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Workforce Reset

Issue 44: February 24, 2022

The workforce is changing in real-time in terms of how employees want to be recognized, valued, and supported – and how employers are responding. Much has been written about the headlines Gen Zs are making regarding work, but the shifts taking place are not restricted to only one generation in our six-generation workforce.

In parallel to employee demands, there are some sea changes that are worth noting that are subtly reshaping how we define work and how we work. Here is our top ten list of some of the more profound and weirder changes taking place.

1. Anti-Ambition

Workers of all ages and life stages have become completely fed up with work as they know it. The wave of resignations has included all generations. Boomers have taken early retirement (but don’t count them out, they will be a big part of the gig economy in their second and third acts). Lower-paid workers are the majority of quitters and are looking to ratchet up their job paths with similar but different positions with better pay and better benefits. But perhaps the most significant trend is that workers want to work to live, not live to work.

The anti-ambition movement is led by workers who don’t see a traditional career ladder in their future. As reported by Noreen Malone in The New York Times, “during the pandemic a vast majority of people were deemed essential with jobs like Amazon warehouse workers or cashiers. To be told that society can’t function without you and that you must risk your health to come in, while other people push around marketing reports from home — often for much more money — it becomes difficult not to wonder if essential is cynical, a polite way of classing humans as expendable or nonexpendable.” She adds, “Now, though, it’s as if our whole society is burned out. The pandemic may have alerted new swaths of people to their distaste for their jobs — or exhausted them past the point where there’s anything to enjoy about jobs they used to like.” Thus, the anti-ambition mindset was spawned.

“An idealistic generation has set about demanding a utopian world, on a local scale. More diversity, more attention to structural racism, better hours, better boundaries, better leave policies, better bosses,” she adds. “At some companies, it finally feels as if the old hierarchies are being upended, and the top-paid people are running a little scared of their underlings, rather than the other way around. Confronted with this world, many young people with professional options want to be in solidarity with their colleagues instead of climbing the ladder above them. The meaning that they once found in work is now found in trying to make the workplace itself better.”
Anti-ambition will infuse all aspects of workplace culture and requires management to address the behavior constructively and empathetically.

2. Virtual Job Interviews

Job applicants are up against an AI wall when they submit their resumes online. Bots field the resumes keying into algorithms that identify keywords, nuances in phrasing and a mechanical assessment of an appropriate candidate. Savvy applicants have learned how to game the system to break through the wall and get to a human being for consideration. And then many applicants think that doing virtual interviews gives them more leeway in how they present themselves. But this is strange. The New York Times reported a case where a prospective engineering position candidate was being interviewed on screen. It took the employer more than a few beats to realize that the person on-screen wasn’t answering the questions but mouthing the answers while a tech-proficient accomplice verbally answered the questions off-screen. You have to wonder what on earth would have happened if the employer had hired the candidate in ignorance of the scam. How long would that individual have lasted? In any case, virtual interviews can be manipulated as a tool for deception and employers need to be on the alert for when human beings need to take over when machines fall short.

3. Men at Work

Recent research from Catalyst reveals that some things are never going to change. Researchers found that there’s a direct correlation between the expectations and masculine norms placed on men and sexism that occurs in the workplace. The survey reveals that “94% of men experienced some level of masculine anxiety at work, and one in five reported experiencing it to a high degree.” They define masculine anxiety as the distress men experience when they feel like they are not living up to the narrow standards of masculinity — i.e., being strong, emotionally reserved, successful, powerful, dominating, fearless, in control and even emotionless. The study also shares that “men are more likely to say that they experience masculine anxiety in organizations with combative cultures — those that have norms of ruthless competition and a dog-eat-dog, winner-takes-all and work-before-family mentality.” In the study, “99% of men said that their workplace had some degree of a combative culture. In addition, 86% of men said they felt committed to interrupting sexism in the workplace, while only 31% of men felt confident in their ability to interrupt such behavior.” The conclusions from this research would suggest that a command-and-control culture begets more command-and control-behavior, regardless of the age of male workers. Yet this mindset is particularly ineffective for diverse employees who demand meritocracy, collaboration, and a seat at the table.

