The future of work is here: are you ready for it?

In business, it’s easy to assume that knowing something’s going to happen means you’re ready to deal with it. But the reality can be very different. Even the most widely recognised trend can trigger disruptions far bigger and wider than people expect.

A case in point is the ongoing reshaping of the workforce. By 2025, it is thought that the ‘millennial’ generation – those born between 1982 and 2004 – will account for at least 50% of employees.

But while businesses can see this shift happening, have they really understood what it will mean for every aspect of how the recruit, retain, engage, manage, and develop their people? In my experience, the answer is often ‘no’.

As I see it, many companies are failing to tackle the implications head-on for two reasons. Firstly, the effects will be complex and frequently contradictory, making them very hard to call. Secondly, responding to those effects could require significant changes to business models and ways of working which some businesses may find daunting.

Let’s look first at the complexity issue. The organisational workforce is an intersection point where several megatrends collide. Demographic change and advancing technology are the obvious ones. But rapid urbanisation, resource scarcity and shifts in economic power are also at play.

What’s more, these trends have conflicting impacts. Millennials are ambitious and self-confident, expecting to advance rapidly to senior management positions. - but their older colleagues are working longer – so who gets the top jobs?

At the same time, rapid urbanisation seems to suggest people might work in ever smaller offices, whilst technology is freeing them up to work wherever and whenever they want.

So, what should companies do? The answer is to acknowledge these contradictions now, and begin thinking about how they’ll manage their future workforce. The first step is to work out the practical impacts of the colliding megatrends.

There isn’t room in this blog to go into all of them – our Future of Work thought leadership report takes a deeper look, but here are a few pointers.

For a start, with four or five generations working in your business, and young rising stars jostling for promotion, it’s inevitable that you’ll have people with maximum experience reporting to colleagues with medium experience. You’ll need to manage these relationships smartly and sensitively – while respecting older employees’ tendency to ‘compartmentalise’ work from personal life, as opposed to millennials’ tendency to ‘toggle’ between the two.

Longer working lives also bring further implications. Your people may want to move away from the traditional career trajectory, where salary and seniority peak at the end, and instead have their rewards and responsibilities wind down gradually as they age. Or perhaps they’ll look to trade off wealth for lifestyle flexibility, providing time off to enjoy the full fruits of their labours while they’re young enough to do so.

The management challenges don’t end there. As successive waves of new technology continue to arrive, how will you help older colleagues adapt to them? Agility to move between generations of technology will be vital. And how will you accommodate the increased healthcare needs of an older workforce?

The message is clear. The megatrends are combining and colliding to transform the future of work in ways that many companies have yet to grasp. It’s time to prepare – or face playing catch-up in the years to come.

Jon Andrews | UK Human Resource Consulting Leader
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