published December 23, 2019

How the Workforce Is Changing & How Businesses Can Prepare for the Future

How the Workforce Is Changing & How Businesses Can Prepare for the Future

Those miserable Millennials

Millennials: They’re selfish, self-infatuated, lazy, praise-hungry, and lack loyalty.

This is probably true—for some. But it’s also true for some of Gen X, Y, Z—Gen Whatever, and Boomers just as it was for those generations before. (I googled: They’re called the Silent Generation or the Greatest Generation.)

Millennials are the biggest generation in history. Bigger even than the Boomers. But now as Boomers are transitioning out of the workforce, and Gen Xers are aging, Millennials are now the dominant workforce population. As a result, the workforce is changing. In some ways, Millennials aren’t that different despite the urban myths. Though there are clear differences among the three, at bottom they all tend to want the same things. The biggest difference between Millennials and their predecessors is in what they’ll put up with from their jobs and what they’re prepared to do about it. Maybe it’s just that Millennials believe they’ve a better chance of getting what they want and are less patient when they don’t.

How 3 generations compare:
  1. Boomers tend to view life success in terms of their jobs and the wealth that they brought. Gen X and Millennials are more suspicious of their jobs and workplace and what their promised offerings. This “deterioration of optimism” has them tending to view jobs and employers with less loyalty. Of the three generations, Millennials have witnessed some of the worst income inequality and lack of social mobility. This has helped to fuel some of their pessimism.
  2. Millennials’ trust in traditional media is low. They’re also skeptical of authority figures like political and religious leaders. They also distrust the motives of businesses and their consequences on society. Companies more aligned with their personal values are companies they’d rather work for. These trends are also true of Gen Z.
  3. This distrust may also make Millennials and Gen Z the nightmare of Capitalism: They’re delaying having families—and having smaller ones—and delaying buying houses and cars—they’re big in the “sharing economy”—and even buying less when it comes to luxury items. For them, “car sharing” is predicted to be the norm and not an anomaly. Younger generations are less loyal to brands. They’re also living with their parents longer: This makes Millennials and Gen Z less dependent on static, stable employment and less vulnerable to the vagaries of their employers as were previous generations.
  4. Because of their parents’ experience with corporate downsizing, as well as frequent mergers, takeovers, bankruptcies, and the dissolution of entire industries to technological and cultural changes, Gen X and Millennials are much more likely to become entrepreneurial. Unlike the parents of Boomers, Gen X and Millennials were less likely to have parents finished their careers with one employer and more likely to be laid off. These vicarious experiences affect their behavior in the workplace—they prefer a much more hands-off approach. They’re less tolerant of micromanaging and have higher expectations from their employers.
  5. Millennials are said to prefer good working conditions, good bosses, and flexibility over high pay and long hours. According to a recent survey, their priorities diverge from that of previous generations. Of their Top 5 Wants, traveling the world and buying a house place before starting a family. They also have little trust and hope for the economy and how it’ll affect them. In this survey, their economic pessimism as a generation is at an all-time low. This pessimism is also seen as the reason why their birthrates are at an all-time low. While the recession is long over, they still have an economic insecurity for a coming Crash 2.0. Add to this the highest rates of student debt and, for them, having kids doesn’t seem like a good option. (First time births for women ages 40-44 have climbed.)
  6. Millennials believe, by an almost 4 out of 5 margin, that life is more stressful today than it was for previous generations. They cite debt, a competitive job market, and expensive healthcare as top stress factors. As for that job market, their fears aren’t simply paranoia: 25% of American jobs are at risk to being lost to automation, and by 2030 that could grow to 73 million jobs lost.
  7. Are Boomers going out with a whimper? ProPublica and the Urban Institute claim that almost more than half of older U.S. workers are sacked from their longtime jobs even before they choose to retire. And according to Health and Retirement Study data, over 22 million will suffer layoffs, involuntary job separation or forced retirement.

How should businesses work with these changes?

It needs to start with culture

The coming workforce will be more ethnically and culturally diverse and more female than ever before: As women outnumber men in college enrollments, young women are set to have a much larger presence in industries they heretofore had either avoided or were kept out of. The workforce is also becoming more age diverse and the ability for these groups to understand and get along with others will have a direct effect on profits and work culture. Employers will need to know how to interact within all of this diversity. Those companies that can create an environment where employees can contribute fully will be the most competitive and innovative.

