2022 Trends in Labor Management Consulting

What's in store for labor management consulting? Right now, every industry is transforming. A convergence of factors is resonating throughout the business and political environments that mean businesses are developing new operating models, and new generations of employees are influencing the way we look at work. Technology is driving innovation in everything our organizations do, including organizational communication. So what trends are ahead for labor management in 2022? Let's look at the top ten trends.

A pro-union President, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) board dedicated to increasing union membership, and a House of Representatives focused on changing the labor rules means our approach to labor management is changing again. Some states are passing new labor laws that are pro-union or pro-labor. Unions are more active than they have been in two decades.  

To stay relevant, labor management consulting firms and consultants must adapt. As we look ahead to 2022, the following trends are reshaping the focus and strategies of labor management consultants striving to assist organizations across industries with all efforts built on the foundational principle of developing positive employee relations

Top 10 Trends Reshaping Labor Management Consulting   

As the labor management consulting industry grows and adapts, we must focus on staying ahead of clients to manage the labor market and labor relations changes. An effective labor management consultant will work with clients in the most relevant way to develop high-quality management-employee relations while also providing foresight and insights that keep the client knowledgeable and prepared to respond to potential or actual union activity.  

Projections, along with IRI Consultants, has identified the following ten trends impacting labor management consulting as we head into 2022. 

1. Labor Management Consultants make expanded use of digital communication  

There are three aspects to digital communication. One is that labor management consultants must know current digital communication systems in client organizations. Digital communication refers to managers and supervisors staying connected with remote and in-house employees via digital technologies, including websites, mobile technologies, apps, audio, video, podcastssocial media, and any new technologies developed in the future. 

Digital communication is a powerful employee engagement resource for holding conversations with employees, training employees on company policies, educating employees on unions, keeping employees informed during union campaign activity, and much more. It enables casting a wide net to embrace all employees, from the remote and deskless workers to employees working in the office or plant. The management consultant needs a deep understanding of the digital communication resources to help clients leverage them to improve the employee engagement journey.

The second aspect of digital communication is on an industry level. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated a successful working model for managers and remote employees connecting via Zoom or other online meeting tools. Labor management consultants can leverage this trend to assist clients efficiently, depending on the client's consulting needs, which will lower consulting costs for clients since expenses like travel are reduced.  

The third aspect of digital communication is the use of technology to gather research data and generate data analytics to produce insights. Labor management consultants must know how to utilize big data analytics to assess client needs and develop solutions for everything from organizational development to managing a union organizing campaign. 

2. Labor management consultants must track and understand a variety of legislation shaping businesses 

The qualified IRI Consultants teams have repeatedly discussed the changing labor environment due to the installation of a strongly pro-union government. Though the PRO Act has not fully passed, its provisions appear piecemeal in legislation and through NLRB decisions. Labor management consultants must now track the integration of laws and regulations coming from different directions rapidly. 

Just recently, the NLRB asked for parties and amici (friends) to submit briefs on increasing penalties on companies that are found to have committed Unfair Labor Practices (ULPs). Significantly, if the NLRB decides it can award a "fuller accounting of 'consequential damages,'" the economic penalties could easily be even more than the PRO Act proposed. 

The legislation agendas at federal and state levels are full of pro-union provisions neatly tucked inside large bills. For example, the Build Back Better legislation at the federal level gives a bonus tax credit of $4,500 only for electric vehicles assembled in union manufacturing facilities. 

Many legislative bodies are trying to promote labor unions at the state level. For example, California recently passed AB 701, a union-backed bill (unions, worker centers, and nonprofits) that require warehouses to inform workers of quotas or work speed standards and the consequences for failing to meet them. This bill leaves employers open to costly lawsuits and Unfair Labor Practices (ULPs) claims. 

It's not just union-focused bills driving business changes. The year 2022 is shaping up to be a time of significant employment law changes. The labor law firm Littler summarized the laws and regulations effective in 2022. Following is just a sample of labor laws impacting employers and expanding opportunities for employees to file Unfair Labor Practices or EEOC claims. Labor management consultants must understand specific laws like these and their broader impact on employers and Human Resources policies and procedures. 

