Employees and employers are adjusting to late-pandemic work life, including changes to flexibility in the workplace, benefits, and the perception of college degrees.
The COVID-19 pandemic may not be over, but the working world is looking at the next chapter
Changes to flexibility in the workplace, benefits, and perception of college degrees make for new work-life norms
Though we are not in a post-COVID-19 era yet, the pandemic has clearly made its mark on employment trends as workers commute their way back to a physical office space—or not, which could also be an enduring trend once life gets back to “normal.”
Three employment trends appear to be taking hold, including changes to flexibility in the workplace, benefits, and the perception of college degrees. However, employees and employers are not yet on the same page for the back-to-normal work handbook.
“There is a dislocation going on with some substantial changes. Employers are still catching up to meet the needs of employees’ evolving desires,” said Michael Kealy, education coach at TD Ameritrade. “There are both hiring and retention challenges as we adapt to a more mobile work life.”
According to the July 2021 Hiring Trends study by Robert Half Talent Solutions, 49% of employees surveyed said they want a hybrid of remote and in-office work locations.
Meanwhile, 71% of employers surveyed said they want their employees in the office full time.
There are pros and cons for a hybrid workplace for both employees and employers. For employees, flexibility could help with childcare and work-life balance. “It’s an important issue for many people because not having a daily commute can have a huge impact,” Kealy explained.
For employers, they have the potential to save on pricey leases for office space. But the downside could have a different cost. “Employers who don’t give employees at least an opportunity to do some days of each week at home will miss out on opportunities to hire talent” because the demand for flexible work locations is so great, Kealy mentioned.
There’s also the increasingly thorny issue of pay. At many financial and professional services firms, for example, salaries are typically commensurate with geography. After work experience and the job title are factored in, employees in higher cost-of-living areas, like New York City, often get paid more. But if formerly New York-based employees are working remotely in less expensive locations, it can wreak havoc with firms’ pay scales and perceptions of fairness.
Hand-in-hand with work flexibility are changes in desired benefits.
According to Bright Horizons’ 7th Annual Modern Family Index, which covers the mental health consequences on families hunkering down at home together—all day, every day—the pandemic has taken a toll. More than four in five working parents, or 82% who participated in the survey published February 2021, are managing growing household chores, including cooking more meals for their family, cleaning their houses more frequently, and doing the laundry and taking out the trash more often. As a result of the added stress, 50% of parents said concerns about their children’s mental health have grown in the last year.
To help improve these consequences, more employees are asking for more benefits. Nearly half of working parents surveyed said they hope their employer will provide some form of childcare or emergency childcare, and more than one in four are looking for their employer to offer academic and college preparation tutoring or resources that will benefit their children.
“I think we are going to see more companies hook up with providers for childcare and other services,” Kealy said.
“Upskilling is also important for employees, as well as training provided by employers,” Kealy said.
The conversation about training is also resurrecting the debate (though for some it never subsided) about the value of a college degree. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as of 2019, the median income for a high school graduate is $30,000, while those with a bachelor’s degree make around $45,000.
Sure, that’s 50% more in pay. But it’s only part of the equation.
According to EducationData.org, in 2021 the average cost of attendance for a student living on campus at an in-state, public, four-year institution is $25,864 per year or $103,456 over four years. Out-of-state students pay $43,721 per year or $174,884 over four years. And traditional private university students pay $53,949 per year or $215,796 over four years.
Considering student loan interest and loss of income, the ultimate cost of a bachelor’s degree may exceed $400,000.
“This was a trend before the pandemic, but the high cost of a college education is more apparent now as people try to figure out the shifts in the economy and the job market, much of which is still ongoing. Not everyone wants to sink money into a degree if its future value is unknown,” Kealy commented.
Factor in the increased adoption of technology and automation in the workplace. According to a 2019 study by Robert Half, 47% of managers in North America who responded to the survey said the top way that artificial intelligence and robotics are affecting jobs is the requirement of new skills. But so far, it’s not a given that either a college degree or on-the-job training are the obvious path to obtaining the needed skills.
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Mary Haffenberg is not a representative of TD Ameritrade, Inc. The material, views, and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and may not be reflective of those held by TD Ameritrade, Inc.
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