5 Workplace Trends to Celebrate

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By Alison Green

When you're slogging through the daily grind of work or a job search, or when you're dealing with a difficult boss or co-workers, it can be easy to forget what we should be thankful for at work. There are significant changes underway in the American workplace, and they're offering workers real advantages that most people didn't have a decade ago.

Here are five positive developments that have been changing the workplace in the last few years and changing many people's work lives for the better.

1. Telecommuting options continue to grow. It wasn't all that long ago when companies that allowed employees to telecommute were a rarity. That has changed dramatically in the last decade, and in the last few years in particular. Thirty million Americans now work from home at least once a week, and the Telework Research Network expects that number to increase dramatically in the next few years.

Given all the benefits to employees that telecommuting provides – no commute, saved gas money, being able to work from home while you wait for the cable guy – it's not surprising that a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found a larger increase in the number of companies planning to offer telecommuting than the increase for any other benefit.

2. Flex time continues to increase. It used to be that if you had an office job, you could expect to work the same set of hours as everyone else, like 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But as workers have increasingly looked for new ways to juggle work obligations and personal lives, flexible hours have started becoming more accepted and even ingrained in American workplaces.

Flexible schedules make it easier for workers to pick up kids from school or child care, attend classes, manage medical appointments or even just avoid rush hour. And employers have discovered that offering flex time helps attract and retain top-tier employees, who more and more are looking for flexibility in their work lives.

3. We're seeing a move toward more paid sick leave. If you've always had jobs that offered paid sick leave, you might take it for granted. But in fact, no federal law requires employers to offer paid sick leave, and some employers don't provide any at all. However, the landscape on this issue is starting to change. We're seeing a growing recognition that paid sick leave is good for both employees and employers, because it discourages employees from coming to work when sick and infecting others and improves productivity and morale.

Connecticut, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, the District of Columbia and a growing number of additional jurisdictions have passed laws in the last few years requiring paid sick days, and dozens of states and cities considered paid sick days proposals in the most recent legislative session. President Barack Obama even called for paid sick days in his State of the Union address earlier this year.

4. The pay gap between men and women is getting smaller. Overall, men still earn more than women for doing the same work. But that's changing, and looking at how it's playing out among the latest cohort to enter the workforce gives some pretty fascinating indications of what might be to come. A Pew Research analysis of census data found that millennial women – who are better educated than their male peers are – are now earning 93 cents for every dollar earned by men.

That's still an unacceptable difference, but it's far better than the average wage gap among all age groups, which is 84 cents to every dollar. That shrinking gap bodes well for what's to come.

5. Options for nontraditional career paths are increasing. The Internet has made it possible for huge numbers of people to launch freelance careers or side businesses that wouldn't have been feasible in the past.

Leaving full-time, traditional employment to strike out on your own can still be a risky move, but there's no doubt that technology and the more accessible playing field provided by the Internet has made it a heck of a lot easier than it used to be. As a result, millions of workers are striking out on their own and shaping their own careers with far more autonomy than was previously possible.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.
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