Don't Miss Out in 2016: 5 Things Every Employer Should Consider

With the year now in full swing, employers have had time to settle back into their office chair and blow away the tinselled cobwebs that Christmas left behind. Sure, there may still be a few Matchmakers and Quality Streets lying around, but it's time to throw away the toffee pennies and plan for the forces that are set to impact the workplace over the next 12 months.

So now that attentions are firmly being switched back to the world of work and starting the year the right way, just what exactly should employers prepare for in 2016?

Wearable technology

Millennials are having a huge impact on the modern business landscape and these tech-savvy employees will continue to shape corporate practices in 2016. Wearable technology is one of the latest trends set to follow Generate Y into the workplace and employers will need to be adaptable to the challenges (and benefits) that this could potentially bring.

What exactly is wearable technology? 

Although wearable technology can be traced back to the humble calculator watch, Google, Apple and an array of Kickstarter projects have brought the term to the fore in recent years. More than just a futuristic fashion statement though, these are considered practical accessories that can track everything from health to work performance. 

Wearable tech is all about connectivity. By using Bluetooth, WiFi and modern day magic, your latest investment in innovation is designed to help you achieve both personal and professional goals. Whether you want to keep an eye on your heart rate or you need access to a candidate's' CV in an interview, these gadget garbs give you instant access to the information that matters to you. 

What types of wearable technology can employers expect?

The now defunct Google Glass was arguably the first piece of wearable technology that promised to bring ubiquitous computing to the masses, however the eyewear (which was taken out of beta production in 2015) has been replaced by smartwatches as the field leader. 

Due to their practical and inconspicuous nature, it's perhaps not surprising that smartwatches are set to become the first facet of wearable technology to break into the workplace. The increase in smartwatch sales is in no small part thanks to the weight Apple has thrown behind the concept. Firms such as LG, Sony and Microsoft have developed their own wrist devices as competition, however Apple still boasts a 52% share of the current market. 

What are the benefits of wearable technology in business?

Instant access to data and communications is arguably the biggest advantage of using wearable technology in the workplace. The ability to receive emails, text messages and phone calls (all on your wrist), means that your organisation can be in constant contact, even away from the office. This omnipresent capability also allows for the perpetual management of social media, extending these communicative benefits to your customers. 

Wearable tech is all about connectivity. By using Bluetooth, WiFi and modern day magic, your latest investment in innovation is designed to help you achieve both personal and professional goals.

As well as communication, your staff can also potentially access documents and information when they need them most. This will benefit some professions more than others, but a paramedic having a gateway to medical guidance or a salesperson having the right figures for that all important meeting, can clearly be invaluable. Some of the industries set to benefit the most from wearable tech include healthcare, retail and finance. 

From the perspective of an employer though, having a tool to track productivity and even well-being will allow for more well-informed business strategies. As activity data is sent to the cloud, it may be possible for business owners to monitor what work is being done, when it's being done and at what point in the day staff are at their least effective. It could also show vital health statistics, so employers can identify factors such as stress, happiness and fitness. Fitness wearables from Fitbit or Garmin are designed predominantly for health tracking.

What are the drawbacks?

While constant connectivity can seem a futuristic blessing, never being able to disconnect from the office means that employees may find it difficult to 'switch off.' Although some may argue that wearable technology can help readdress the work-life balance, others will find that being receptive to the job 24/7 can increase work-related stress.  

Perhaps the biggest concern is that businesses may lose an element of control over sensitive data and intellectual property. Wearable technology could record and transport information, meaning that the responsibility of security remains as much with the employee as it does the employer. Constant tracking of activity and communications will also lead to privacy concerns. Although wearable technology is subject to the data protection act, employers will find it difficult to monitor what is and what isn't being logged by staff members. 

Whether you decide to embrace wearable technology will depend on your business and employees, however you can certainly expect your workforce to force the issue this at some point this year.

An emphasis on work-life balance

The 'work-life balance' is an age-old concept, but a concept worthy of analysis nonetheless. With the average 2016 worker covering nearly 40 hours a week, employers (well, the caring ones at least) are constantly faced with facilitating a work and play lifestyle that gets the most out of their workforce. Unfortunately, there's no 'one size fits all' approach to the work-life balance, but there is a range of different sizes available that might be right for your business.

Around a quarter of UK workers are unhappy with the proportion of time spent on the job, and this is even more so when we look at professionals within major cities. The 'always-on' culture of modern work, coupled with longer commutes and longer hours, means that the battle to re-prioritise home life is often a fruitless endeavor. 

Just what do employers have in their arsenal though?

The Swedish approach

Cutting the working day to just six hours has been a growing trend amongst Swedish employers, with the majority reporting an increase in workforce productivity. This departure from the 9-to-5 means adopting a 'targets not time' approach, where success is measured by what's been achieved and not by when you leave the office. While many may express a concern about shorter working hours, the decrease in fatigue and rise in job satisfaction has thus far justified the decision by Scandinavian bosses.