4. Job Pools

Millions of Americans want to quit their jobs, but many of them would stay at their companies in different positions. Shonna Waters, a vice president at the career coaching company BetterUp explains, “For some people, that means moving somewhere new or pursuing a passion, but for a lot of people it could also just mean looking around and saying, ‘I want a higher-level role,’ or ‘I want a different role at the same company,’ or ‘I want my time to be used differently in my current role.'” Many people want change at work, but also want to retain the friendships and reputation they’ve built within a company, she says. Organizations could do a better job facilitating and communicating this job search.
Another solution promoted by Thrive Global is an interesting onboarding process. Most organizations conduct exit interviews. But “what if managers understood these factors when it could make the biggest impact: on the employee’s first day instead of their last?” Thrive Global has established the entry interview, which is a conversation between a new hire and their manager on day one that starts by asking what’s important to them outside of work.

5. Salary Transparency

Salary transparency is becoming a popular demand in line with the overall view that the more transparency, the better. Quartz reports that the “logic of making compensation transparent is that it becomes harder to pay people unfairly when salaries are open to public scrutiny.” Tomasz Obloj of HEC Paris and Todd Zenger from the University of Utah conducted that study reveals once wages and rewards become transparent, there is both internal and external pressure to close the gaps. When payment is made transparent it helps erase unfairness. The study reveals:

  • The gender pay gap was reduced by up to 45% in transparent organizations.
  • Inequality in pay dropped 20% in transparent organizations.
  • When salaries were made public, the link between pay and performance was weakened by about 40%.

The link between achievement and pay was clearer, supported by data, in transparent companies

6. Boomer Renaissance

Today’s reality is that human longevity is very real and presents a range of social, health, and employment challenges. With the breakthroughs in healthcare and emotional wellbeing, older workers are living longer and living better. As a result, the older worker population has taken on a new cool factor as they want to remain relevant and continue their contribution to society. Experience, expertise, wisdom, perspective, and judgment are invaluable attributes that add depth to discussions and how solutions to problems and challenges are formed and approached. Plus, older workers are role models for professional behavior to younger workers. Life experiences have created wisdom that helps older employees make more educated choices for the future. A new report from Euromonitor lists “empowered elders” as a top-10 global consumer trend for 2022 and beyond. Given the breakthroughs and improvements in quality of life, an aging population will remain a major factor in the workplace and the consumer market for the foreseeable future.”

The numbers tell it all. AARP reports people 55+ now control 70% of all personal wealth in the United States. Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that older adults buy 56% of all new cars and trucks, 55% of personal care products, 65% of health care, 68% of home maintenance and repairs, and 76% of all prescription drugs (no surprise on that one). Money has societal currency, although brands and organizations have not recognized that fact and continue to focus their marketing and advertising to the next gens with considerably less buying power in the hope of building awareness when they have the disposable income to buy-in. It is a misleading focus and a misinterpretation of the market dynamics at play.

7. Portfolio Careers

A career is no longer built through one organization. Modern workers create a portfolio of talents that they take with them from job to job. They define their value, not the organization’s definition. They strengthen their skillsets to suit their needs, not the organization’s. Switching jobs is no longer a sign of instability or failure. The average modern worker holds around 12.5 different jobs in their lifetime. The younger a worker, the more probable it is that they’ll leave their current job for a better opportunity – sooner than later. A recent study by The Balance Careers found that the median job tenure among workers ages 25 to 34 is just 2.8 years. The median job tenure for ages 35 to 44, on the other hand, is 4.9 years. That number jumps to 7.6 years for workers ages 45 to 54, and an impressive 10.1 years for workers ages 55 to 64. The next-gen paradigm is, “if the shoe fits, maybe another shoe would fit better.”

An updated way to look at next-gen job fluidity is to think of portfolio careers. April Rinne, author of Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change, has been a proponent of portfolio careers. According to Rinne, “A portfolioist takes inspiration from other disciplines to create an adaptable, diversified, and personal career. This portfolio of skills, experience, roles or responsibilities might be wildly diverse, which both distributes risk and allows for experimentation. The portfolioist’s career is a bento box, with each skill in its place.” The concept is you take your portfolio with you and apply it to a series of career moves. She adds, “It’s about creating your own platform and honing valuable skills. In short, it’s about curating a portfolio of work that reflects you and maximizes your potential in the world. what is new about the way portfolioism can be manifest today is the degree to which individuals have agency over the portfolios that they build. The most important baseline criterion for becoming a portfolioist is open-mindedness. Most successful portfolioists have a blend of short-, medium- and long-term engagements, with different pay levels and working arrangements.”

