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​Financial stability, diversity and flexible schedules are among the initiatives that U.S. employers are expected to focus on in 2020 to attract and retain workers, workplace experts say.

As the cost of living rises dramatically in major cities and workers' paychecks fail to keep pace, many employees are moving out of urban hubs, said Michelle Armer, chief people officer at CareerBuilder. That means companies need to take a hard look at their remote-work policies, especially in a tight labor market where landing talented workers is tough.

"More and more, we are seeing companies begin to offer flexible work policies, whether it's the opportunity to work from home on certain days of the week, or the option to work remotely on a permanent basis," Armer said. "Technology has made communication and collaboration between colleagues easier, and this is a benefit that workers are looking for in new and current roles."

Financial Wellness

Buying a home, sending kids to college and saving for retirement are just as important to employees as they've ever been—but reaching those goals has become increasingly challenging, said David Kilby, founder and president of FinFit, a financial wellness company based in Virginia Beach, Va.

As a result, expect companies to turn an ever sharper focus toward helping workers with their finances by offering more 401(k) matching, help with paying off student loan debt, and access to financial advisors and workshops.  

"Not long ago, employers believed that, outside of a paycheck and a retirement savings option, their involvement in the financial affairs of their employees was off limits," Kilby said. "But employers can't avoid the fact that employees are more challenged financially than ever before. Every aspect of Millennials' financial existence is incredibly more complex than it was for their parents' generation."

"We should expect to see 2020 be a record year for employers delivering financial education, services, support and benefits to their employees," he said. "Employees will have efficient access to educational resources and support systems to ensure they are more informed and capable of creating financial stability in this complex world."

[SHRM members-only Express Request: Engaging Remote Workers]

Diversity at Work

Most companies say they're committed to diversity in the workplace, but expect diversity to be top of mind for employers in 2020, said Ronni Zehavi, co-founder and CEO of Hibob, an HR services company based in New York City. 

"One of the major trends we have seen over the past few years is diversity of age in the workforce," Zehavi said. "Now more than ever, you have a mix of Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X and Boomers all coming together and learning to work cohesively at different skill and experience levels. With this, 2020 will be a major year for HR departments to foster and cherish the unique experience and perspectives their employees across generations will bring to the company. We predict a definite increase and emphasis on culture-building activities engaging all different age groups with a focus on eliminating the formation of company 'cliques' built based on age."

Politics at Work  

Finally, with the coming presidential election in 2020, expect politics to be a key discussion topic at work, Zehavi said.

He noted that companies seem to have grown more comfortable aligning themselves with politicians or political issues and even making their political stances part of the corporate culture.

For example, Zehavi said, Patagonia—which for years has publicly advocated for environmental protection, fair trade and stricter labor standards—recently sued the Trump administration over the administration's plan to sharply reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah. And Nike featured athlete and activist Colin Kaepernik, a controversial figure in the sports world, in one of its ad campaigns.

"Neither have hurt the companies on a broad scale," Zehavi said. "Some companies will fully embrace the political climate and social issues to spark a change in culture, or to let its employees and consumers know they are being heard."  

That said, employers should probably keep checks on political debate and disagreement that might disrupt the workplace, he said.

"Companies will learn to navigate this, putting pressure on HR departments to establish guidelines and policies for political discussion in the workplace. Despite [individuals' constitutional right to] free speech," he said, "private employers have the right to restrict employee speech and behavior, and many will implement a ban on what you can say, how you can say it, where and to whom. As a general rule of thumb, it's best not to advertise your political views in the office."

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