Longer days, shorter weeks

Three day weekends are a mere pipe dream for most of us, however some businesses are turning it into a reality. By working 10 hour days Mon-Thurs (or any combination of four days), staff are able to make up the eight hours to them a day off. While having an extra day away from the desk might allow for recharged staff, employers still need to make sure that they have enough office cover for all five days. 

Work from home

Providing that there's an element of trust, allowing your staff to occasionally work from home can potentially create the feeling of a better work-life balance. Eliminating the daily commute will not only increase job satisfaction and allow more time for work, but will also enable employees to feel a little more detached from the rat race. Be warned though, not everyone is suited to home-working and the nature of being constantly 'on' can leave staff feeling as stressed as if they were back in the office.

Is flexitime the answer?

A less structured approach to the working day, while beneficial for some, can also create its own problems. Although flexitime has always seemed like a magical solution to an overworked labour force, it's not always an easy mindset to implement. The potential threat to productivity, organisation and security have long been a barrier to flexible working.

Allowing staff to manage their own time is often a precursor to procrastination and could ultimately mean a downturn in productivity. Yes, the ability to dictate the day can give staff a sense of empowerment, but it requires a considerable leap of faith from employers. Before introducing any changes to the working routine, consider exactly the types of personality within your workforce and the responsibilities that each job role encompasses. Simply, flexitime might not be practical for your organisation and allowing staff to set their own hours could be detrimental to your objectives. 

Summer of sport

Every four years, the world is afforded a sensational summer of sport with the European Championships and the Olympic Games being temporarily added to a calendar that already includes Wimbledon et al. Sport schedulers care little for the 9 to 5 brigade though, meaning that many of the most attractive games and events will take place during the working day.

Football and athletics will dominate the airwaves this summer, but what are some of the key dates that employers may have to contend with?

Euro 2016: June 10th - July 10th

The European Championship in France kicks off this summer and the football fanatics amongst your workforce have a month's worth of international action to look forward to. With an average of three games a day however, there may be some conflict of interests as many of the top matches will fall right in the middle of the day. Kick off times are 14:00, 17:00 and 20:00 GMT, meaning that you might see some slow returns from lunch and some very hasty finishes. 

Wimbledon: June 27th - July 10th 

Prepare for some classic British sport as Fed, Murray and the Williams sisters will be back to welcome us to Wimbledon at the end of June. The world's favourite tennis event will last for two weeks before climatically closing on Centre Court on July 10th. Matches usually start at 11:30 and 13:00, and can last anything between 1.5 to 5 hours. Oh, and guess what? Staff can watch games live via iPlayer...

Tour de France: July 2nd - July 24th
The Tour de France will set off from the department of Manche (Normandy) in the first weekend of July. The annual cycling competition will be taking place for the 103rd time, with live coverage of each stage available throughout the race. The final stage will commence on the 24th of July as riders make their way to Chantilly. With cycling currently 'in trend,' you can expect this to attract a little more attention than in previous years. 

Olympic Games: August 5th - August 21st

It might only seem like yesterday since Boris Johnson passed over the Olympic flag, but Rio 2016 is nearly here. Starting at the beginning of August, this celebration of sport will last a little over two weeks and will see 10,500 athletes compete in 306 events. The games is a whole day spectacle and staff may be glued to social media in order to keep up with the medals table. 

Paralympic Games: Sept 7th - Sept 18th

Following the closing of the Summer Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games will take the attention baton of athletics enthusiasts. The Paralympics, also in Rio, begins on the 7th of September and will play host to 22 sports. Channel 4 will be presenting over 500 hours of televised coverage in the UK. 

So what does this mean for employers?

Although employers may think that their trusted staff are able to prioritise work over debatably trivial sporting events, this isn't always the case. If you have a fair few sport fans in the office, be prepared to file a lot of sickness forms and holiday requests.

With a large number of sporting events happening in the middle of the day, productivity and absence levels could be set to suffer. For big games (perhaps the 14:00 KO between England and Wales at Euro 2016 on June 16th), staff may find the promise of a huge event too tempting and decide to pull out the "I can't come in WiFi. See you tomorrow." 

If you have a fair few sports fans in the office, be prepared to file a lot of holiday requests and sickness forms!

For those that do manage to turn in, somewhat unrestricted internet access could prove to be a distraction. Social media and new sites will be awash with sporting coverage and this could see a drop in the performance of your staff - especially if they can stream live action. 

If you're concerned that sports fever could cause an office-wide epidemic, it's important to clearly define your expectations to your staff. Regardless of your stance on the matter though, you should remember that this is only temporary and all symptoms should have died down by October. Now come on England / Team GB / Andy Murray / Chris Froome!

Changes in employment law

2016 will see an influx of law changes that will impact a whole host of key business functions. Keeping up to date with changing legislation is a constant challenge for employers and the next year promises to introduce just as many hoops for companies to jump through. 
What are some of the key law changes?

There are countless legislative changes being introduced this year, however here are some of the key regulations that you should look out for over the coming months (and ones you should definitely know about!).

National Living Wage

As of April this year, a new minimum wage will be introduced across the UK, forcing employers to reevaluate their company spending. Announced by George Osborne in his Summer Budget, the National Living Wage will set a new minimum pay rate that employers will be required to pay to the over 25s. The minimum wage currently sits at £6.70 an hour, however this will increase to £7.20 on the 1st of April. This figure is expected to rise to more than £9 an hour by the end of the decade. 

