Jan. 11, 2019
This year is likely to look a lot like last year, only more so. Demand for many of the most-wanted job skills of 2018 is still rising (and at an even faster clip than in 2018). Employers would still rather hand out variable pay, like one-time performance bonuses, than bloat overhead with higher salaries. And another recession, which some economists say is ominously overdue, remains, for now, just a small dark cloud on a distant horizon.
Still, if you’re intent on keeping up with the zeitgeist—and maybe even future-proofing your career—here are five ways you could shake up your work life in the next 12 months. You might:
1. Negotiate for a raise, or change jobs for more money.
With opportunities so plentiful, more people are losing patience with the piddling 3% salary increases employers have been handing out for the past decade or so. That’s partly because, if you feel more pinched financially than a year ago, you’re not imagining it: Inflation-adjusted wages actually dropped 1.3% in 2018, in almost every industry except IT, and everywhere in the U.S. except (surprise) the San Francisco metro area, according to PayScale’s latest quarterly analysis. No wonder staffing firm Addison Group found in a recent survey of about 1,000 employees nationwide that, although 72% say they’re happy in their work, 60% are job hunting anyway, citing pay as the biggest reason.
Want to boost your chances of snagging a seat in this gigantic game of musical chairs? Try focusing your search on businesses with 50 to 499 employees. They brought 129,000 new staffers on board in December 2018, says ADP’s latest monthly employment report—well over twice the 54,000 people hired during the same month by enterprises with 500 employees or more.
2. Raise a glass at lots of retirement parties.
The oldest Baby Boomers, born in 1946, reached age 65 in 2011, but many have put off retiring, either for financial reasons or because they enjoy what they do, or both. That has created a persistent bottleneck of C-suite positions and other senior roles occupied by folks in their 60s and 70s. Dubbed the “gray ceiling” by HR types, it’s a source of frustration for millennials and other young talent itching to move up. If that includes you, take heart. A new report from Glassdoor predicts that a tsunami of Boomer retirements will finally hit corporate America, beginning in 2019 and continuing “for decades to come,” the study says, as successive generations in turn reach retirement age.
Combined with falling birth rates in most of the developed world—the U.S. birth rate hit a 30-year low of 1.76 in 2018 — this means no end in sight for tight labor markets, which will be tough on employers. But if you’ve been waiting for a Boomer to hang out the “Gone Fishing” sign, it’s unalloyed good news.
3. Learn Blockchain, Python, or Hadoop online for free.
You might come across several types of tech every day without understanding much about their inner workings, or considering “how they could serve you and your coworkers better, faster, and cheaper,” notes Sue Bhatia, founder and chairperson of tech staffing firm Rose International. She notes that most knowledge workers pigeonhole themselves into narrow categories—”I’m a marketing person” or, significantly, “I’m not a tech person.” But the boundaries between IT and everything else are blurring fast and will soon disappear. IBM forecasts, for instance, that in the next two years, the number of jobs requiring tech and data analysis skills is set to explode, from about 364,000 current openings to more than 2.7 million; and many of those roles are related to artificial intelligence, which calls for new combinations of IT know-how and “soft” skills that algorithms (so far) lack, like empathy, imagination, and a sense of humor.
Exactly what form work will take in the future is nearly impossible to guess. (Got kids? Think about this: A new World Economic Forum study estimates that 65% of primary-school-age children today will eventually have a job that does not yet exist.) What is clear, Bhatia says, is that you can future-proof yourself in 2019 by learning as much as you can about whatever technology is rocking your industry. Start with free courses from sites like Coursera and edX. “Don’t set limits on yourself by assuming you’re ‘not cut out for’ STEM,” she adds. Even studying up on a basic programming language like Python can be useful, since it will “help you understand how programmers think, so you’ll have an easier time interacting with your IT team.”
4. Get used to the idea that, yes, Big Brother is watching.
If the ongoing flap over social-media privacy has got your dander up, you’re not going to like the technology your employer either already uses or probably soon will. Often called by the friendly-sounding name “listening technology,” this is a range of sophisticated data-gathering tools that collect and report information about you—from how often, and how far, you move around the office during the day, to how often and when you log onto your computer. A practice called “email scraping” applies a complex algorithm to your email conversations, designed to determine your state of mind and your level of engagement in your job. Your chair may contain sensors that record how long you’ve been parked at your desk. And the list goes on.
2019 will see more monitoring of employees, and now it “will go beyond observation and start nudging,” says Brian Kropp, a group vice president at Gartner who has studied employers’ use of the technology. If you have one of those tattletale chairs, “your computer will notify you after an hour of sitting that you should get up and take a little walk.”
Kropp contends that the intent of all this spying is benign. People who hesitate to complain about their endless work hours on traditional employee surveys, for example, might be logging on to their computers not only all day but far into the evening too. “Seeing that, a manager’s response could be, ‘Okay, let’s look at adjusting that person’s workload’,” says Kropp. Sounds harmless enough, but a recent Gartner study found that 41% of companies use “listening technology” to ferret out medical data, an intrusion into one area where most Americans consider their right to privacy to be inviolable.
Even so, among employees the firm has surveyed, Kropp says the percentage who claim they’re not bothered by employers’ high-tech snooping has climbed from just 10% in 2015 to 30% in 2018. That rises to 50% if an employer “tells people up front that they’re gathering the data and can show how it helps [employees],” he notes. “We expect that comfort level to increase. But there will always be a core group of people—we think 20% or 25%—who are just not ever going to be okay with it.” One more thing to ask about in job interviews.
5. Feel the heat (if only indirectly) as the #MeToo movement picks up steam.
One last prediction from Gartner for 2019: Far from winding down, the #MeToo anti-sexual-misconduct movement that led to hundreds of high-profile firings last year will gain even more momentum. “More executives will be ousted in 2019 than in 2018,” says Kropp. “We’ll see a major shift in employers’ response to accusations, from ‘We didn’t know this was going on’ to ‘We’ve actively sought out wrongdoers and dealt with them.'” The new approach is nothing if not pragmatic, since “trying to hush things up doesn’t work,” Kropp observes. Pointing to the recent turmoil at Google, he adds, “If something is going to come out anyway, you as an employer want to get out in front of it and address it publicly, so that you control the conversation.” Noted.
Anne Fisher is a career expert and advice columnist who writes “Work It Out,” Fortune’s guide to working and living in the 21st century.