Workplace Trends for 2003

With the time for making New Year’s resolutions approaching, here’s a way to foster a healthy business: take a moment to take the pulse of your industry then hone in on your own company and try to anticipate some of the upcoming trends for it in 2003.

Anticipating trends can be enormously helpful in preparing your organization for future competitiveness. Such forward thinking helps identify potential new markets, develop new product ideas, pinpoint employee educational needs and nip potential problems in the bud.

To help companies get started, we’ve observed some organizational concerns that may emerge as important corporate issues in 2003. By anticipating these workplace challenges and building strategies to deal with them, companies can hope to achieve both short and long term financial success and increase leader and employee effectiveness.

We came up with the following trends based on upcoming demographic shifts, our work counseling corporate clients across North America, and research we examined over the past year.

So, here’s what to watch for in 2003:

1. A growing leadership vacuum.
The increasing number of leaders retiring over the next 10 to 15 years will strain the leadership pool in many organizations. Next year will probably mark the beginning of a leadership vacuum. Savvy organizations will consider grooming appropriate employees for these positions. But training and mentoring good leaders takes time. Effective managers, supervisors and company heads need a little help since the workplace is more complex than ever. And leaders need not only technical proficiency but, perhaps more importantly, strong interpersonal skills.

In fact, the technical qualifications for leaders may be the least of a company’s worries. Corporations must focus on future leaders with people skills such as self-regulation – knowing what emotional and behavioural patterns might get in their way and how to change them. Empathy – knowing how other people think or feel – is critical, as is being able to communicate that knowledge. Neophyte leaders will need to learn interpersonal trouble shooting – dealing with difficult interactions between subordinates as they occur, avoiding procrastination around supervision issues and tackling tough conversations with subordinates, colleagues or superiors as needed.

2. Increased scrutiny of both private and public sector affairs.
In the wake of the Enron, Tyco and the WorldCom scandals, companies and publicly funded organizations will come under more scrutiny and be held to account more than ever before. The New Year is a good time for organizations to get their houses in order by examining their accounting practices for transparency and being on the lookout for any hint of overly aggressive or creative accounting. Making sure that the books are cleaned up is the first step towards being a good corporate citizen. Companies of all sizes will become more concerned with meeting higher standards that affect everything from accounting practices to their relationships with important stakeholders.

3. Cumulative effects of worker fatigue due to past staff cuts will affect the bottom line.
Reductions and downsizing efforts that have cut some companies to the bone will begin to affect the bottom line – negatively. Workers who were holding up more than their end will be experiencing weariness that affects their productivity. They may get less done in a day or take more days off for sickness or disability. Companies in this situation may find themselves hiring again or unable to achieve their business goals or both. Workers suffering burnout will look to their companies for relief, recognition and appreciation. Companies that respond to these needs effectively will help stave off the negative results of worker fatigue. There may be a rise in short-term disability claims and EAP use this year, which means helping workers re-enter the workplace successfully while recovering from a psychological health concern, will become a pressing topic for companies to address.

4. An increase in staff interest in managing conflict at work.
Worker and employer patience with tense, stressful work sites will be lower in 2003. The continuing trend away from authoritarian “do as I say or else” leadership styles as an effective long term management strategy, combined with a more health-conscious workforce, will contribute to an increase in staff interest in settling disagreements or relationship rifts quickly. Festering issues will put pressure on leaders and managers to coach staff through interpersonal difficulties. Staff will want to acquire more skills in conflict resolution and interpersonal problem-solving as a result.

5. The need for team leaders to be more effective.
Helping teams work together, fostering participation by all team members and encouraging initiation and creativity in a group setting will be an important leadership challenge in 2003. Many leaders are not trained to direct constructive team member interactions and will seek ways to augment their skills. Employers will hire managers who have these skills and will bring on staff who can contribute to team initiatives. Many teams will have to either integrate more new members or create new teams from pools of less experienced personnel due to shifting demographics. This makes the team leader’s role more central and will make team skill deficits more noticeable. Leaders who were accustomed to teams that basically ran themselves will need to be more hands-on to ensure a safe environment for disagreement as well as creative and risk-oriented thinking.

6. A growing concern with family-work balance.
Workers will be more concerned with how their workplace fits into their family life, a marked shift from the past. Previously, staff thought of ways to fit family into work life and increasingly employees are coming at the question from the other way around – how does my family and its needs guide my occupational and career choices, affect my relative job satisfaction or contribute to my fulfillment on the job? People may find themselves cutting back, changing jobs, working from home or being less loyal to the company if they judge family needs to be overly compromised. Increasingly, companies will begin to make family considerations a part of career planning and advancement conversations with employees. While this type of balance has always existed to some degree, in 2003 the conversations will be more about how to blend family and work as opposed to how to shuffle family needs to accommodate the job.

The coming year will mark the beginning of a shift toward younger staff and new leaders having increasingly more say and bringing their family considerations into career planning more often. They may feel stretched beyond their skill set as they grow into positions left by retiring personnel. This phenomenon will increase with time.

Companies who are aware of trends in their industry and that start planning now are the ones that will do well in 2003 and beyond.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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