The evolution of work

Let’s talk about the evolving world of work. If we, as business people, are going to effectively recruit, lead and retain our future workforce, perhaps it would help to go to a 30,000 foot level and look at the bigger picture.

Let’s take a look at the evolution of work (in simple terms):

The Veterans (Ages 66+): Their framework around work involved WORK. That was it. “We work to survive (period).” You see, if they didn’t work, they had no other resources. And, the only place they could connect with their work was actually AT work. And, when they were done at work, they were done.

The Baby Boomers (Age 47 – 65): Baby Boomers began to allow work to seep into their family lives. They wanted more than they had growing up, and their hard work was the only way they were going to get it. Baby boomers began making sacrifices to get ahead. They began skipping important events during evenings and weekends in their quest to climb the corporate ladder. As a result, they were able to accomplish and acquire much. Don’t be fooled, however, about the emotional fallout that some of this approach to work created. Keep in mind, also, this generation did not have the benefit of technology to work in a flexible manner. Their immense number of hours, especially in their early career, had to be logged at the office. This is how they paid their dues.

Generation X (Ages 35 – 46): This generation, different from the Baby Boomers, began to allow life to seep into work. Generation X started to press their interest in slipping out during the day for a soccer game or doctor’s appointment for the kids. They also pushed back by saying, “I can’t stay late, because I promised my family…” This generation advocated for work/life balance.

Generation Y (Ages 20 – 34): The Gen Y framework around work involves LIFE first. The baby boomers (incidentally, their parents) lived to work and made many sacrifices for this approach to work. Generation Y is thinking that working to live may make more sense. They don’t just want work/life balance; they want work/life flexibility. Technology, incidentally, has created the ability for them to work differently and more creatively. They see no reason why they have to universally be tied to a workplace location and to a 9-to-5 work schedule. They have many more opportunities to work differently than any generation that has preceded them. Some of them will even build their working lives through a tapestry of income-earning opportunities … not just one job or career path.

One of the biggest challenges today in attracting, leading and retaining our emerging workforce is the Baby Boomer mindset and the corresponding Baby Boomer approach to work. Baby Boomers, after all, are convinced that their approach to work is the right approach. Ken Robinson, author of “Out of Our Minds,” challenges the Baby Boomer mindset saying, “Our corporate cultures are not keeping pace with changing social systems.”

Jeff Joerres, CEO of ManpowerGroup, speaking to a group at Marquette University, addressed the question: “Are you prepared for tomorrow’s workforce?” In his message he shared that as we move forward, “the individual rules.”

What are the implications of this? Joerres said:

  • Organizations will need segmented candidate attraction models.
  • Individuals will select where and when they want to work.
  • Multiple work environments will be required in order to attract and retain workers.
  • Individuals will take more responsibility for their own career development (and they’re not looking to be taken care of in a loyalty for loyalty way).
  • There is an increased need for employers to be socially responsible.
  • And, most importantly, organizations will need to understand HOW people want to work.

All of this requires a contemporary management mindset. Note: Those of you who want to stay committed to what we might call an outdated mindset will not like some of these things, least of all the notion that “The Individual Rules.”

Joerres suggests, at the company level, you can take the left door or the right door. Choose the left door, and you can try to run faster. You can take all of the demographic trends (individual, technological, client and customer sophistication) and you can try to outrun them. Or you can take the right door … the one that requires reflection, empathy, curiosity and agility.

Which door are you going to choose?

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