2020 workplace predictions: Expert


workplace trends for 2020

Featured | Workplace

By Loren Webb

Dynamic Business recently asked Aaron McEwan, a Top 100 Global HR Influencer, about what he sees happening in the world of work for 2020.

As a millennial workforce starts to take over, as digitalisation becomes the new norm for businesses and as wider trends and concerns such as climate change start to shape employee’s attitudes to their work, workplaces will begin to evolve and shift.

What impact does Aaron see these things and more having on the workplace generally in Australia?

We’ll leave it to him to explain from here.


Prediction number one

  • Psychological safety will become the new physical safety. Organisations will have a Chief Mental Health Officer (CMO) as Australia’s workplace mental health epidemic grows.

Mental illness is the leading cause of absenteeism and long-term work incapacity in Australia. Yearly, it’s costing the economy over $12 billion in lost productivity. With mental illness far outweighing physical illness when accounting for absenteeism, it’s critical in 2020 that policies and procedures are put in place to support mental wellbeing, particularly for those who are living with a mental health illness.

As these issues continue to impact the workforce, eventually we’ll get to a point where every company has somebody who is specifically looking after mental health. It may sit within the broader ring that is safety, but likely it will become its own thing. We’re seeing the start of that trend now.

Where it’s going to show up before we see chief mental health officers being appointed, is that it will become the responsibility of managers to be monitoring the mental health of their workers. We’ll get to the point soon where every manager must undergo psychological first aid training for example, or at least know how to recognise the signs of mental stress, and it’ll be their responsibility to identify and report on those things.

Prediction number two 

  • Several companies will have an AI-ethics scandal based on how they are using their talent management.

Companies have substantially increased their use of AI in a variety of talent management processes and have started to use AI in everything from compensation, promotion and reduction in staff decisions. As these relatively poorly understood technologies become more commonly used, so too will risk that the decision outputs of these technologies will create ethical challenges.

For example, companies are starting to use AI to make compensation decisions based on how much other people in the marketplace are paid. However, given the pre-existing bias that already exists against women from a compensation perspective, these AI technologies are likely to only worsen the bias by recommending disproportionate increases in compensation for men compared to women. It may exacerbate diversity issues rather than solve them.

Prediction number three

  • Companies will decrease the number of managers that they need as more managerial tasks become automated.

Technologies have already been introduced into the role of managers to free them up from administrative tasks. In fact, Gartner predicts that 69% of what a manager currently does will be automated by 2024. This includes tasks like approving expenses, reviewing a project’s status, even onboarding new employees.

At the moment, managers are expected to play a pretty big role in determining what activities their employees should be focused on at any given time, however the next wave of managerial associated technologies will see algorithms become more effective at tasks, such as providing feedback, than managers are.

For example, if you’re working on something that’s not aligned to your KPI, a virtual assistant (such as an Apple Watch) could step in and say, “Hey, I notice you’ve been working on this PowerPoint presentation, which is not a high priority this week, what you should be doing is focusing on this task.” And given many people are too burnt-out to act with empathy at work, machines might even be the ones to deliver constructive feedback and words of encouragement to workers.

Prediction number four

  • Climate activism will be the next chapter for employee activism

Organisations have responded to the demands of interests of employees along a variety of employee activist issues such as the #metoo movement. The next wave of employee activism will focus on the climate impact that organisations have.

Millennial employees in particular expect their CEO’s not to just have a position, but to have an active and prominent position on the issue and a solid environmental track record.

We’re going to see employees choosing not to work for companies that either have a poor environmental track record or are attached to industries that are recognised as carbon pollutants. On the flip side, if an organisation has a definitive and strong respectable position on climate, they may be in a position to attract the best talent on the market.

Prediction number five 

  • Tech talent will become more available to non-tech companies

While the tech sector has gobbled up most of the tech talent across the last decade, this trend is about to change for two reasons. Firstly, many of the largest employers of tech talent are not in a financially sustainable position to maintain the number of tech employees that they currently have. As financial losses continue to pile up for these companies, they will need to reduce their headcount to move to a more sustainable financial position.

Secondly, the average age of a tech talent is increasing. As these employees age, their value proposition for working at a particular company will also change. For example, a freelance media advertising developer might work for an interesting start-up group in the tech space now, but without job security, won’t be able to get cheap home loan. As millennials age into life stages where they have children and a mortgage, they will become more interested in working for companies that are more stable and less risky.


Aaron McEwan is VP of Research & Advisory at Gartner.

As HR Practice Leader for ANZ, Aaron McEwan helps heads of HR execute critical business objectives through the application of evidence-based HR and talent management practices. A behavioural scientist and coaching psychologist, he believes that great ideas, backed by rigorous science, have the power to unlock the potential of individuals, organisations and the world. He was recently named a Top 100 Global HR Influencer by Engagedly.

Read further predictions regarding the workplace here.

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