Immigration Bill

Also coming into effect in April, the Immigration Bill will introduce new consequences for employers who recruit illegal workers. The net has been widened and employers with 'reasonable cause to believe' that they have employed an illegal worker (as opposed to just 'knowingly'), could now face a prison sentence. This means that employers will have to prove to authorities that proper candidates checks were performed before hiring them. 

Gender Pay Transparency

Organisations with more than 250 employees will now be required to publish any information in regards to a gender pay gap. These measures will apply to private, public and voluntary bodies, and will also include any variations in bonuses. Paying people unequally (for the same work) has been illegal since 1970, however this act of transparency means businesses must demonstrate the level of role that women typically have. 

Zero Hour Contracts

Zero hour contracts are a contentious issue and 2016 is set to address another of the key sticking points with this type of work. Last year saw the banning of exclusivity clauses in zero hour contracts, however this did little to stop employees being dismissed for finding another job. Further legislation was introduced early in January though that now allows staff to make a claim if they are punished for breaching an exclusivity policy. 

Parental and sick pay freeze

Statutory parental pay (including maternity, paternity and adoption) has been frozen for 2016/2017 at £139.58 per week. For those that already earn less than this, employers will make up 90% of an employee's weekly pay. Sick pay has also been frozen at £88.45. These rates typically increase year on year, but a fall in inflation has meant that this won't be the case for 2016.  

Law reforms, by the first Conservative Government since 1997, were announced by George Osborne in the summer of last year.  The budget revealed a host of legal changes that could have a huge impact on various business types. Employers can keep up to date with legislative changes here.

Training to address skill shortages

The skill shortage that's currently befalling a number of industries will continue into 2016, meaning that employers will need to take a stance on how much time and resources they're willing to invest into training existing staff. 

If there's a hole in your business, the most common solution is to try and hire the rightly skilled peg, however a shortage of appropriate options means that moulding someone who is already on your payroll could be the most effective recourse. 

Where are the skill shortages?

The construction skill shortage is having a major impact on the state of UK infrastructure. There is around £119 billion worth of construction projects planned for the next five years, however the lack of skilled professionals means that supply might not be able to keep up with the demand. This shortage ofskills has been described as 'critical' by the REC and tens of thousands of staff will need to be introduced to the workforce each year in order to meet industry objectives. Construction recruitment agencies are finding that some of the most in-demand candidates include surveyors, bricklayers and joiners.
Supply and demand plays a similar role in the digital market, where nearly half of employers fear that they will struggle to hire technologically skilled candidates (according to a CBI survey). This might not be altogether surprising when we consider that a different survey, by digital charity Go.On UK, suggested that 12 million people lack the basic skills to operate successfully in the digital age. Much of the blame for this has been placed at the door of the education system, where many feel that schools aren't doing enough to teach skills within programming, image editing and web design. 

There is around £119 billion worth of construction projects planned for the next five years, however the lack of skilled professionals means that supply might not be able to keep up with the demand.

An ageing workforce is the main factor hampering the logistics sector, as employers struggle to recruit qualified new entrants to replace those leaving the field. Driving is a particular vocation that is failing to attract suitable candidates to its vacancies. The average age of a professional driver in the UK is 57, however this number could continue to rise as younger job seekers refuse to take the wheel. An increase in testing and license barriers are deterring would-be drivers, meaning that employers may look to train warehouse workers or similar operatives to take up driving roles.

...And management 

Away from whole industries, suitably skilled senior staff are becoming increasingly difficult to find for UK businesses. Leadership qualities are a little more difficult to teach professionals who are likely to have spent their careers following directions, so employers will have to work hard if they want to promote from within. Of course, leadership skills are beneficial at all levels, but there is a particular need for skilled managers and directors across most (if not all) sectors.

So should you train and recruit from within?

Whether you choose to develop current employees or look elsewhere for necessary skills, the decision will depend entirely on the situation of your company - and of course, the role you're looking to fill. This can often come down to a question of cost or convenience, however if the right candidate just isn't out there, training may be the last resort. 

As skilled candidates remain hard to find in 2016, employers may be forced to balance their recruitment and training strategies. A re-emphasis on developing skills from within your organisation will allow you to shape staff to fit a certain need, however recruiting externally may still be the only answer if you require someone to come in and hit the ground running. 

Are you prepared for 2016?

We're already approaching the next page of our wall calendars and it's time to ensure you have plans in place for the differing influences that might impact your workplace for this year. Although there are no real certainties in the world of business (perhaps other than law reforms in this case), technology and an employee desire to better balance their lifestyle will likely have the biggest effects on 2016. 

Before you start implementing some Van Gaal-esque strategies (for the non-football fans, think restrictive, utilitarian, not fit for purpose), keep in mind that your business is unique and any proposed plans will have to be likewise. Regardless of what stance you choose to take on the key issues this year, don't be too impulsive and remember that 2017 will be here before you know it. Scary, eh?

By Dan Whitelegg