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The Changing Nature of Work and the Worker: Four Global Trends Impacting HR Strategy

Originally Published June 22, 2015 in a Magazine

In a scant 10 years, the way organizations accomplish their missions and the people and methods by which the work is done will change dramatically. All of the indicators are already present, and it is the astute HR professional, working alongside their other C-Suite counterparts, that will reap the rewards for themselves and their organizations.

There are four global trends leading this change:

1. Changing demographics lead to workers’ changing values. Throughout all of recorded human history, there have never been more than three generations represented in the workplace at the same time. By 2025, there will be six. Traditionalists and baby boomers will continue to provide necessary talent well into their 70s and 80s, and will work alongside 20-somethings in what I call, after Gen X and Gen Y, “Gen Wi-fi.”

These younger individuals have a completely different mindset towards organizational loyalty and work itself than do their older cohorts. Interestingly, most of the world’s Gen Wi-fi live in India and China. Additionally, in the US and Central and South America, there will be a significant rise in the number of Hispanic workers, who, like the Gen Wi-fi counterparts, may value family and their own opportunities over 60 hour workweeks. By 2025, Hispanics will represent over 55% of the US workforce. Lastly, while females have outnumbered males in educational achievement in the developed world for the past two decades, female talent tends to be underutilized by employers. HR leaders who recognize this shortcoming and begin adopting programs that reward outcomes more than continuous longevity in the organization and provide greater flexibility in how work is performed will reap the rewards.

2. The socially networked workplace. The organization structure of Weber and Taylor is in its death throes. Instead, organizations are beginning to recognize that the formal org chart doesn’t necessarily apply to work being accomplished. Rather, it’s the relationships of individuals throughout the organization, and in many cases, outside of the organization, where information meets and innovative solutions are born.

It’s no longer the formal position of the individual but rather how well they are connected and interconnected that allows them to accomplish tasks large and small. The growing use of technology as a tool to have global connections (and thus access to relevant information) expands the worker’s abilities to better analyze situations and come up with better solutions to business problems. Organizations that better understand, particularly when dealing with Gen Y and Gen Wi-fi employees, that restricting access to information is a sure path to failure, while encouraging such use better engages those employees and provides them with a tool known to them to succeed.

3. The rise of micro-work. As a talent shortage accelerates, and as workers place less stock in long-term engagements in organizations (particularly larger organizations), very short-term projects still need to be accomplished. An extension of the outsourcing and offshoring of work in the past two decades, employers have now realized that rather than staffing up for short-term projects, it may be both more cost-effective and yield better results to connect with individuals and smaller firms to do much shorter-term projects. The technology industry has been doing this for years (see for example firms like Apprio and oDesk). Over the next ten years more organizations will adopt micro-work as an addition, not replacement, for those already employed within the organization.

4. Recognition of human capital as a competitive advantage. The days of leveraging manufacturing processes or technology as a competitive advantage are gone. Virtually all manufacturers now have access to the same processes and can scale them appropriately. Similarly with technology, organizations all have access to the latest hardware, software, and middleware. Astute HR professionals, along with their C-Suite cohorts, are recognizing that having the right people, highly engaged, doing the right things is the competitive advantage for now and into the future. This necessitates a refocusing of efforts on developing the right talent acquisition, management, and engagement strategies in alignment with the organization’s goals and objectives.

The organizations that recognize the trends first, and adapt by altering some of their traditional methods of work, will benefit the most in the decades ahead in attracting, retaining, and engaging the best workers (both internal and external) to meet the organization’s needs.

Originally Published June 22, 2015 in a Magazine

Posted on June 22, 2015 by GARY B. KUSHNER, SPHR, CBP, PRESIDENT AND CEO

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