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Five Workplace Trends To Watch in 2014

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In media, so much can happen in a week, never mind a year and the highs and lows often hit you unexpectedly. A couple of the high notes this year for women in the workforce included the appointment of Mary Barra as the CEO of General Motors and the Ontario Securities Commission declaring it would take action on getting more women onto corporate boards. But then there were the low points, such as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford dropping the "P" word on live television. I'll leave it at that.

In my Globe and Mail columns over the last year I've explored how women navigate in a man's world, how men manage in a women's world and how older and younger workers manage a changing business climate.

So what can we expect in 2014? Here are five themes I touched on this year which will continue to receive greater attention in the New Year.

1. Women and Men Leaning In:

2013 was the year of Lean In, where Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg launched a movement to encourage women to be assertive in taking their rightful spot at the table. As the term "Lean In" becomes last year's motto, the discussion will need to evolve to focus on concrete objectives such as the dearth of women in top executive positions and the role men play at home and at the office. And Lean In didn't really get at the fact that the traditional family structure is officially a relic of the past. It's time companies -- and individuals -- start recognizing this and stop pandering to historic gender roles.

2. Goodbye 9 to 5:

As unemployment and freelance work becomes more prevalent, it's time to admit that the concept of working for one employer from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, remains a rarity. A large number of functions in knowledge-based organizations will continue to be farmed out, according to Bill Waters, a Waterloo-based futurist and business strategist. He sees many companies encouraging employees to work from home, to reduce their overhead and believes that trend will evolve into contract roles so companies can avoid the cost that comes with full-time employment relationships. This is not all bad news. Marie Bountrogianni, interim dean of The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University says the idea of 9 to 5 no longer appeals to many younger workers, who want flexible work schedules.

"It doesn't necessarily mean working more, or less -- just differently," she said.

3. I Tweet Therefore I am:

Every year, advances in technology keep changing how we work, live and communicate with one another and that will only continue. I alienated many people when I confessed to being addicted to my phone, but I see my device as a social outlet and productivity tool. As mobile devices overtake in PC in 2014, that trend will become more widespread.

From a company's perspective, employers will continue to try to use advances in technology to boost collaboration and productivity. Last year, Deloitte predicted that over 90 per cent of Fortune 500 companies would have an Enterprise Social Network. Duncan Stewart, the director of TMT Research at Deloitte Canada and the co-author of TMT Predictions said that he hasn't met one major company that doesn't use some sort of enterprise social network. While they often show a positive return on investment, he cautions that companies cannot expect the same adoption rates as public social networks.

Eventually, every worker will need to get on the social networking bandwagon, as it evolves from a specialized role to a core skill for every employee, according to Ms. Bountrogianni.

4. Adjusting To Millenials:

Generation Y or Millennials continued to baffle other generations in the workplace, who often dubbed them lazy and disloyal. Maybe an attitude adjustment is in order since by 2014, they are set to comprise 36 per cent of the U.S. workforce. While much more ink (and angst) will be spilled over how to engage, retain and motivate that cohort, it is high time to acknowledge that maybe older employers should conform and learn to embrace their inner Millennials, Kendra Reddy, founder of the firm It's a Big Life! describes Gen Y employees as "questioning, challenging and redefining how work gets done." Those sound like enviable traits to me.

5. Happiness Factor:

Which leads me to my last theme for 2014 -- happiness. As the term "success" becomes continually redefined, companies, employees and independent consultants alike will continue to look for ways to inject happiness into the workplace. In 2013, only 13 per cent of the global workers felt engaged at work, with the rest just sleep-walking through their day or worse, poisoning their workplace environment for the few happy colleagues.

Re-emphasizing the value of happiness in the workforce will become an important point of discussion in the coming year, since it makes for healthier and saner employees, and that boosts productivity and ultimately, the bottom line. And truth be told, who couldn't use just a little bit more happiness in their day-to-day work.

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