8. Knowledge Transfer

Churn in part- and full-time employee turnover was accelerated by the pandemic, but an emerging trend prior to the health crisis. The collateral damage has been a lack of loyalty among employees as well as a flow of knowledge and continuity within the workforce. Adam Ozimek, a labor economist at Upwork says the downside of part- and full-time employees turnover churn is the organizational dependence on employees’ institutional knowledge.

How does the transfer of knowledge work in your organization if churn is high, regardless of employee type? Traditionally, knowledge transfer occurs in person, sharing how things work, where this is embedded in the mindset of an organization.

Organizations will have to find new ways to protect legacy knowledge and pass it onto new waves of employees in effective and sustainable ways to keep the infrastructure of the organization stable and healthy. Organizations that do not adapt to the current workforce dynamic and definition will find themselves in an unending cycle of high turnover and a continuous leak of institutional knowledge. What remains is majorly short-term knowledge without the depth of long-term experience that translates to more substantive and informative guiding knowledge and effective decision making.

9. Ready Player One

In the spirit of total transformation, we can look forward to remote-only startups that will forever change where people live, how they work and support a new crop of digital nomads. Organizations based in lower-cost third-tier cities, for example, can have a workforce of top international employees. Lifestyle preferences will dictate where people live untethered from a corporate headquarters. And the introduction of avatars and meta environments for meetings, conferences, social events and HR training will become commonplace in the future.
Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of all this remote work is that advances in AI and frontier/emerging technologies will enable machines to be operated remotely. This may change the factory and warehouse models as there will be fewer employees on site. Not unlike how military campaigns are conducted by the equivalent of video game operators thousands of miles away from war zones, a forklift in an Amazon warehouse in Nebraska could be operated by someone at home in Amsterdam. Remote work fused with sophisticated technology opens the floodgates of a new type of workforce and workplace culture. The future is closer than we think, and organizations need to research, collaborate with forward-thinking solution innovators and be open to change to navigate how we will work and how work gets in the next five years.

10. The Hybrid Model

A remote-first strategy works well for sales, marketing, accounting/finance, and tech teams that don’t need close collaboration in the same physical space. This means you can recruit great talent from anywhere in the country – or the world. For knowledge-based talent, you can also recruit the best minds from anywhere and connect them through new technologies to work collaboratively. On the positive side, work from home can attract top talent that is very diverse and not require them to relocate.

Office-first is likely to become an anachronism and hybrid will become the new norm. But change is hard, and many managers hold onto the past as a model to be competitive for the future. Companies and workers are often living in two different realities when it comes to returning to the office. A Pew Research study reveals 61% of teleworkers are working from home because they’re choosing to, according to. Just 38% are home because their workplaces are closed or unavailable. Workers’ reasons for staying home are increasingly unrelated to the pandemic: 76% in the Pew poll cited personal choice … 42% fear of infection … 32% childcare … and 17% had moved away from their workplaces.

A study by Reuters Institute reveals “the majority of executives (64%) say they would prefer to see employees back in the office some of the time, with only a minority (11%) saying it should be the individual employee’s choice. A fifth (20%) of respondents said they would like employees to be back all or most of the time. This signals that some managers remain reticent or even hostile to these changes, perhaps worried about the possible loss of operational efficiency or control.” This is supported by a Grant Thornton survey that reveals 45% of employees believe their employers do not understand their needs.

So, listen to the workers! Your workforce can help you redesign your workplace model and reorganize how the workforce can achieve high performance. Grant Thornton reports 79% of employees want flexibility in when and where they work and 69% agree that working from home has improved work/life balance. And 51% would give up 10% to 20% in future salary increase to have the flexibility of where and when they work.”


Flow and agility are watchwords for managing a modern workforce. At 2040 Digital we work with clients to help them stay ahead of the evolution of the workforce and workplace trends. Our work is to help organizations anticipate change and transformation, not chase the future. Change is constant and as much of consumer culture, the employee is in the driver’s seat when it comes to reshaping the workplace culture. We’re here to help, and we have the experience and expertise to help you stay steps ahead of your stakeholders.

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