These 10 Positive Workplace Trends are Awesome (Let’s Hope They Continue)

Workplace trends
Anne Quirk of Providence, R.I., had three months of unpaid leave from her job as a speech language pathologist after the birth of her son Kieran, 11 months. AP Photo/Stephan Savoia

As millennials grow up and become a force to be reckoned with in the workplace, companies are rolling out policies to meet our unique sensibilities.

More attuned to our options than our parents, we want flexibility and autonomy in our work. We want some freedom to be creative and to know our ideas are heard. Most of all, we want to enjoy work and care about what we do.

At The Penny Hoarder, we’ve covered some exciting changes in company benefits and culture that aim to attract and retain the changing workforce.

Here are 10 workplace trends we hope we continue to see grow in 2017.

1. Paid Parental Leave

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen some major companies announce expansions to their parental leave policies.

Federal law only requires companies to offer 12 weeks’ unpaid leave, but four states and Washington, D.C. mandate paid parental leave for private sector workers, and many companies have their own expanded policies.

Microsoft offers 12 weeks paid, Adobe offers 26 weeks to new moms and 16 weeks to primary caregivers and other parents, and Netflix offers one full year of as much paid time off as new parents need.

In 2016, Etsy announced new moms and dads get 26 weeks’ (six months) fully-paid leave for birth or adoption.

But tech startups always seem to be workplace trendsetters. The tipping point comes when major traditional companies start to adopt similar policies.

We saw that this year when both Amex and IKEA announced new paid parental leave policies.

IKEA offers up to four months’ paid leave for both salaried and hourly workers. American Express offers 20 paid weeks to both full- and part-time employees, plus reimbursement for adoption and fertility treatments.

Companies including IBM and Johnson & Johnson also offer competitive parental leave policies.

With these giant companies offering the benefit to thousands of employees around the world, we expect to see many others following suit.

(By the way, The Penny Hoarder offers eight weeks’ paid maternity leave, four weeks’ paid paternity leave, unlimited sick days, work-from-home days and flex time, so our employees can find the right work-life balance!)

2. Child Care Assistance

We saw a lot of talk in 2016 about the rising cost of child care. Millennials in the workforce are paying way more than our parents did.

Some parents simply choose to have one parent stay home, because the cost of going to work isn’t worth the pay!

Savvy companies are starting to understand this burden and offer on-site child care or child care subsidies to employees with children. This is becoming an important tool for recruiting top talent and supporting working parents.

3. Unlimited Paid Time Off — in Some Cases

A flexible schedule and working from home are great, but what about taking vacation whenever you want?

With more than half of Americans not using all of our available paid vacation days, you might be surprised to see a growing number of companies offering unlimited vacation time.

Unlimited paid vacation days mean employees can take time off when they need it without budgeting within a limit. That’s attractive for potential applicants.

It’s attractive for employers, too. Offering unlimited vacation days actually saves companies money, Time reports. Worried about not getting all their work done or looking lazy, employees actually tend to take fewer days off when there’s no limit.

When the onus is on us to determine a “proper” amount of time off, we get scared and fall back on the American standby of overworking.

Getting unlimited vacation days actually puts additional responsibility on the employee to decide how much is appropriate. Instead, companies can likely do better by employees by offering generous vacation policies — with limits.

What we do like to see unlimited are paid sick days.

Plenty of companies, as well as a few states and cities are making progress by starting to offer paid sick days, a workplace benefit many Americans don’t have.

But setting a limit is tough. It creates a target for generally-well employees to invent excuses to take off, and it creates stressful restriction for those who are hit with unexpected health issues or sick kids.

Unlimited sick days means employees can take care of themselves and keep their germs away from others. And employees who aren’t sick have little incentive to fake it.

4. Remote Work

Virtual companies are entirely online, backed by a team of employees that work remotely. Once a futuristic feature of tech startups, this trend is leaking across industries now.

You can do everything from customer service to engineering from the comfort of your home.

Companies like employing a virtual workforce because it saves money on office space, equipment and provisions. Employees like it, because they get to work from home, often on their own schedule.

