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5 Work Culture Trends We’re Looking Out For in 2020

Jan 13, 2020 5 min readOpen
Photo of Courtney Seiter
Courtney Seiter

Former Director of People @ Buffer

We think a lot about work culture at Buffer. So at the end of the year, it’s always an interesting exercise to think on how the work world has evolved and the work culture trends we see on the horizon.

Here are five of our predictions for 2020. They’re unscientific and pretty biased by our point of view, but that’s part of the fun!

1. The growth of ‘conscious companies’

Is the purpose of a business simply to make money? Up until recently, that question could be answered pretty simply: Yup!

But today, we want more from work – and the companies we patronize. Whether you call it ‘conscious capitalism‘ like Whole Foods cofounder John Mackey, or ‘compassionate capitalism’ like Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, more organizations are beginning to stand for something – a trend that we predict will only keep growing.

A 2019 survey for Fortune found that an incredible 72% of respondents believe companies should be “mission driven” as well as focused on the bottom line. And 64% say that a company’s primary purpose should include “making the world better” – just as many as believe it should include making money.

“Consumers are no longer making decisions based solely on product selection or price; they’re assessing what a brand says, what it does and what it stands for. They support companies whose brand purpose aligns with their beliefs. And they reject those that don’t.”Accenture’s “From Me to We, the Rise of the Purpose-Led Brand”

This means we’re shopping not just based on value or quality anymore, but also on a number of unique ethical factors like transparency, workplace culture, environmental impact and more.

Source: Accenture: From Me to We, the Rise of the Purpose-Led Brand

It’s a great time to be a conscious company, offering innovative products that are good for customers, employees and the planet.

2. Mental health conversations in the workplace

2019 was the year that burnout – a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress – was formally recognized by the World Health Organization as an occupational phenomenon.

The attention to burnout provided a much-needed opening to begin the long-overdue conversation about mental health in the workplace – a topic that Forbes says needs to be on every company’s agenda in 2020.

Progress is already being made: In the UK, 30 of the UK’s most recognized businesses and organizations signed the Mental Health At Work Commitment.

The 6 pillars of the Mental Health at Work commitment

And the mental health site Made of Millions launched Beautiful Brains, a guide to help employees push for better dialogue about mental health in the office that has been downloaded by companies including Goldman Sachs, Deloitte, Accenture, and Verizon (and Buffer!).

But there’s still a stigma around talking about mental health issues – especially in the workplace. Almost two-thirds of those who have received hospital treatment for a mental health condition say they have experienced discrimination at work.

We’ve started the conversation at Buffer, and we’re hoping more organizations will join us in breaking the stigma in 2020.

3. A more inclusive definition of remote work

When you think about the typical remote worker, it’s tempting to call to mind a digital nomad or youthful tech enthusiast.

But the benefits of remote work and flexible schedules can be life-changing for so many folks, including workers with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses, parents or expecting parents (more on them next) and others who might have trouble going to a co-located office daily.

Not all people with disabilities need – or want – to work remote. But, working from home can be a simple form of reasonable accommodation when a person’s disability might prevent them from successfully performing their work on-site.

Increasingly, remote work is also a tool for economic development in areas where other jobs may not be as readily available. A growing number of U.S. states are offering economic incentives to lure remote workers to rebuild communities that could use an infusion of creativity, people and resources.

This offers new hope to areas with dwindling populations,  rural areas and more. But while remote work is becoming increasingly common,  it’s important to note that it’s still only an option for those with reliable, secure, broadband connection – something much of the world still lacks.

4. ‘Turning off’ from work by doing… nothing

Digital well-being has been on minds for a while now – especially in remote work, where “turning off” is a daily battle and the No. 1 challenge, according to Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2019.

But this year we got a simple coping strategy: do nothing.

Jenny Odell’s book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy  raced through the reading list of the Buffer team, offering a “field guide” for mitigating the daily online grab for your attention while also creating more meaningful relationships.

And the trend will continue into 2020 – with a Dutch twist.

The Dutch concept of niksen, a a twist on mindfulness, is to be deliberate about doing activities that we might think of as inciting boredom: looking out the window or even just sitting still for a while.

It’s already gaining media converage ahead of Olga Mecking‘s forthcoming book, “Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing.”

It seems we’re all hungry for concrete resources to help us refocus our attention where it matters – or let it wander without guilt (a practice that has been shown to increase creativity).

5. Growth of inclusive family leave

Although the United States lags behind many countries in terms of family leave, there’s hope: Attitudes towards paternity leave are drastically changing in America.

More fathers are beginning to feel comfortable taking extended time off, a trend that we believe will grow in 2020. Men today are as likely as women to say they need to have time off work to care for babies, aging parents or sick family members.

Buffer offers 3 months of leave for all expectant parents and urges secondary caregivers to take the full time. Here’s a look at weeks taken per parent since 2015. Most of the lower amounts are indeed fathers, but the average is inching up!

Time off for dads—especially longer leaves of several weeks or  months—can promote parent-child bonding, improve outcomes for children, and increase caregiving equity at home, but it’s also important on a larger level.

Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the “motherhood penalty” women receive for taking time off after giving birth.

There’s also evidence that it’s good for organizations. Overwhelmingly, employers have reported that paternity leave had a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity, profitability/performance, turnover and employee morale.

Over to you: What’s on your list?

This is a look at some of the trends that I and the Buffer team are thinking on for 2020, but I know there’s lots more to discuss. I’d love to hear your list too! Feel free to share in the comments or add onto the Twitter thread, where I’m grateful to have received lots of smart and insightful feedback!

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