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Top Challenges for Managers in 2020

Technology and rising trends are creating new challenges for managers to handle. Different situations regarding employees from Generation Z and gig workers, mental health and vaping are creating new ways for managers to interact with employees. Read this blog post to learn more regarding how managers are facing these trials.

Managers in 2020 will face some new challenges, many having to do with their youngest workers. Among those challenges: leading employees from Generation Z and gig workers, addressing mental health issues and helping vapers kick the habit.

Understanding Generation Z

Generation Z workers—generally, those born in 1995 or later—should be on every manager's radar. "Within the next two or three years, they will become the fastest-growing percent of the workforce," said Jason Dorsey, a Generation Z researcher and co-founder of the Center for Generational Kinetics, a research and solutions company in Austin, Texas.

"They don't remember a time before smartphones or social media," he said. They live on their phones, not their laptops, and that's the way they want to communicate—on and off the job. "Gen Z expects to go through the entire application process on a mobile device."

Dorsey said managers often tell him that they don't remember young adults asking about retirement plans, but today's young workers do. "It's the aftershock of the Great Recession, when they saw their parents struggle," Dorsey said.

And Generation Z considers flexible scheduling to be a given, not a perk, Dorsey said. He advises managers who want to attract and retain young workers to offer not only flexible schedules but also flexibility on a start date and the ability to work remotely.

Finally, employees from Generation Z want to have access to their pay beyond the typical twice-a-month paycheck. Platforms such as Instant Financial, which allows workers to access a portion of their pay after every work shift, are appealing, Dorsey said.

Holding on to Generation Z employees may take some coaxing, said Cheryl Cran, founder of NextMapping, a future-of-work consultancy headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. "They are far more entrepreneurial than any other generation," she said, noting that many are gig workers by choice because they value their freedom. Hence, she said, "managers need to think about how to give them freedom" in a traditional job, whether that means offering remote work, flexible scheduling or another solution.

Understanding Gig-Worker Laws

An estimated 15 million adults in the U.S. have alternative work arrangements, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, concerns about whether employers should classify these workers as employees has spurred states to propose task forces or legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Congress, meanwhile, is assessing H.R. 2474, Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2019. The aim of these efforts is universal: to stop the exploitation of nonemployee workers.

But that goal can misfire, contend some gig workers who are worried about losing their livelihood. California's AB 5, which took effect Jan. 1 and requires businesses to reclassify many independent contractors as employees, has already triggered controversy, including lawsuits challenging it on constitutional and other grounds and pushback from independent journalists, photographers, interpreters, musicians, truckers and others the law doesn't exempt.

Many of these independent workers tend to be young adults who value the flexibility that comes with freelancing. But that flexibility can make traditional employees at the same company resentful. Inspiring teamwork will be no small task, said Alec Levenson, Ph.D., senior research scientist at the USC Marshall Center for Effective Organizations.

"We are at the tipping point of employers hiring people from all different [work] arrangements," he said. "There is not enough focus on productivity, how to get people to work together as a team."

Destigmatizing Mental Health Issues

Mental health disorders, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are among the most burdensome health concerns in the workplace. Nearly 1 in 5 adults reported having some type of mental illness in 2017; stress symptoms, such as headaches or feeling overwhelmed or anxious, are also common.

Adults from Generation Z report the highest stress levels, according to the American Psychological Association's 2019 Stress in America survey. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest level of stress, Generation Z reported an overall stress level of 5.8. Generation X averaged 5.5, Millennials 5.4 and Baby Boomers 4.2.

In a tight labor market, where there is stiff competition for talent, managers who show concern about their workers' mental health will stand out to applicants and existing employees, said LuAnn Heinen, vice president for well-being and productivity for the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), a nonprofit headquartered in Washington, D.C., that represents large employers' perspectives on health policy.

