and be paid for the ~20 extra hours I work every week (I currently make over the exemption threshold, but under the newly proposed one). Fingers crossed for my company to come out of the stone age!

    1. Rhiannon*

      This reminds me…random question: Is it true that it’s illegal for an employer to make an exempt employee submit PTO for a 2 hour period? I left work early one day last week for a doctor’s appointment and my manager deducted it from my accrued PTO hours, but my friends are saying that’s illegal because I’m an exempt employee.

      1. F.*

        Perfectly legal, as long as you have PTO available to use. Your actual pay cannot be docked, though, for a partial day absence.

  5. Just another HR Pro*

    Im not much for New Year’s Resolutions, but I have a few for 2016 – one includes either persuading my current employer to implement felxibility/teleworking, or find an employer that will. Either way, this article is of IMMENSE use to me – at just the right time.

  6. anonanonanon*

    #1&2: I’m lucky enough that the two big companies I’ve worked for have allowed remote or flexible work. My current company is really chill about it and people are almost always approved for remote or flexible hours, but my last company was a nightmare and they tended to favor people with long commutes or children/partners for remote/flexible work over single/city living people (but it tended to be one of those companies that was all, “if you’re single and live in the city near the office, you have no reason not to stay late because you have nothing else to do!!”, so it never came as a surprise).

    My hope is just that more companies treat everyone equally when it comes to allowing remote/flexible work and don’t penalize or reward people based on their out of work lifestyles. Rush hour traffic in a car can be just as irritating as rush hour on public transit.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      I hate when I hear that companies “favor” certain types of employees especially because of the assumptions that go with the favoring. There is so much to do with yourself outside of work no matter your walk of life or obligations. Rush hour traffic can be so soul sucking. Because of it, I am more productive between 9am-12pm from my home than I am at work.

      1. anonanonanon*

        Yes, exactly. I was really upset at my last company when they let people with cars work from home during the winter because they thought people who lived in the city shouldn’t have any trouble coming in. And honestly, I wouldn’t want people driving in bad weather, but I live in a city with notoriously bad public transit in the winter and snowbanks that are so high you have to step into the street to see if you’re okay to cross the road – having to walk to work or walk from the subway during a bad snowstorm is not safe for employees either! If one group is allowed to work from home for something like bad weather, everyone else should be able to WFH too.

        1. Jonno*

          OMG, are you me? We have a downtown office and a suburban office. If the weather is bad, everyone works from home but I live in the city a little less than two miles away and don’t own a car. Same — if it snows (which is somewhat of a rarity, we straddle the line between north and south here in the US) then walking in crazy snowdrifts or taking public transit becomes hazardous as well. I have gotten crap for not showing up when most everyone else is working from home because I live so close…I mean it’s a 40 minute walk on a good day, and I’m not risking injury just because I live sort of close by car. I don’t have a car!

        2. Lee Ann*

          When LA Coffeepots merged with Silicon Valley Teakettles, they held an all-hands meeting in San Francisco, flying all the LA employees up there and using the hotel’s conference rooms. Well, the SF area got hit with one of the worst rainstorms on record; roads that were normally high and dry were completely blocked. My manager went, but told us we didn’t have to risk it, and then reported back that the upper management made pointed comments about the LA people being there and on time while the SV people were no-shows – when all they had to do was ride down the elevators!

          This did nothing to stop the mass exodus of SV people – and while the LA Coffeepot business was sagging, it was a SV Teakettle Boom time.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I’m pretty sick of the assumption that because I’m single, I have nothing to do after work. As to rush hour, I’m far LESS annoyed by traffic on public transit. I just follow the herd and don’t have to think, unless something goes wrong. And I tested this theory by deliberately riding the tube in London at peak time. One of the mothers of all rush hours!

      Driving annoys me to no end, especially in winter because people are idiots. No lights, not slowing down, tailgating when it’s SNOWING—the list goes on.

      1. anonanonanon*

        I tend to hate rush hour traffic on public transit because people are crammed into a small subway train and the lack of personal space makes me uncomfortable. I’m fine with taking a train an hour later when I don’t have to be shoved up against a stranger. But the thing is, I don’t mind working later if it means avoiding rush hour traffic or waiting to meet up with people for dinner, but I don’t like the expectation that I should work later because I have nothing else going on in my life because I don’t have a partner or kids to rush home to.

      2. Laurel Gray*

        I am pretty sick of employers assuming period. I want more employers to just adopt policies that are fair to employees while still meeting the needs of the business. I think it drags down morale and builds up resentment when a manager can give out remote work or grant a flexible schedule “at their discretion” and then it turns into favoring based on their personal judgments and preferences.