  • Oregon, New York, and Oregon passed family leave legislation. 
  • California added protected leave for the care of parents-in-law for public and private sector employees. 
  • California SB 572 allows the state Labor Commissioner to place a lien on real property to recover employer penalties owed for violating the labor code. 
  • Oregon and some North Carolina localities amended the state anti-discrimination statute to include natural hairstyles as a protected characteristic. 
  • Oregon HB 2420 extends the statute of limitations for employees who report workplace health and safety retaliations. 
  • Some states have introduced new legislation to expand penalties assessed on employers for misclassifying employees as independent contractors
  • There is a plethora of COVID-19 related legislation related to vaccine mandates and employee health and safety, including employers needing to provide employees a reasonable time away from work for vaccine side effects. 
  • Illinois HB 53 addresses diversity and inclusion by providing that employers relying on Artificial Intelligence to screen job applicants for job interviews must collect and report data about the ethnicity and race of the applicant not offered an in-person interview and those who are hired. 
  • New York AB 430 requires employers to inform newly hired employees in writing of any type of electronic monitoring and post the notice. 

There are new laws on COVID-19 and hiring discrimination, workplace posters, wage, and hour-related employer penalties, required human trafficking awareness training offered by hotels, worker classification, and more.  

One of the services a labor management consultant, in conjunction with a labor law attorney, may offer is evaluating your Human Resources policies and procedures from the perspective of compliance with new laws, minimizing Unfair Labor Practices charges, and staying union-free. Human Resources policies should be reviewed at least annually, but in light of the pro-union agenda at the federal level, more often.  

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3. Labor management consultants will assist more clients who emphasize preventive work over union organizing campaign management.  

In the Proactive Era, labor management consulting will focus on preventive strategies to stay union-free. In a unionized workplace, the consultant will work to help an employer mitigate ULPs or develop a workplace culture that leads to decertification

Waiting until a union organizing campaign begins to hire a labor management firm increases the risk of employees voting for a union in 2022. Why? Think technology and pro-union media. Employees now publicize their grievances online and with local and national media and often get a lot of sympathy. Preventive labor management consulting will not only help companies stay union-free; it will also help employers protect their company's reputation.  

4. Labor management consultants will move their business models to specialization 

Labor management consultants will adapt their business models to accommodate specialization, meaning using the right tools for the right client job. More emphasis will be on tailor-made solutions to help companies connect with all stakeholders, including employees and communities. One-size-fits-all consulting strategies are no longer effective.  

Today's companies face numerous challenges from multiple fronts. Labor consulting will use specific tools that best fit client needs. They include videos, surveys, data collection and analysis, eLearning programs, customized leadership development programs, publications, media releases, union vulnerability assessments, union organizing campaign materials and website, classroom training courses, social media management tools, and more. The tools are matched to the client's problem needing a solution.  

5. Labor management consulting firms will become more agile 

Innovations in technology are endless. As businesses adopt new tech-based models for operations and communications, labor management consulting will need to become more agile. In the past, the consulting approach was programmatic, but today it needs adaptability to develop appropriate client solutions. 

For example, companies are attacked via social media for social, environmental, or employee relationship purposes. The labor consulting firm in 2022 can pivot to address specific issues, like launching a public relations campaign or developing a specific employee engagement initiative that utilizes the company's technologies. The labor consultant in 2022 may adopt a "fail fast" approach when appropriate that will emphasize gaining incremental knowledge by working with employers on smaller management issues, with each small solution building on the preceding solutions. 

6. Labor management consultants will focus on offering the right skillsets for developing positive employee relations  

Developing positive employee relations is crucial to business success and not just staying union-free. Though some approaches are universal, like delivering 24/7 training opportunities, the 2022 consulting approach will adapt to changes in the workforce.  

For example, the consultant must have a deep understanding of changing workforce demographics which leads to changing employee needs. These demographics include a workforce that is getting younger, more multicultural, more technology insistent, and more focused on happiness at work. The Resignation Nation is a symptom of employers who have not met employee needs. Labor management consulting firms will develop the right skillsets and knowledge for developing positive employee relations.  

