How do you envision the workplace in 10, 20 or even 50 years’ time? Will robots operate in a digitalized world, surrounded by computer screens? Will women be taking control? Will working from home be the norm? When it comes to the future, we can only speculate. But we can examine current forces already shaping tomorrow’s work environment.
Ten years ago, Facebook didn’t exist. Now social media is a part of daily life. New technology, such as digitalisation, changes in buying habits and communication mean new tasks and jobs are being created – such as social media specialists, for example – and these will play a greater role.
Megatrends such as sustainability and a multi-polar world where mature and emerging markets co-exist will undoubtedly affect employment. Likewise, regulatory changes, such as diversity quotas requiring a certain number of women to occupy senior positions, may also influence the composition of the future workforce.
Attitudes towards work are changing among the younger generation, who demand a better work-life balance. Flexible working hours, doing freelance work and working from home may be commonplace for tomorrow’s workers. And company loyalty won’t be so important: people no longer spend their entire working lives in the same company – and they don’t expect to, either.
Possibly the greatest challenge for employers, however, is the dramatic shift taking place in demographics. The workforce in the Northern Hemisphere is shrinking, and the availability of people with talent is dwindling. Countries in the Southern Hemisphere may enjoy a workforce surplus due to high economic growth and stable birth rates, but currently lack strong educational systems where talent can thrive.
Meanwhile, we are all living – and therefore potentially working – for longer. Indeed, the ongoing euro crisis and low interest rates may force the younger generation to work later in life to ensure an adequate pension. All this means that employers need to learn how to manage a rapidly aging workforce, where more than half of employees might be aged 60 or over.
How they will do this remains uncertain. Will an employee actually want to keep working until he or she is 70 years old? And more importantly, how will a company manage the opposing attitudes, behaviors and expectations of the young and old?
On the one hand, there are Generation Y and Z, nicknamed ‘digital natives,’ born into a world where being tech-savvy is the norm. At the other extreme are baby boomers, who have enjoyed the luxury of high wages and the prospect of adequate retirement income. Both have different career expectations, attitudes towards work and ways of learning. Tomorrow we will need to tailor leadership and learning programs for both generations, considering new methods like blended learning, which combines online learning with face-to-face classroom time.
When people retire, they take with them years of valuable experience, unless a company acts otherwise. But how do you organize knowledge transfer from baby boomers, used to printed material, to a younger generation, dependent on Google and Wikipedia? The answer is to make knowledge accessible and transfer it to the younger generation in ways they know. Discussions and working groups combining old and young can also bring information to life.
Indeed, they might have opposing points of view and beliefs, but mixed-age teams can often bring the most to the table. Older employees offer expertise and experience, while younger employees provide energy, enthusiasm and the willingness to ‘go the extra mile.’ What’s more, mixed-age teams are best equipped to deal with a company’s customer mix of different generations.
DAYCARE FOR THE ELDERLY
Of course, an aging workforce presents inherent problems. If more people extend their retirement age, this would limit the number of jobs for younger people. Spain, Portugal and Greece show how social instability can follow high youth unemployment rates. And an aging workforce also means higher wages, if a company follows the traditional approach of increasing pay for years of continued service within a company.
While workers today often worry about juggling a career with childcare responsibilities, in a decade they will probably be more concerned with elderly daycare for aging parents. As well as providing a crèche for employees’ infants, companies should start thinking about daycare facilities for the elderly to meet employees’ future demands. After all, people are ultimately more productive when their responsibilities outside of the workplace are taken care of.
Human resources experts are currently working out the best way to address the challenges presented by an aging workforce. One alternative might be for older employees to reduce their working hours to open up job opportunities for younger workers. Another approach is to pass on responsibility to the younger generation, letting the older generation provide guidance and support. In this way, older employees can continue to play a creative and active role, even after reaching their perceived retirement date. In France, for example, there is a law on the table stating that elderly employees must mentor younger entrants to a company. And older workers shouldn’t forget about second chances. There is no reason why the over-55s can’t study for a new degree or pursue a career in a completely different professional area. Older age is an age of opportunity – in the workplace, as well as in society.