Preparing for a Changing Workforce (Part 1)

by | Jan 9, 2020

“Change before you have to.” —Jack Welch

When things are going well, it’s easy to think that nothing will ever change. But as many organizations have found out the hard way, that sense of security is often false. Whether we notice it or not, change is always taking place, and eventually it gets to a point where it’s impossible to ignore.

The question is: Will your organization rise with the changing tides… or sink to the bottom?

Today’s hourly workforce is changing dramatically in many ways and not all companies are fully prepared for these changes. Some, immersed in denial, think they can maintain the status quo by managing their workforce the exact same way they’ve done for the past 40 years. Other organizations know that things are changing – they’ve read a few articles, attended conferences, and are generally aware of the trends – but are treating the phenomenon as something they’ll eventually have to deal with, sometime down the road.

Other organizations are under no illusions that they can manage their workforce the same way they used to. They know things are changing and are taking steps to adapt, or at the very least, are asking the questions about what steps they need to take in the short, medium, and long term to evolve with the changing workforce.

Those first two groups? They run the risk of being left behind as the changes in today’s workforce continue to pick up speed.

First, let’s address why there is so much upheaval in the workforce.

Disruptors in the Workforce

There are multiple elements or disruptors that have contributed to a workforce that now looks very different than it did 40, 20, or even 10 years ago. Some of these disruptors include:

  • Record-setting levels of low unemployment
  • A workforce that now spans four generations and operates within the Gig Economy
  • Rapid evolution of technology
  • Automation/augmentation of traditionally human tasks by machines/AI

In general, everything that is currently disrupting traditional workforce standards can be slotted into two categories: changes to the workforce, and changes to how we work.

How Your Workforce Is Changing

The traditional idea of retiring at 65 and not working anymore has already fallen by the wayside. In many organizations, members of the Baby Boomer generation are eschewing traditional retirement. They may move into part-time positions to supplement their retirement income, or in some industries, move into contractor positions where they have more control over when and how they want to work.

Right behind them are Generation X and Millennials. These individuals, ranging from their mid-thirties to early fifties, are rising into positions of leadership, or at the very least, seniority. No longer content with the status quo, these generations are demanding change within their organizations in numerous ways:

  • They seek out more variety, flexibility, and growth in their work, instead of being content with the exact same role and tasks for more than 12 to 24 months let alone their entire career. If an employer can’t provide them with variety, flexibility and growth in the near term they are likely to jump ship.
  • They look for employers whose values align with their own. They may, out of necessity, take jobs with employers whose values they disapprove of, but will continue to seek out something that is a better fit.
  • While many Baby Boomer workers had the advantage of a stay-at-home spouse, younger generations rarely have this kind of situation, making it increasingly difficult for them to balance all the demands on their day. Therefore, Gen X and Millennials are increasingly embracing and seeking out opportunities for flexible work scheduling and remote work, in an effort to offset long commutes and a busy family life.
  • Even the oldest Gen Xers grew up with a certain amount of technology, while Millennials are digital natives. As such, their standards are firm: Reliable, user-friendly technology that doesn’t impede their work. Any organizations using outdated legacy systems will soon find themselves facing a sea of frustrated staffers.

And what of Gen Z? Born between 1996 and 2010, the older members of this generation are entering the workforce and have their own characteristics:

  • Pure digital natives, Gen Z is incredibly tech-savvy and has an even greater expectation of well-functioning tech than their Millennial cousins or Gen X parents.
  • Gen Z are a generation of avid multitaskers, and as such will quickly grow bored with doing the same thing day in and day out.
  • These employees are the “gamer generation” and need clear goals and rewards. They communicate in a very different manor (to which employers need to adapt) and they do not need or plan to adapt to “old fashioned” ways of working or communicating.
  • It’s also worth noting that Gen Z has seen and experienced the difficulty in finding full-time hourly work. This is because some employers are only looking for part-time employees, so Gen Zers look to piece together a full-time schedule across multiple employers. Employers need to embrace this new way of staffing because their future employees demand it of them.

Clearly, the complexion of the workforce is changing and employees’ ideas of what constitutes a “good” employer are too. If employers are to be successful in attracting, engaging, and retaining staff, they will need to examine what they’re offering to their staff and how they’re meeting these new needs.

In Part 2 of this blog post, we’ll take a look at how the nature of work itself is evolving and drill even deeper into the steps you can take to ensure your organization is ready to meet and exceed the expectations of your workers.


Michael Spataro

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