      3. Kelly*

        I’m another person who would like to have the flex option because of public transit. I live in a Midwest city where the PTB at the mass transit agency act like their primary customers are not commuters. The exception is a certain biotech firm that the agency has added routes for them because of overcrowding. Meanwhile, most commuter routes are overcrowded and off schedule. Having a flex schedule would allow me to catch a less crowded bus.

  7. Beti*

    I hope one of the trends is no more open offices/long communal desks. I’ll (hopefully) be getting a new job towards the end of the year and I’m afraid I’ll end up in an open office situation. There aren’t a lot of companies in my chosen field in my area so I’m a bit limited. I’ll try to get some informational interviews sometime in the spring/summer and I’m hoping to check out the work spaces.

  8. hayling*

    Alison, can you explain the proposed overtime changes? I’m assuming that’s just for non-exempt, correct?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It would change who would be considered exempt or non-exempt. Right now, you can’t be exempt if you’re not earning at least $23,600, even if you meet all the other tests for exemption. The proposed change would raise that minimum salary for exemption to $50,440. Everything else would stay the same, but that salary basis test would change. That means that if you’re currently exempt and making $45,000, you’d be converted to non-exempt (and thus eligible for overtime pay) and have to track your time.

      1. Winter is Coming*

        Or, they could raise the pay to the minimum of $50,440, and maintain the employee’s exempt status (providing they were correctly classified in the first place)?

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I’ve always thought $23,600 was too low to eliminate overtime–that’s not very much to live on. But $50,440 seems wicked high. It will be interesting to see what happens with this.

        1. Random citizen*

          And also weirdly specific. Not $50,000 or even $50,500? I wonder where that precise number came from.

          1. PinkTeapots*

            I believe the number is the 40th percentile and would change each year to stay at the 40th percentile.

        2. fposte*

          Basically, it’s a catchup–it’s the contemporary equivalent of $23,600. So I think there’s merit in that, but I also think that the workplace has changed in ways this kind of straight-out cliff doesn’t take into consideration.

  9. Jerzy*

    #’s 1, 2 and 3 are all at the top of my list in terms of what i want out of my next job. I have some ability to WFH when I have to, and a tiny amount of flexibility in my schedule, but I need it to be more of a regular thing. As long as I’m doing my work, on all the conference calls I need to be on, and available for calls when things come up, what difference does it make if I work from home and run the washer while I’m working on a spreadsheet?

    I hope these predictions or Alison’s come true in the New Year, and that I can find a part-time job with the flexibility I’m looking for.

  10. Regina 2*

    I really hope these trends come true too, but they still seem like perks for the elites in Silicon Valley to me. My job is entirely digital and web-based, and yet my team/office goes into a mild panic any time I ask to work remotely or will be away for a conference. I’ve had it better than others, but we do not have a culture where we could ask to work remotely.

    I mean, I had to use vacation time in order to work remotely this holiday week. So.

    1. Argh!*

      I’m expected to keep tabs on things while I’m at home even when I’m out sick, but there’s no vice-versa: I’m not allowed to spend time on personal business at work. I’ve pushed back on checking in from home so it’s gotten a bit better, but I can’t totally unplug when I’m sick.

    2. Pipette*

      My job is also of the kind that you can do anywhere with a decent computer and good Internet access, but at the two first companies I worked at, your butt *had* to be in the office. We would bring up remote working every once in a while (like for impending snow storms or train strikes) only to get shot down. They have lost some good people because of that, and the people with brutal commutes who are staying on regardless are extremely demoralised. It makes no sense at all.

      However, I’m at a remote working-friendly company now, so do have a look around. Maybe there are some sensible employers in your field too?

