workplace challenges 2018
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Even as technology continues to progress at a breakneck speed giving the weary office worker productivity powers that were pure fantasy a decade ago, paradoxically, they have also presented several challenges that are just as daunting.

From jobs being lost to AI bots to gender pay gaps and employee burnouts, there still exist many issues that pose significant threat to the way we work. Here are the top 5 that organizations and workers alike in Asia will have to wade through in 2018 and possibly beyond…

Privacy issues due to employee monitoring: As the workplace is becoming increasingly data-driven, employees are finding out that their privacy is becoming a thing of the past. Indeed, many companies are already using sophisticated employee gps tracking technologies to keep close tabs on when they are getting in and out of a car to how they are spending their off-hours.

Companies may often install un-optimized tracking apps that affect a phone’s performance, those that track employees even when they are not supposed to and those that come with many security loopholes. The rationale behind such moves is usually to enhance productivity, however, companies cross a fine line when they start snooping on their employees 24/7.

The problem in Asian countries, however, is exasperated by lack of legislation dealing with employee surveillance. For instance, there is no constitutional guarantee to the right of privacy in Singapore, in which case, employers are free to spy on their employees any way they choose.

In China, brainwave surveillance sensors are being used to monitor an employee’s emotional state to optimize workflows by many state and private enterprises. Coupled with facial recognition, GPS and phone based tracking systems, people may find their private lives becoming non-existent.

Integrating AI into workplace: Say AI and the first thing anyone is likely to hear is “will it take over my job?” The threat is not unfounded as AI is expected to replace 800 million jobs by 2030. In India (one of the largest IT and outsourcing hubs) for instance, AI has the potential to make nearly 70 percent of the workforce obsolete. As more companies opt for automation, many people will find their livelihood at stake.

Until a few years ago, machines and robotics were replacing low-level repetitious manual jobs such as welding, moving equipment around etc. However, with the advent of AI, knowledge based workers such as those that make recommendations will find that their jobs can be handled by a computer. AI stands can streamline many functions in industries like finance, legal and banking.

Some tasks that are at risk of being replaced include telemarketers, bookkeepers, receptionists, couriers, proofreaders, salespeople and computer support specialists.

Companies looking to integrate AI into their business practices will need to tread carefully as the move may lead to mass layoffs or firings. In light of the inevitable reduction in the workforce, many unions will likely resort to legal recourse in order to protect their earnings presenting further challenges to companies.

It’s not all doom and gloom however, as many jobs will still require a human touch. Some tasks that will survive the coming AIpocolis include those involving creativity such as writing, painting etc, those that help with social interactions such as psychiatry and psychology, and finally those that require extreme dexterity such as the performing arts, athletics.

Workplace equality: Even as #metoo movement raged throughout the world towards the end of 2017, incidents of sexual violence and harassment at workplaces continued to be a pressing issue.

In Asia, many countries are striving to improve office demographics. Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe introduced “womenomics” which includes sufficient childcare centers, requiring listed companies to disclose the number of female executives and reviewing the tax and social security system to ensure gender neutrality is maintained. Even so, gender equality remains a distant dream as women only constitute 11% of managers and 3% board members.

Likewise, despite the call for equal opportunities for women at the workplace by Indian PM Narendra Modi, India slipped 21 places on the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index last year.

At the present pace, the WEF estimates it can take well over a century to close the economic gap between men and women in Asia.

Apart from the fact that gender equality is simply the right thing to do, studies have shown that organizations that strive for workplace equality actually perform better. For instance, in 2016 a large scale study of 21,000 public companies in 91 countries by Peterson Institute found that companies with 30% female leadership can lead to a 6% increase in their net margins. In other words, gender equality can well be thought of as a competitive differentiator as companies with fairer work spaces and practices can attract and maintain high quality talent.

Accommodating new working trends: As mobile devices have firmly established themselves as core infrastructure today, new working trends such as freelancing, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), co-working spaces etc are catching up.

A study commissioned by Avanade, Singapore found that 72% employees in the Asia-Pacific region were briginging their own devices to work. Similarly, CISCO’s Connected World Technology report states that consumers in Asia juggle between 1-3 devices for work or personal tasks.

Similarly, with the rise of the gig-economy throughout the world, more companies can leverage talent in parts of the world where they had no presence while slashing costs. Freelancing workers can work on their own terms while having multiple clients to spread the risk, while employers can forgo the cost of equipment and maintaining a full-time staff, increasing competitiveness.

However, there are significant challenges to be overcome as well. Data security is the most widely cited concern by organizations that are hesitant to go for such decentralized modus operandis. Companies are finding it hard to create and maintain security policies, not to mention, change their mindsets to accommodate what’s essentially a new way of life.

More secure wireless communications, updated security policies and a high quality of training will be the need of the hour as organizations try to find common ground between new efficiencies and established best practices.

Finding and retaining top talent: With the business world becoming increasingly competitive, it is a forgone conclusion that companies with the best problem-solvers will thrive. But attracting and retaining such talent is easier said than done.

Identifying quality candidates, creating a work culture that coaxes them to stay and giving them the tools to do their job in the best possible way is a complex puzzle that companies grapple with.

The 2016 Global Talent Management and Reward Survey by Willis Towers Watson which covered 2,000 companies globally including 695 from the Asia Pacific region discovered that there was a marked difference between what employees and employers considered important.

Most employees are looking for more tangible benefits such as competitive salaries, work environments and health benefits, while employers, especially those in Asia think a company’s reputation is a greater draw.

Companies also do not rank their work environments at all hinting at poor engagement at work. The numbers do point towards such a trend as 35% employees in the Asia Pacific region stated their managers did not treat them with respect. Another 43% reported their superiors did not convey goals and tasks properly. Suffice to say, employers in Asia are tasked with finding better ways to increase employee engagement.


Ultimately, workplace challenges are an ever present part of corporate culture. While a completely conflict-free office is probably a fairly distant fantasy, companies can create robust change management policies that take into account shifting cultural and market realities.

What these trends hint at is how the balance of power is shifting to the side of the worker. Either by hiring out their services to multiple employers, or, by taking to social media to voice their displeasure at the state of affairs, the modern employee is placing what he/she wants in front of their prospective employers. In other words, they are simply looking for more respect and representation in the grand scheme of things and the employers that take note of it stand to reap rich rewards.