While you lose those watercooler conversations and serendipitous brainstorming sessions with co-workers, apps like Slack, Google Drive and even email can help keep co-workers connected virtually.

Working remotely as an employee may limit you to companies in certain states. But working as a contractor or freelancer often gives you the opportunity to work from anywhere in the world.

5. Human Resources Transformation

This “is going to be the year human resources transforms itself into ‘people science,’” Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain told Fast Company.

As other sectors are transformed by technology, HR has lagged behind. But “the rise of big data” could bring it into the present, Chamberlain says.

“Using data science in HR to make even small improvements in recruiting, hiring, and engagement has the potential for huge benefits to organizations.”

Instead of guessing at the best methods for training, assessing and recruiting employees, HR departments can turn to a lot of inexpensive tools that answer these big questions with data.

6. Increasing Human Creativity Through Automation

“Workers increasingly need to build skills that are complementary to technology — learning to run the machine, not doing the same work the machine automates,” Chamberlain explains.

As routine jobs are becoming automated, we’ll need to learn new skills and focus more on the creative aspects of work.

With current technology, robots don’t have your judgment or soft skills, so plenty of jobs still need a human touch.

7. Free, Healthy Food

The Penny Hoarder is among a growing number of companies who offer a benefit millennials can’t get enough of: free food.

But it’s more than just free — it’s healthy food. We employ an “office superhero” who prepares fresh mini meals and snacks, so we don’t have to buy lunch or munch on salty, sugary treats.

“We are serving fuel, instead of just food,” Erin O’Neill, our people and culture manager told Fast Company. “Almost everything gets eaten and there is very little waste.”

With a growing focus on healthy eating hitting everything from school lunches to fast food menus, employees are less satisfied with donuts and pizza in the break room. Providing fresh, wholesome foods helps us save money and work better (no sugar crashes!).

8. Rising Minimum Wages

On Jan. 1, 2017, the minimum wage went up in 19 states. Some, admittedly, will only see a cost-of-living raise of a few cents. But others, like New York and California, have plans in place to hit $15 over the coming years.

Here again, private companies are working faster than the law. In 2016, Target raised its company-wide minimum wage to $10, and Costco raised its entry-level wage to between $13 and $13.50.

Even Walmart employees have an average hourly full-time rate of $13.38 — well above the abysmal federal minimum wage set to $7.25 in 2009.

The minimum wage was a major talking point throughout the 2016 election, and workers aren’t forgetting about it. Even if legislators don’t keep up, we expect to see more companies jumping on this trend to recruit and retain employees.

9. Tuition Assistance

School is expensive for millennials, but luckily some companies are starting to take notice and take action. Several companies have added tuition reimbursement or assistance to their employee benefits rosters.

With many of us entering the workforce saddled with student loan debt, any help paying it back is attractive!

Huge companies like Fidelity Investments and PwC offer this benefit, according to the Chicago Tribune. Staples announced a tuition assistance program for sales associates in November, a tool to help it recruit up to 1,000 new employees ahead of the holiday season.

10. Ditching the Dress Code

I often forget how lucky I am to simply wear what I want to The Penny Hoarder office every day. It’s a privilege many employees have to reserve for a designated “casual Friday,” when they can wear — gasp! — jeans to the office.

You may sense from my millennial disdain (and my yoga pants) that I think traditional dress codes are bit… stringent.

Until recently, even Starbucks restricted its employees dress, hair and accessories. Baristas!

But that attitude is falling by the wayside. Starbucks welcomed personal expression with a new dress code in June 2016.

Startup employees famously eschew any indication of “formal,” “business” or “office” in their attire in favor of the fully “casual” style set by leaders like Jobs and Zuckerberg.

These fashion-poor trailblazers realize we all work fine in comfortable clothes. More importantly, they trust their employees to stick with inoffensive clothing and to dress to impress when a client meeting is on the schedule.

Your Turn: What workplace trends do you want to see continue in 2017? Which would you do away with?

With research from Jacquelyn Pica, an editorial intern at The Penny Hoarder.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).