Forecast 2016: Gretchen Spreitzer Talks Workplace Trends

December 9, 2015

Michigan Ross Professor Gretchen Spreitzer explains two dominant workplace themes in the coming year.

The rapidly shifting needs of both companies and employees has spawned innovation and, in some cases, some friction.

As the workplace continues to evolve, Michigan Ross Professor Gretchen Spreitzer, Keith E. and Valerie J. Alessi Professor of Business Administration and professor of management and organizations, sees two main themes emerging in 2016:

More use of coworking spaces to reduce real estate costs and help remote workers.

Spreitzer says we’ll see more people than ever using coworking spaces. These are membership-based work spaces for freelance and remote workers with natural light, moveable furniture, and writable tables/walls.

“The number of freelance workers continues to grow, with estimates of 40 percent being freelance by 2020,” she says. “Currently there are more than 800 working spaces in the U.S. and more than 2,000 around the globe. Coworkers experience these workspaces as a kind of ‘third place’ where work is more than a paycheck. Coworkers desire meaningful work and to be part of a community. Coworking spaces create community by involving members in the governance of the space. They have a voice in decisions pertinent to the future of the space (like whether to expand or change a rule), plan the social activities, and helping shape the culture of the space.”

More companies will offer paternity/maternity benefits, but will employees use it?

Companies like Netflix (one year), Accenture (no travel in first year), and Microsoft (20 weeks) said they would offer more family-friendly benefits like generous parental leave. Spreitzer says it’s a necessary move in an economy where knowledge workers are in high demand and companies compete for the best people.

“Today’s parents want to be more present in the lives of their children and are less afraid to jump off the fast track to have a more flexible career,” she says. “This trend toward more family-friendly benefits is a step in the right direction. However, there is also evidence that employees are often hesitant to take advantage of paternity/maternity benefits for fear of being seen as not serious about one’s career.

“An example of this is Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Yahoo offers family leave, but their CEO failed to role model and didn’t take family leave herself. The message is that top employees do not change their behavior when a new baby arrives. So while more companies are offering family leave, it’s not clear if more employees will take advantage of it. On the other hand, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, appears to be a better role model as he claims he will take a two-month paternity leave. Let’s hope that will make it safer for men and women at Facebook and other companies to follow his lead.”

Reprinted from Ross Thought in Action