health, health and more health: the SHRM workplace forecast

February 24, 2011

in health care,wellness

SHRM released their biennial report on workplace trends this month. it’s really about health. health is the workplace trend to be thinking about and working on. its tentacles reach out and grasp all other workplace trends.

top workforce trends

shrm 2011 top workforce trends

(note: click image for larger, easier-to-read view.)

all but three of the top workforce trends relate, in some fashion, to health. #1, #2 and#4 are specifically about health or related legislation. #3, #7, #9 and #10 are about our economic security and competitiveness, which are directly affected by our health. you could make a case that #8 also affects mental health, as cross-cultural awareness and collaboration brings its own stresses.

the image below shows the most common tactics companies are pursuing in response to these trends. note the imbalance. of the four i highlighted, three obviously relate to health. tactic #2 could relate to health, since studies have shown that wellness efforts increase engagement and improve productivity, but i highly doubt this was what respondents meant here. it’s more likely that they’re thinking about increased hours and efficiencies through other means.

shrm 2011 top workforce trends tactics

top social and demographic trends

following the workforce trends, the SHRM report digs into five separate sub-trends, starting with demographic and social trends. i’ve focused largely on these in this post, though the others (economics and employment, global issues, public policy, and science and technology) connect to health, too.

i pulled from the total list of demographic and social trends those with direct health implications. the percentage accompanying each item is the percentage of HR respondents who feel this particular item has major strategic implications for their organization:

  • increases in chronic conditions (50%)
  • growth in number of employed adult caregivers (47%)
  • employee backlash against rising benefits costs (44%)
  • increased demand for workplace flexibility (43%)
  • increased proportion of older workers (40%)
  • increased concerns about safety and security in the workplace (38%)
  • rise in the number of employees with untreated mental and physical needs (36%)
  • increase in the number of employees with mental health issues (e.g., depression) (24%)*

these items are not isolated but knock on one another like dominoes. we’re all familiar with the costs related to chronic conditions—these costs rise along with the age of the average worker. employees faced with taxing caregiving situations require greater flexibility or they retire early or turn down promotions, putting increased pressure on an already marked shortage of skilled talent. an increased rate of older employed workers constrains the job market and the financial well-being of younger workers. a higher rate of untreated mental health issues and an increase in the number of employees presenting these problems can have serious consequence for safety and security in the workplace.

shrm 2011 top workforce trends mental health

in response, you can see that many (54%) are implementing employee wellness programs, and another 26% plan to. they’re also putting in place efforts and policies to increase skills, provide workplace flexibility and greater career opportunity, encourage acceptance and ensure safety. at the same time, i’ve highlighted a note-worthy figure: 45% of respondents say their company expects employees to be available for work, including through the night and on weekends, and an additional 9% say they’re headed there. take rising health care costs, increased strain from caregiving needs, lack of progressive advancement, job loss, etcetera etcetera, and you have a potent brew. no wonder anti-depressants are the most prescribed drug for one of my clients.

economic and employment trends

the list of economic and employment trends is bigger than my youngest’s holiday gift list. (note: i don’t use “holiday” to be PC. she’s one of those lucky kids who get to celebrate christmas and hanukkah.) it covers everything from increased M&A activity to the shift to a knowledge economy to greater involvement of corporate boards. but topping this 32-item list? the cost of providing employee health care. sprinkled throughout the list are concerns of how lack of retirement readiness and retirement benefits costs will affect business strategy (#7 and #8 on the list, respectively). other trends, like the increased cost of living (#5), also affect individual and company well-being. employees can’t save, cover health care bills, send themselves or their kids for advanced degrees or save for retirement when they’re too financially strapped.

remaining trends

the remaining sub-trends—science and technology, global, public policy—also detail workforce issues affecting individual and collective health. there’s an increasing digital divide between technologically adept employees and those who are less so at the same time as there’s an increased reliance on e-learning, self-service and collaborative technologies, including social networks. however, businesses seem to strictly focus on how they can use social networks to screen candidates and build the employer brand, not on how they might use them to provide health-related social motivation and connection. the global trends of increased competition, mobility, multiculturalism and virtual teams feed directly into earlier health concerns like 24/7 expectations, career and wage stagnation, and needed tolerance in a mixed-in-every-which-way work environment. finally, there’s the gorilla in the room: health care reform (though 46% of respondents haven’t been asked to inform their senior management about its implications to their organization).

the report closes by advising HR to prioritize based on their organization. when many of these trends are affected by factors outside their organization’s purview, that’s a tough thing to do. HR folks certainly have their work cut out for them.


*i assume this group is being treated, unlike the earlier one.

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