As the global economy staggers out of what some say is the worst recession in half a century, a new economy is emerging -- one that is truly international and requires constant innovation for survival. 

Risky business: Facing workforce management challenges

As the global economy staggers out of what some say is the worst recession in half a century, a new economy is emerging -- one that is truly international and requires constant innovation for survival. As organizations come to grips with this new economy, they must also cope with rapidly changing technologies, world-changing global events, the complexity of international markets, and the demands of national and international legislation. At the same time, there is an ongoing shift in workforce demographics and psychographics that are, in themselves, revolutionizing the way we do business. 

This new world of work means new opportunities, new products, new markets and new ideas. But it also means new risks -- risks that can seriously impede or destroy an organization's ability to function.

Fast Facts 
Rate at which Boomers will retire over the next decade in the US: one every eight seconds 
Source: American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) 

Estimated annual cost of depression to Canadian and US economies: $60 billion (US) 
Source: The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Demographic shifts 
The recession may have overshadowed the war for talent, but the battle is still on. At a time when highly skilled workers will be needed the most, the talent pool will be at its lowest -- placing organizations at risk for reduced innovation, productivity, market share and growth. And, despite a re-energized economy, the gap is only going to widen. Over the next 10 years, millions of highly skilled, experienced Baby Boomers will leave the North American workforce. 

Generation X -- workers in their late 30s and 40s -- will fill some of the vacancies left by departing Boomers, but they are a small demographic. And while Generation Y is a larger demographic, they do not have the experience, skills or knowledge of their predecessors. 

So, what can organizations do to attract and retain top performers?
One of the most important strategies to minimize this risk is to assess your organization's culture by asking employees what matters to them. The result will be a culture and workforce that are closely aligned, which will go a long way toward attracting and retaining the talent you need. 

Deteriorating psychological well-being 
A study by the Northwestern National Life Insurance Company found that one-fourth of all employees view their work as the number one source of stress in their lives. A workforce at risk due to mental health and addiction problems is a very real business challenge with steep costs for employers. Relentless deadlines, 24/7 demands, job insecurity, increasing workloads, bad management and short-term business thinking can lead to anxiety, depression and other stress-related conditions, and in turn, increased short- and long-term disability claims. 

Along with the more apparent costs, depression also has hidden costs for an organization: increased behavioral and performance problems, increased absenteeism and errors, as well as lowered productivity and engagement, and mediocre customer service. 

What can organizations do?
One way many businesses have mitigated this risk is by implementing a comprehensive employee assistance program that provides employees and managers with access to counseling, information and community resources. 

Workplace harassment 
Harassment or workplace bullying, a far-too-common risk, has serious consequences to individuals and companies alike. According to a 2007 WBI-Zogby survey, nearly half of all American workers (49%) have been affected by workplace bullying, either being a target themselves or having witnessed abusive behavior against a co-worker. 

Psychological harassment can involve many types of behavior -- from rude, offensive remarks to sexual harassment. If the bully is a person of authority, behavior can include assigning new duties to a worker without training, exerting excessive control over an individual's work, and so on. 

Psychological harassment can permeate a business like a cancer, resulting in decreased productivity, poor engagement, compromised patient or customer care, decreased morale and loyalty, liability issues (withholding of information and timeliness of responses), and much more. 

What can your organizations do to avoid this risk?
One of the first steps to take is to establish and communicate policies and expectations of appropriate behavior and the consequences for failing to comply. 

The workforce has changed dramatically. It's now the oldest, the most diverse, and the most global in history. In the last 10 years organizations have witnessed a workplace revolution that has placed additional stresses on employees and posed new risks for employers. People are feeling the strain and organizations are dealing with the consequences. 

Those consequences could mean serious and long-term damage to a company's reputation, brand and bottom line. Understanding the risks is the first step in creating flexible corporate policies, procedures and practices that will meet the business demands of the next decade.