Important Trends for 2017

Every year our government, our workforce, and our consumers influence how our organizations operate. And every year, there’s always a few curveballs that get thrown in. 2016 has been no different, and 2017 won’t be either. We may not be able to anticipate the curveballs, but we can still anticipate some possible trends. In 2017, some of the most anticipated trends will be continuations of 2016 trends, and others will be new. As leaders, it is important that we do our best to understand upcoming trends and prepare to manage them well. Here are some of the most important trends that KM Consultants anticipates in for 2017:

First off, a continuing trend from 2016 into 2017 will be hikes in drug prices. For active employees under the age of 65, prescription drug cost will jump 11.6 percent, up from 11.3 percent in 2016. Specialty drugs and biotech medications, which will comprise roughly 35 percent of prescription drug costs in 2017, are predicted to hike 18.7 percent in 2017. Spending on specialty medications has doubled since 2011 and is now over $150 billion. There are some strategies you can use to navigate these expenses. Organizations may use techniques including the use of management controls like requiring prior authorization before prescriptions can be filled, or using formulary changes to promote low-cost alternatives. Step therapy is an option that enforces the use of low-cost alternatives first, before higher cost options. Some organizations may use a tiered co-payment structure that increases employee cost-sharing for more expensive medications. Lastly, there may be some aggressive contract negotiations with pharmaceutical companies for specialty drugs.

The EEOC spent much effort in driving its strategic plan throughout 2016. Expect a similar aggressiveness from the EEOC in 2017. Much of the current strategic plan will carry into the redesigned plan for 2017, however, a few new points will be more heavily emphasized. The EEOC will focus more heavily on, “the complex employment relationships and structures in the 21st century workplace.” In other words, they will be more stringent on employers in relation to temporary workers, staffing agencies, independent contractor relationships, and the on-demand economy. The EEOC has recently been focused on 6 major priorities that involve discriminatory barriers. Equal pay will be a hot topic, specifically in amongst gender claims, but also increasingly amongst other claims such as race, ethnicity and disability. It is important to note that the definition of equal pay has broadened. Previously, comparison could be made if jobs were, “substantially equal”. Now, jobs must be, “substantially similar”. This means employers should be double checking their job groupings and looking a little closer into ensuring pay equity. While these are largely continuations of the 2016 enforcement plan, the EEOC has brought up 2 additional areas of focus that are the results of recent events. The EEOC intends to focus on, “backlash discrimination against those who are Muslim or Sikh, or persons of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent.” Also, the EEOC will be, narrowing its focus on claims under the ADA to, “qualification standards and inflexible leave policies that discriminate.” Accommodations for Pregnancy-related limitations and protections for LGBT employees will be a part of that focus.

Payroll taxes are set to jump in 2017. The maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax will climb 7.3 percent. That translates to an $8,700 increase, from $118,500 to $127,200. About 12 million workers who already pay Social Security tax will pay more. The adjustment takes place on Jan. 1. Employers will need to adjust their payroll systems to account for this change. Employees who will be effected will need to be informed promptly.

Learning, training and development will likely see changes in the way those services are delivered. Millennials value education higher than other benefits and will continue to do so. This will push the need for enhanced systems to provide employees with what makes them feel most valued. Many organizations have embraced several innovative ways to administer training such as the use of 90-120 second videos. These short clips provide what is being called micro-learning. Companies that focus on LMS will be likely to push this movement. Certain industries where the biggest impacts can be found are also embracing virtual reality. Expect to see more organizations using this in the transportation, manufacturing and science-related sectors. Lastly, mobile functionality has been on the rise and organizations everywhere are finding ways to incorporate mobile devices for ease. LMS providers will likely increase their support for mobile devices. Mobile learning will allow an expansion of employee development goals.

The last trend we want to address combines several of these trends together. There has been a movement emerging for more human-friendly workplaces. This means that employees will be more attracted to workplaces that accommodate them best. As leaders in our organizations we will be spending more time evaluating how flexible our scheduling systems are, how open and team-oriented our cultures are, and how our workspaces are designed to provide the most employee-friendly environments. Just as mobile will enhance training and development, it will likely be incorporated into our timekeeping systems.

With a new administration coming to the White House in 2017, surprises are bound to come up. It is our duty as leaders to handle any and all surprises to the best of our ability. We must be aware not only of what is currently happening, but also of possible trends that can dramatically shift the way our organizations perform. Discussed here were some of the most important trends that KM Consultants has identified for 2017. We will continue to be on the front edge of these trends as they develop, and keep you informed and prepared to manage them well.