The 5 Worst Workplace Trends of the Past Decade

The 5 Worst Workplace Trends of the Past Decade

By | January 1, 2020

Workplace trends come and go. Over the past ten years, we have seen some workplace trends that were useful, and others, like forcing the whole office to do the Harlem Shake (or replicating any viral phenomenon), that we were glad to put behind us. Here are five of the worst workplace trends we loved to hate in the past decade.

1. Open Offices

Move over, cubicles, the open office is the new workplace design trend that people love to hate.

At the beginning of the decade, the workforce, inspired by the utopian open office plans of rising star tech companies, eschewed the soulless cubicle farms of the ‘90s and early ‘00s for open office plans. For workers, it promised a more open and energetic work environment. For businesses, it represented a significant cost savings over cubes and closed offices.

Now, however, the evidence is pouring in that, for many companies, open offices aren’t the hip oases we were promised.

A comprehensive study showed that when firms switched to an open office plan, face-to-face interactions dropped by 70%, while electronic interactions increased to compensate. The lack of personal space increases interpersonal conflict, and employee health takes a dive — 90% of employees working in an open floor plan office had high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure and more job turnover. Workers in open offices take 62% more sick days.

Whoops. Who knew that 10 years later we’d be longing for those soothing beige cubicle walls?

2. Crazy Perks

From office kegs, free snacks, an espresso machine or office barista, massages, happy hours, video games, ping pong tables, dogs, decompression pods, and unlimited PTO, perks have gotten out of control.

With unemployment at a historic low, companies are going harder than ever to attract and retain talented employees. But while they seem to work at Google, many of the perks companies are offering in a bid to attract young talent are actually making the workplace worse.

First, those perks aren’t doing as much as you may think to attract and retain employees. A LinkedIn survey found that strong workplace benefits such as PTO, parental leave, and health insurance were among the factors most likely to keep professionals at their company for more than five years, while in-office perks such as food, game rooms, and gyms made relatively little difference.

Second, most of the above-listed perks are designed to keep employees in the office. People are working longer hours than ever before, completely erasing any semblance of work-life balance. And studies indicate that workers at organizations with unlimited PTO actually take fewer days off.

3. Intergenerational Angst

From department stores to diamonds, this was the decade that Baby Boomers accused Millennials of killing almost everything previous generations hold dear, including the workplace.

Millennials replaced Baby Boomers as the largest age group in the workplace, and will compose 75% of the workforce by the end of the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This massive demographic shift spurred both accusations of naivety, laziness and entitlement and worry about how to manage these strange young people.

A decade later, it turns out that most of the changes that Millennials demanded in the workplace — continuous feedback, focus on development, greater transparency and work-life balance — have proven beneficial to everyone. And, as the first wave of the most diverse and well-educated generation to enter the workforce ascends to leadership positions, those qualities stand to benefit their organizations.

Looking to 2020, we’re excited to finally put the generational warfare between Boomers and Millennials behind us, and start collectively freaking out about Gen Z.

4. Managing by Metrics

We live in a quantified world. Technology introduced measurable metrics into every aspect of our lives — our food, fitness, sleep cycles and sex lives. So, it was perhaps inevitable that the quantified life would find its way into the workplace.

Today, organizations are able to measure their employees output down to the minutia and organize that data into performance metrics. The idea is that if you can measure it, you can manage it. But our obsession with metrics may have gone too far.

Gallup found that, rather than feeling motivated by performance metrics, many employees experience fear and anxiety over their performance metrics.

According to one article: “Employees dread the idea of their manager reducing them to a number. A number that might be accurate and important but doesn’t accurately reflect all they bring to their job.”

Excess measurement destroys psychological safety — the extent to which employees feel safe to take risks and a key ingredient for innovation. Google’s two-year study of its teams showed that psychological safety was the single most important factor impacting performance. Keeping employees laser-focused on KPIs is a guaranteed way to stifle innovation.

5. Getting Rid of Managers

We have seen odd management trends come and go (management by wandering around, we’re looking at you). But the most confounding management trend of the last decade has been getting rid of managers.

From delayering and flattening organizational structures to the implementation of Holacracy at massive companies like Zappos, many organizations are eschewing traditional hierarchical structures for those that favor high levels of agency and autonomy for their employees, with few, if any, levels of management between front-line employees and the company’s leaders (if there are any).

We get the thought process. Managers are often the main source of stress for their employees, and studies have shown that 75% of the reasons workers give for leaving a company relate to their manager. And, too many layers of management gum up the works, adding layers of inefficiency and removing front-line workers, those with arguably the best sense of what customers want and need, from the decision-making process.

And for some organizations, it works. But for many, including Holacracy pioneers like Zappos, it doesn’t. A better approach? Rather than getting rid of managers, focus on getting rid of bad managers.

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