7. Consultants will focus on developing a blend of internal and external resources to form strategic partnerships

It's nearly impossible for a labor management consultant to achieve success unless he/she has developed a set of internal and external resources. A consultant needs to develop strategic partnerships with management and with external sources for collaboration purposes. A consulting company that develops alliances expands its resources.  

For example, the consultant may access industry specialists or technology experts to better serve clients. Some management firms consultant firms partner or merge with other consulting firms that have a particular skill.  

IRI Consultants could be considered a good example. We acquired Projections Inc., in 2021, which has multiple teams with experience in developing customized eLearning programs, strengthening employee engagement, keeping companies union-free, and leadership development and training, all of which enhances our five areas of focus and expertise – labor relations, labor relations readiness, change management, public advocacy, and digital media. The year 2022 will see labor management consulting firms develop these kinds of resources and partnerships to better able serve clients in a transforming business environment. 

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Also, consultants will often become long-term partners with their clients to keep up with the client's needs as they change over time. The labor management consultant will become a trusted partner who is not in and out with quick solutions. Instead, consulting firms will focus on building value-creating solutions that strengthen labor relations over the long term.  

8. Companies will need more support from labor management consultants with adapting to multiple ongoing changes in the labor market 

The labor force is undergoing seismic changes in areas that include changing demographics, changing workforce perspectives on things like the employee-employer contract, utilization of technology changing the nature of jobs, acceleration of baby boomer retirements, remote workers, and younger workers re-evaluating the meaning of work. Millennials and Gen Z expect more out of their jobs than a paycheck. 

Many employers are struggling post-pandemic to deal with so many changes at once, making it difficult to maintain employee engagement. Slack's Future Forum quarterly survey of global knowledge workers shows a growing divide in how executives and employees envision future work. The survey says, "executives are faring vastly better than middle managers and individual contributors on nearly every measure—from employee experience to perceptions to preferences. In addition, our data shows there's a major chasm between employee expectations and executive imposed policies." 

Executives are putting policies in place on things like post-Covid-19, but the policies don't meet employee expectations. The survey found that employees are four times more likely than executives to prefer working remotely on a full-time basis. "And yet the data also shows that the majority of executives are building return-to-the-office plans that favor the perspective of the C-suite over what employees say works best for them." 

Labor management consultants will have to bring experience and expertise that help employers adapt their talent management processes to the reality of the new labor force in a post-Covid-19 economy. The adapting will need to start at the top with the CEO and executives.  

9. Specific knowledge becomes the most important quality when companies select a labor management consultant  

Along the same lines, clients needing labor management consulting services will look for firms with specific knowledge and expertise. Generalist labor consultants will make way for consultants who find specific solutions to specific labor issues. 

Examples include managing a union organizing campaign, increasing inclusion and belonging of diverse employees, achieving equality and equity among employee cohorts, strengthening positive employee relations, etc. The impact on the labor management consulting industry is amplified by the fact clients can now find consulting firms online that have the specific expertise. Clients can find consulting firms that are more affordable or a better fit than the largest companies.  

10. Consultants will place a strong focus on staying current with the many business changes 

There is so much going on now and all at the same time. Only the labor management consulting firms that keep their consultants current on the business changes discussed and on new tools for assisting clients will remain successful in 2022. Consultants need continually updated skills in areas like eLearning, assessing new business models, developing new union-focused strategies based on current union behaviors, data collection and analysis, managing innovation, and much more. 

Labor Management Consulting Transforms in the Proactive Era

IRI Consultants along with our skilled teams are working to deliver the most current and skilled services to clients. As industry leaders, we’re expected to step up – and stay one step ahead – of the challenges facing workers today. This shift has ushered us into a new era of labor and employee relations – something we call the Proactive Era.

IRI and the Digital Solutions Team at Projections partner with clients to develop the organizational culture and positive employee relations needed for success. Your success is our success! We're here to help, just a click away. 

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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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