  11. Jackie*

    Alison, I’m wondering (as a former non-profit manager) what your thoughts are about the impact the overtime rules will have in this sector. I’m a manager (of staff & programs) in a non-profit and we’ve been talking about this a lot lately. In our particular field, we’re reimbursed for services (typically via government/state/local tax-generated funding) at rates that barely keep the lights on while paying our staff well below the threshold the new regs will set forth. This is going to impact over 95% of the 200+ people who work here since only the highest level folks are actually earning more than $50,000/year. Which means the vast majority of people get converted to non-exempt full time staff… which is fine (in theory) but problematic in practice for two reasons:
    1. We provide services to people… which means that hours can be unpredictable. It’s not at all unusual for our staff to go past 40 hours per week, particularly in some departments. Right now, no big deal and paying them overtime sounds more than fair… except that I am a part of the budgeting team and there’s not a chance we can afford to pay more without dramatically cutting expenses in other areas. (Like office supplies- which we’re already about as cheap as you can be with- the entire agency budget is under $5,000 for the year, including copier supplies & paper!) Which sounds like we need to fundraise… which leads me to the second issue.
    2. We have a tiny development/marketing/fundraising team. It’s 2 people. They rely HEAVILY on volunteers from our staff to put on events. As in, without our staff’s time, events just wouldn’t happen. When (not if- word on the street is it’s a done deal) this hits next year, our events are going to tank since staff who are non-exempt cannot volunteer their time. I’m personally responsible for key aspects of our 2 largest events and, like almost everyone else in our agency, I’m going to be non-exempt really soon… so how do we handle this, given that the institutional memory and skill to make these things successful relies on people that are going to be “forbidden” from participating?
    Thoughts from our world of low-compensation non-profit work? I’ve talked to our leadership who have assured me that they aren’t going to suddenly find tons of cash to raise manager salaries above the threshold, but when I brought THIS topic up (specifically about our events that keep the doors open financially) they had no idea what to do. I’m worried that our already meager, barely scraping by budgets are going to tank completely without the revenue from events. Anyone else dealing with this or have brilliant ideas?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep, I think it’s going to really strain nonprofit budgets even further and will lead to some orgs needing to cut services or programs (or join the legions that are burying their head in the sand about non-exempt regulations and hoping that no one files a wage complaint, which obviously isn’t a good choice). I’d love to see a nonprofit exemption for charitable work, but I don’t think that’s even on the table.

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      I’m not Alison but my understand is staff, even non-exempt staff can volunteer for non-profit events under certain conditions. I actually wrote asking about this at one point. It was in the comments, not a main post though. First, it has to be very truly voluntary. No repercussions for those that don’t volunteer or benefits for those that do. It has to be different from the employees regular job. For example, if your non-profit is a medical provider and you do a fundraiser that is a breakfast, nurses could volunteer as waitresses at the fundraiser and not have to be paid for that. If your non-profit holds a flu shot clinic though, the nurses would have to be paid if they were working it as nurses.

      1. Jackie*

        Thank you! I must have missed that thread but I’ll definitely look into the logistics of this for our organization. I have a few DOL contacts locally who might be able to define what is/isn’t acceptable in our specific context.

  12. Argh!*

    #2 is one of my biggest issues with my current position. The one time my boss gave me permission to work a few hours on a Saturday to make up for stuff I had to do during the week she made a point of calling me to be sure I was really at work. Seriously? She’s known me for years now and I’ve never done anything dishonest.

  13. Kate in DC*

    I’m really curious about how the new overtime rules will affect teachers. A TON of the work we do is after the regular school day, from straightening the classroom to planning to grading papers, and in a truly unfortunate number of districts, teachers make far less than the new threshold. Does the fact that many of us are governed by union contracts have an impact at all? This doesn’t directly affect me–even first-year teachers in my district make more than $50,440–but in a lot of states new teachers start out with very, very low salaries. I’m having trouble figuring out how districts would make this work at all, other than raising salaries to a minimum of the new threshold. (Which they should!)

    1. BeenThere*

      I agree all teachers at the bare minimum should be paid the threshold. I wouldn’t be who I was if not for my teachers and I’ve seen their salaries slowly eroded in my home country nearly to the levels I’ve seen in the US.

    2. Sara*

      Yes, this won’t impact my current district (where even first year teachers with a BA make over $50k), but a lot of smaller districts in the area are going to really struggle with this change. My old district will end up needing to bump up many staff by almost $10k! (And they deserve it! But where is that money going to come from?)

  14. Weasel007*

    I am seeing the exact opposite of #1: in my industry (Financial IT) they are pulling everyone who was wfh back into the office. At first they didn’t have the space but they laid off thousands of people in the past 3 years (10’s of thousands). In fact, it is harder now to feel like an adult working these days. We have to “ask” out if we have a reason to wfh on a day (like a delivery or maintenance). It has become very unproductive and a pita. In fact, my productivity a work is no where near what it was wfh. Too many distractions in the office.

    1. BeenThere*

      This is exactly why I’m leaving for Silicon Valley. I’m done with Finance, Trading. I was moved to the trading floor then questioned about large noise cancelling headphones I wore all day to get my work done….
      Camel’s Back.
      Mic Drop.

  15. BananaPants*

    Along the lines of flexible working arrangements, my employer is now offering up to 12 weeks of fully paid parental leave for an employee who gives birth and or adopts and considers themself the child’s primary caregiver. Employees whose spouse gives birth are entitled to 4 weeks with full pay.
    Previously an employee who gave birth would be on STD and get 60% of salary for 6-8 weeks and any further leave up to the FMLA limit would be unpaid. I took around 12 weeks total with each baby but it was a massive hit to our finances since I’m the bigger breadwinner. I will definitely be staying put until my husband and I make a decision on future childbearing, because this kind of parental leave is not the norm in my industry.

Comments are closed.