In a 2019 NBGH survey, 43 percent of managers said they had a formal mental health strategy in place, including strategies to address depression, anxiety and stress; opioid and other substance abuse; sleep disorders; and workplace bullying.

The managers said the most important components of those strategies are making employees aware of the importance of mental health; hosting mental health awareness events; and training managers on what mental health is, how to recognize trouble signs and how to refer workers to mental health resources.

Even the best mental health programs won't succeed, however, if people don't feel comfortable accessing them, Heinen pointed out. Managers who need help talking with workers about mental health issues can turn to programs such as

Helping Vapers Quit

As of Jan. 7, 2020, a lung illness tied to vaping nicotine or products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in marijuana responsible for the high, had resulted in 2,668 hospitalizations and 60 deaths. Employees who vape—many of them young adults—may need help to end their habit.

Programs to help people quit need to be tailored to the generation of workers you're targeting and that cohort's preferred communication style, Heinen said.

Truth Initiative, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., devoted to eliminating tobacco use, has fine-tuned its decade-old digital tobacco-cessation platform developed with the Mayo Clinic. "We launched a program specifically to address the needs of vapers," said Amanda Graham, Ph.D., chief of innovations for Truth Initiative. The quit-vaping program uses text messages, preferred by many younger adults, and includes instant message support if users feel they are slipping.

SOURCE: Doheny, K. (06 February 2020) "Top Challenges for Managers in 2020" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from

Employers ban vaping as its reputation goes up in smoke

Vaping and e-cigarettes are being used to cut out, cut back or completely quit traditional tobacco. With vaping becoming more common in the workplace, employers are realizing that the same policies in effect for traditional cigarettes are not in effect for e-cigarettes. Read this blog post to learn why employers are implementing vaping policies.

Reports on the health concerns associated with vaping and e-cigarettes are mixed. While some say the products are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, others link them to serious health consequences such as lung disease, noted Julie Stich, vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP).

Given the popularity and risk associated with vaping, it's made an impact on employers. "Vaping and the use of e-cigarettes pose many of the same risks of cigarette smoking to employees and the workplace," Haynes and Boone Partner Jason Habinsky said in an email to HR Dive. What's more, workers who choose to use e-cigarette products can put those who share their space at risk as well.

A lack of vaping policies
Vaping has been around for a little while now, said attorney Marissa Mastroianni, an associate at Cole Schotz, but a lot of employers still haven't created policies.

Stich concurred, noting that only 46% of U.S. employers in a recent IFEBP wellness survey reported having a vaping policy, with a "large chunk" of respondents say they weren't sure if they did.

But this may soon change. A recent increase in vaping-related illnesses, combined with a warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has driven some employers to take a second look at their policies, said Kerry Sylvester, director of product management, wellbeing solutions at HealthAdvocate. In the absence of specific vaping-related laws, company culture and priorities are driving policy. "Many larger employers including Target and Wal-Mart are leading the way by including vaping in their workplace tobacco policies, and many smaller employers are following their example," she said.

Mastroianni concurred: "There is a trend that employers have been adding vaping to their no-smoking policies," she said. This is a good thing, according to Habinsky. "[I]t is important that employers review all policies which regulate smoking or other health and safety considerations and modify the scope of such policies to include vaping and e-cigarettes," he said.

For employers that lack policies putting boundaries on vaping, the first step is to consider any applicable local laws, Mastroianni said. New York and New Jersey, for example, have adopted vaping laws relating to smoke-free workplaces and smoking in public areas. "If a law like that exists in your jurisdiction, you need to comply," said Mastroianni.

Stich noted that laws in some areas may treat vaping differently than smoking, and employers need to be aware of this (she cited a list of current vaping laws here). Additionally, employers will need to note that vaping and e-cigarette use "may also be prohibited in certain industries and work environments where health and safety may be at risk," said Habinsky.

Competing priorities
When no specific law applies, however, employers have more flexibility. This is the point at which priorities begin to compete.

