As we welcome 2019, attention is shifting to what’s on the horizon for small businesses in the year ahead. The reality is that the nature of work is evolving. During my more than 25-year career, I have held a number of leadership positions. Early in my time in the health insurance industry, compensation reigned supreme among my employees, while health and wellness were perceived as a “nice-to-have” benefit.
Now, workplace norms are beginning to align more with employee wants and needs and new rules about conducting business are being established — particularly when it comes to employee health and wellness. I believe this shift, which I have witnessed within my own team, will continue to dominate work environments across the nation in the new year.
Here are trends I plan to watch closely throughout 2019.
1. The Tight Labor Market
The national unemployment rate remains at an historic low of 3.7% according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Economists and industry analysts predict the labor market will likely remain tight in 2019 across most industries. That means small businesses will continue to compete with other employers for the best workers. One key to attracting a more diverse workforce, while also retaining current employees, is to offer a compensation package based on what local and regional competitors are offering. I anticipate more employees will push local companies to offer competitive salary offerings in 2019.
2. The Importance Of Health and Wellness Benefits
As I mentioned in a prior Forbes article, personalized health and wellness benefits, next to salary, are more important than ever. Keep in mind that different members of your team — particularly those of different generations — might have different preferences when it comes to medical options, such as the ability to keep the same doctors and have access to good medical care close to home. At the same time, I believe specialized benefits such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, vision, dental and hearing services will appeal to many workers. Based on what I’ve witnessed in the industry, I expect these benefits, along with the increasing popularity of wellness initiatives, such as mindfulness classes, workplace-sponsored weight loss programs and more will play a significant role in employee retention.
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3. The Rise Of The Remote Worker
For decades, corporate America expected employees to be working, in the office, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. In recent years, there has been a relaxation of traditional office “requirements” as laptops, smartphones and tablets have increased our mobility, allowing us to work from anywhere, during any time of day. Anecdotally, this has led to a fundamental change in how owners and managers are setting employee schedules. For example, being able to work remotely is now an employee requirement in some industries. The expectation that employers will offer flexible schedules, allowing employees to visit the office only a few days a week, will continue in 2019.
4. An Emphasis On Wearable Technology
According to ABI Research, an estimated six million workers around the world will receive wearable technology, such as Fitbits or Apple Watches, as part of company-sponsored wellness initiatives. Features such as activity and fitness trackers and heart rate monitoring help companies keep their workforce healthy, increasing overall productivity and reducing the chances of unexpected visits to the doctor. In addition, health insurance companies may offer financial incentives benefiting both employers and employees who choose to use these devices, helping drive significant cost savings. Coming in 2019: further integration of these devices into patient monitoring portals set in place by physicians and hospital networks.
5. Consistent And Transparent Employee Communication
When it comes to employer policies and employee health benefits, consistent communication remains key. I have found creating an up-to-date employee handbook that is readily accessible will benefit both upper management and employees. This document, which briefly summarizes important workplace guidelines and procedures, helps employers meet state and federal labor law requirements, while also reducing any employee confusion through emails and/or in-person reminders throughout the year. A handbook is a must-have for smaller organizations, particularly in the next year as there are likely more changes coming to health and wellness benefit plans and employment law. These are important topics about which employees need to stay informed.