A recent report published by the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation and Economist magazine Intelligence Unit explored several trends in the 21st century work force. The report delves into changing worker expectations, the effects of technology and the emerging work force. The issue for businesses and organizations is whether or not they’re ready.
Here are some discussion questions designed to help you and your leadership team assess how effectively your organization has navigated through these new waters as well as plan for additional changes and strategies that could be needed. By the way, there are no wrong answers.
n The face of the future workforce will continue to reflect changes most organizations already have encountered: younger, culturally and socially diverse and technologically savvy. These workers have high expectations about their roles and their employers. They clearly understand they are the chief executive officers of Me Inc. and solely responsible for navigating their careers. Chief among those expectations is doing work that makes a difference and performing that work in a flexible environment.
What changes have you seen in what your employees expect from the workplace? How does that differ from your experience as an employee? What adjustments has your organization made to address this new worker perspective? What other changes will you need to make to attract and retain top talent?
n The SHRM-EIU report analyzes many aspects of 21st century work force demographics. A work team might include members whose ages, backgrounds, life experiences, physical abilities and preferred work styles differ greatly from their supervisors. The report notes that many of the accepted and established management techniques are now as “outdated as the office typewriter” and will require sophisticated and carefully thought out management approaches.
How has the composition of your work force changed? Has your organization taken action to acknowledge and embrace worker diversity? What kinds of adjustments have managers made in their day-to-day interactions with their direct reports? What challenges are your managers encountering that require new and different responses? How does your organization support management in acquiring new or different supervisory skills?
n Flexibility and meaning are important to the newest generations entering the work force. Finding meaning and offering flexible work arrangements might be easy if the job is with a medical facility, non-profit or other community service-based organization. Meaning could be harder to define on a production floor, in a restaurant or at a utility company. Connecting employees to the bigger picture through a compelling mission or vision and ensuring they understand how their individual jobs make a difference remains a key strategy in engaging workers and leveraging their skills. As job descriptions are continuously revised, organizations increasingly employ task decomposition — segmenting work into smaller chunks — that offers more flexibility.
Does the organization have a mission, vision or values that resonate with employees? Are employees aware of how their work and their approach to their work affects customers, the company mission and community? How has the organization responded to requests for flexibility in scheduling, improving work processes or allowing remote work? When wider workplace flexibility isn’t feasible, what other components of your company’s culture will be attractive to workers?
n The pace of technological change has affected nearly every industry and thousands of jobs. It has allowed workers to be more productive, do more complex work and shed some routine tasks. The newest entrants into the work force are “digital natives” — they’ve been exposed to and have used technology from their earliest childhood days. Fully integrated into the social media world, these workers expect their work to be portable, immediately accessible and collaborative. Of course, not all types of jobs or industries can fluidly integrate technology, which could be a deterrent for those workers and lead to turnover, job dissatisfaction and lower productivity.
How has technology changed work in your organization? How does the organization use technology to connect workers to the company and each other? What’s the long-term strategy for employing new technologies, and how might that strategy affect employees? Are there aspects of the work that will necessarily remain “old school” and do employees understand the need for that? If the nature of the work is not conducive to using technology, are there other aspects of working for your company that could retain tech-savvy and tech-hungry workers?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to guide employers journeying through this new world of work. Leadership discussions, focus groups and education about best employment practices offer some of the most effective steps to ensure the organization’s long-term viability.