Culture is always the most difficult thing to change. Cultural change through tech has been and will continue to be unavoidable, but culture maintenance in companies is just as strenuous and necessary. Culture change should be on the agenda for every organization from now on going forward.

One of the challenges with investing in culture is that is doesn’t offer an immediate ROI metrics. There’s a mindset in the C-suite that investing time and money into culture, a more abstract and less immediately quantifiable investment, is hard to justify. This needs to end. Business is undergoing more than a digital transformation, it’s in a revolution. Investing in a changing culture should be seen as a sure bet. It’s an investment in an organization’s future agility and its competitiveness in the marketplace. Whether your company gets onboard with cultural change or not, you can be assured your competitors will be.

And there’s data: Despite the mythology, talented Millennials aren’t just looking for the sexiest companies and the hot new startups. Research by Gallup “shows that, more than any other age group, they value purpose over paycheck.” Purpose-driven company culture “can account for 20-30% of the differential in corporate performance when compared with ‘culturally unremarkable’ competitors.”

Millennials don’t see working for a company that shares their values as an unattainable fantasy. As they wait longer to start families and make the big-debt purchases of suburban life, they have more liberty to make choices. They won’t be compelled to work a job they feel detached from just to pay for a lifestyle.

Digital means data

If your organization needs a hero to emulate, how about one of these: Amazon, Google, Airbnb, or Netflix? All of these companies can attribute their rapid growth to transforming insights into data-driven action.

One of the classic examples of this is Google. Google existed, at least in the beginning, to answer questions. If that’s what their customers wanted, why wouldn’t it also make sense to run their organization similarly? So, they began to run the company by questions, not answers. As part of their strategy process, they formulated 30 questions that needed answering and from there they begin a conversation—from this conversation came innovation. Google executives found that their innovation improved when they presented a problem in the form of a question. Google used this data to create a process of “evidence-based management.”

Before the process, Google operated under the assumption that technical expertise was what made a good manager. Employees disagreed. When surveyed, employees ranked technical expertise last. What they preferred in a manager was someone even-keeled, that asked good questions, took time to meet with people, and cared about the careers and lives of their employees. When Google dug deeper into the data, they found that teams with managers like this performed better. From this they adapted their culture and changed how they selected and coached managers. Especially those considered the most problematic.

What to do with all of that data? 4 actions to take

As seen above, data can drive businesses on both the outside and the inside. Here’s how to use it:
  1. Have a purpose: Everyone has available analytics but few know how to use it. Many companies lose their way with analytics because they focus first on technical specifications and not enough on tangible business objectives. The technical needs to serve business, not the other way around.
  2. Insight needs to be linked to action: Conventional wisdom assumed that the best way to solve a problem was to provide more information AKA insight. This is the equivalent of having more meetings to address the problem of too many meetings. For insight to have any value, it must be predictive. Its purpose is to drive action quickly, seamlessly, and automatically.
  3. Getting the most out of analytics: Like Google did, you can use analytics to help build up and strengthen your workforce—from hiring decisions, implementing training success, retaining employees, improving performance, and predicting behavior as well as directing it more positively.
  4. Create feedback loops: Find out what works and what doesn’t. Stay dynamic. The analytic climate is always changing and new data sources regularly become available. Don’t let your competitors gain an advantage over you.

Millennial anxiety

Because Millennials came of age during a time of great technological change, globalization, and economic disruption, they have a different set of behaviors than did preceding generations. They are also uniquely qualified to better understand what changes lay ahead. And yet interestingly, despite this, Millennials feel unprepared for the changes on the horizon that will transform work and the nature of jobs. With the shadow of AI looming, 46% believe that this will make it harder for them to find or change jobs in the world ahead. Only one in five believed they possessed all the knowledge and skills required for whatever those changes will be; 70% felt underprepared to meet the changes they’d need to be hirable without further training; 30% of Millennials felt that businesses should bear the largest responsibility for preparing workers to meet what’s coming—24% felt that educational institutions needed to do more.

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