"Vaping has been viewed as a substitute for traditional tobacco use both for recreational users as well as by individuals who are trying to cut back or quit smoking," said Sylvester, speaking to HR Dive via email. "Employers want to support employees who are trying to make positive changes in their health by quitting smoking, but must consider the needs of their entire workforce."

Employees who want to sit at their desks and vape may say they're not bothering co-workers, but this is not necessarily true, said Stich. "There can be a residual odor and co-workers can find this annoying."

Annoyance is not the only thing e-cigarette users may inflict on coworkers. "Vaping can pose challenges for individuals with scent sensitivities, not to mention the concerns related to secondhand exposure to vaping aerosol," said Sylvester. And, unlike traditional cigarettes, "[a]n e-cigarette can also malfunction or even explode, causing harm to individuals in the workplace," said Habinsky.

Productivity concerns also factor in. "[E]mployers must also consider the positive or negative impacts on productivity by allowing employees to take vaping breaks away from their workspace versus vaping at their desks," said Sylvester.

Once employers have updated or created vaping policies, it's up to them to make sure employees know about the changes. "Employers should also update any related employee training to include a discussion of such prohibitions," said Habinsky. "Employers should also examine any wellness policies and employee education to ensure the inclusion of such use."

A call employers need to make
"While supporting employees who want to quit tobacco is a priority, employers must decide if allowing the use of nicotine products that are not [Food and Drug Administration-]approved is beneficial in the short and long term," said Sylvester. It's worth noting that "the jury is still out" as to whether vaping and e-cigarettes actually do help people stop smoking regular cigarettes, Stich said.

"It's kind of tough at the moment," said Mastroianni, and it's an area with a lot of nuance. "On the one hand, you want clear air for employees to work and to protect against inhaling secondhand smoke. On the other hand, a lot of people do use vaping and e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking actual cigarettes."

Ultimately, said Mastroianni, "employers need to make a judgment call and decide, 'what's better for us?'"

SOURCE: Carsen, J. (13 December 2019) "Employers ban vaping as its reputation goes up in smoke" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from

Illnesses, Deaths Tied to Vaping

New reports are showing that the use of electronic cigarettes (vaping) is believed to be responsible for five deaths and 450 severe lung injuries. Continue reading this article from SHRM to learn more.

The use of electronic cigarettes, also known as vaping, is believed to be responsible for five deaths and 450 severe lung injuries in what appears to be a nationwide epidemic, according to new reports.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated and produce vapor that simulates smoking. They can resemble regular cigarettes, cigars, pipes, pens, USB sticks and other everyday items. They do not burn tobacco, but the device heats a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals.

While most employers ban smoking in the workplace, their policies don't always extend to e-cigarette products. However, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health alert on Aug. 30 warned that severe pulmonary disease is associated with using e-cigarette products. The agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, launched a multistate investigation into the lung illnesses on Aug. 1.

"Although more investigation is needed to determine the vaping agent or agents responsible," wrote Dr. David C. Christiani of the Harvard School of Medicine, "there is clearly an epidemic that begs for an urgent response." He shared his comments in the Sept. 6 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, along with the preliminary report "Pulmonary Illness Related to E-Cigarette Use in Illinois and Wisconsin."

The CDC is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, states and other public health partners and clinicians to determine what is sickening users, and in some cases resulting in fatalities. On Friday, it suggested that people refrain from using e-cigarette products during its investigation.

SHRM Online has collected the following articles about this topic from its archives and other trusted sources.  

5 Deaths Linked to Vaping. Officials Are Urging Consumers to Stop. (Chicago Tribune)

How Are You Handling Vaping at Work? (SHRM Online)

More States Ban Vaping, E-Cigarette Use in Workplaces (Bloomberg)

Florida Adds Vaping to Regulated Indoor Smoking (SHRM Online)

SOURCE: Gurchiek, K. (6 September 2019) "Illnesses, Deaths Tied to Vaping" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from