The future of work
THE FUTURE OF WORK
FIVE GENERATIONS UNDER ONE ROOF
MANAGING CHANGE IN THE WORKPLACE
The only certainty is uncertainty.
Pliny the Elder (AD 23 – 79)
Whether it be Trump and North Korea, Brexit or not to Brexit, gay marriage or digitalisation, these are fascinating times for changes both on a global scale and much closer to home. Nowhere is change more prevalent than our workplace. The truth is, the future of work is a moving escalator, you either innovate and adapt or you fail and die.
For the first time in history, we’re seeing five generations in the workplace at the same time, each with a unique set of priorities and expectations. As companies continue to leverage the same blanket techniques to attract, engage and retain talent, it’s no wonder that these generations are struggling to co-exist. Recognising that one size doesn’t fit all is critical, and the time to act is now.
Companies need to better tailor their efforts towards specific cohorts, and millennials may just be the best place to start. A generation Simon Sinek says are so entitled, they believe they should have something just because they want it! They currently comprise 35% of the UK workforce, and are set to represent an astounding 50% of the global workforce by 2020. They bring wants and needs which differ greatly to those that came before them and hold more bargaining power than ever before in the labour marketplace. When you combine a generation who strive to make an impact with a marketplace that doesn’t care about employees as individuals, it is truly a recipe for disaster and what’s worse, millennials blame themselves (hence record levels of drop out, depression and even suicide amongst this rapidly growing portion of the workforce). Companies need to be aware of how to move that power in their favour, alluring them with the right selling points, developing a millennial friendly culture that puts the individual before the employee whilst plying them with the right perks to make them stick around once they’re through the door.
The range of possible outcomes for the future of work is vast. Companies that nurture flexibility, awareness, and resilience are more likely to survive these uncertain times, and even to prosper.
This melting pot of perspectives, in many cases, has caused a good deal of friction. millennials are often frustrated by their older co-workers’ late adoption of technology and social media, while baby boomers complain that millennials demand success from day one, emphasising the need to “earn” respect, responsibility, or rewards. Baby boomers tend to be more static and loyal to their employers, having grown up in a world where most people spent an entire career at one company, while Gen Xers and millennials grew up surrounded by downsizing and outsourcing and therefore feel more like free agents, often happy to take on a portfolio career full of uncertainty.
There is a silver lining to all this future of work complexity however, employees do recognise the value of having various backgrounds and perspectives in the same office—we just have to take advantage of it!
Top 3 Problems on the Horizon for the Future of Work
- UK employers are anticipating a significant skills gap when over 3 million baby boomers retire over the next two to five years and are already taking steps to mitigate the risk.
- Technology is evolving at a much faster rate than the human brain. As such, new technology roll outs are becoming not so much a transformation and more of a constant, placing a heavy burden on employees to keep up with the change.
- As a result of digitalisation two main factors will have a significant impact on leadership roles. Firstly, an excess of data blurring traditional borders between leaders, employees and external parties presents transparency issues. Second, we will see decentralisation, with collaboration networks and decisions made outside of the traditional organisational frameworks and hierarchies.
Filling The Age Gap
The task of business leaders must be to overcome the paralysis that dooms any static organisation and to begin shaping the future. One starting point is to take stock of what they do know about their people and their surrounding economic environment; such an understanding will probably suggest needed changes in strategy. The key here is to start demystifying what is going on, stick to the facts of what is changing (internally and externally) and what needs to change.
The following strategies can help to retain retiring baby boomers’ skills and experience within the company:
- Offer a phased retirement. Phased retirement options allow boomers to retire gradually while providing time for them to train successors. These arrangements can include consulting, part-time work, flexible hours, telecommuting or specialised project work.
- Don’t just pay attention at the top. Don’t just plan for senior-level vacancies. Having a capable successor for key roles at all levels is important.
- Prepare future leaders. Work with employees with leadership potential through mentoring, additional career development or education, and ensure they can see a viable career path within your organisation.
Change Gone Wrong
In 2008, the Namibian government launched a new housing project to give the nomadic Himba tribe the possibility of exchanging their traditional clay-covered shelters for more modern houses, along with basic digital infrastructure and smartphones. The government was enthusiastic about the project and the new homes appeared to be welcomed by the Himbas. However, to the government’s surprise, the Himba families used the new homes to shelter their cattle and continued with life as usual in their clay huts, whilst playing on their new smartphones. The Himba project demonstrates that unexpected reactions and dilemmas may occur when introducing change. Digitalisation is no different. In some cases, new tools/technologies are easily assimilated by both organisations and individuals; other times they are questioned, or even rejected. The Himba project reveals that tradition, culture and experiences are all strong mechanisms that can affect our behaviour and willingness to accept change. For a change to stick, the culture must be altered accordingly.
Future of Work – Summary
Companies must now take a more flexible approach to planning for change: each of them should develop several coherent, multipronged strategic-action plans, not just one. Every proactive and positive plan should embrace all of the functions, business units, and geographies of a company and show how it can make the most of a specific population/economic environment. It is easy during times of change to wave the white flag and begin a downward spiral of defeatist pessimism, it is down to leadership to lead by example as role models of the future ways of working. It is resilient, determined, cohesively ambitious organisations that will thrive during these uncertain times – after all, if you are all pulling in the same direction, not only do you get to your destination sooner, but you buy more time to change course if you see an opportunity to improve headed into the future of work.