In order for a business to thrive, the decision-makers must be aware of the societal trends that have an impact on their employees’ expectations of what a work environment should be. They must also consider their customers’ expectations of how a business should present itself and its products. If a sweeping change influences the culture at large, failing to respond to it can make a business seem cold and out of touch — at best.
This is a time of swift and ubiquitous change. Companies, large and small, are expected to respond and reorient quickly to accommodate these changes. Having a degree in sociology can give you the tools needed to see and interpret these trends to stay ahead of the curve.
A New Sexual Revolution
While the sexual revolution of the 1960s focused on breaking down cultural taboos around sex, the ongoing sexual revolution looks to establish new norms.
The feminist movement has gained a new momentum in recent years. Many large companies and institutions are placing a greater focus on addressing the inequities in pay and representation between men and women. The #MeToo movement has threatened the normative power structures in businesses and institutions, and different sexual orientations and gender expressions are becoming more accepted in the mainstream.
Psychology Today contributor Marty Nemko, Ph.D., writes, “Society’s mind-molders … have, for years now, focused on increasing sexual minorities’ rights.” Transgender rights are expanding in a way similar to the expansion of gay rights in the 1990s and 2000s.
Calling out sexual misconduct in the workplace, as well as the expanding acceptance of alternative sexual lifestyles, is resulting in more inclusive and transparent workplace cultures.
Due to urban congestion and a renewed focus on work-life balance, working from home is becoming more common. Nemko writes, “The great convenience of free Skype, Google Hangout, and Facetime is reducing in-person contact in and out of the workplace.” This development is contributing to increased productivity among workers who are no longer forced to spend hours a day on clogged highways.
These technologies serve to help compensate for a housing shortage in major urban areas. Vistage.com contributor Marc Emmer points out that California is building far fewer homes than are needed by the number of workers coming to the state. This is leading to rising housing prices and workers living farther away from their jobs than ever before. “To address this problem,” he writes, “companies will continue to move toward virtual work environments and embrace collaboration tools such as Slack and Wrike.”
Gigs Are Growing
The gig economy has expanded in tandem with the popularity of apps and social media technology. This is a mixed blessing. Emmer writes, “Employers, facing severe shortages in labor, will be more willing to hire part-time help — especially as companies try to limit hours to comply with the Affordable Care Act and other mandates.”
While the gig economy can prove to be a great auxiliary to someone’s primary income or a stop gap between jobs, more and more people are relying on it for full-time work.
Unique and Boutique
Trends in food and drink are shifting toward individualized meals and small-batch brews. Given diet trends such as paleo and ketogenic programs, many restaurants are catering to the new dietary demands of their customers. Emmer writes, “In 2018, look for the expansion of formats that include less labor, ‘gut-friendly’ menus with probiotic, prebiotic and anti-inflammatory ingredients.”
Similarly, clothing trends are moving in the direction of function over form. Emmer points out, “Categories such as athleisure are growing.” Clothes that integrate into smartphone technology are also emerging.
This shift toward authenticity and personalization are not limited to the restaurant and retail industries, however. Marketing and messaging at large are taking a turn toward storytelling, arguably as a countermeasure to the feeling of depersonalization that comes along with the expansion of social media.
AI and VR
Artificial intelligence products (e.g. Alexa and Siri) and immersive virtual reality video game experiences are changing the expectations customers have about their experiences with businesses. Emmer writes, “Technologies are shifting from assistants to companions. AI is breaking into every facet of our lives, from driving directions to loan applications.”
AI software such as Karen, a program that assists employers in sifting through resumes, and Amazon’s Echo, which is essentially a personal assistant, are moving in the direction of fleshing out entire roles rather than augmenting them. It is possible that in the near future, customers will no longer lament being faced with an automated phone interface instead of a real person.
While these trends are all clearly visible to almost everyone, they are quick to shift and change. Their ultimate outcomes are obscure, if not unknowable. Having a background in sociology can give one the insight needed to properly understand why these changes are happening, as well as formulate socially conscious and profitable responses. The skills learned in a sociology degree program will be in high demand by companies looking to keep a keen eye on the shifting culture in which they operate.
Learn more about Lamar University’s online Bachelor of Science in Sociology program.