The New Concerns of an Evolving Workforce

US News

New professionals entering the workforce at the end of this decade were born in the mid-to-late 90s. They're Millennials; part of a generation that grew up listening to Jay-Z and The Black Eyed Peas, but not smelling a whiff of teen spirit. They don't remember the years when beepers were hip and cell phones were spanking new.

The workers who hired them? Also Millennials. That's right--by 2020, today's young entry-level employees will be tomorrow's middle management, professionals who were nurtured in a digital age where everything--from talking to family, to checking the weather, to sending an important office email--can be done on the go. Where Facebook is important, but face time? Not so much. Their philosophies and practices have changed and will continue to change how we work.

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"As the Millennials move into positions of authority, they will change the values of the corporation of the future," says Joyce Gioia, president and CEO of The Herman Group and a management consultant and professional futurist. "They'll transform the whole attitude toward life-work balance. And I intentionally said 'life' first, because this generation puts life first."

"This is a positive influence that the Millennials have had," says Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM). "More companies now ... are starting to offer flexible working schedules, late start, early start, compressed workweeks. I think we're starting to see, and will continue to see, an expansion of these types of programs across the country, and that's actually good news."

"We're becoming a workforce where the amount of time you spend in the [office] chair is not the issue," Gioia adds. "It's the results of the work. It's about what's been achieved."

These days, many professionals regard flexible working schedules as an employee privilege. But according to Elliott, practices like telecommuting and compressed workweeks are actually employee benefits, just the same as health coverage. As such, they're issues that any potential employee, from entry-level to seasoned professional, should feel comfortable negotiating during the hiring process. "When you get to the final round of interviewing with a company, that's when you start looking at office culture or how employers support employee development and work-life balance," he says. "I think all questions about [flexible working programs] are legitimate for an applicant to ask at that stage."

One thing that won't change as rapidly, however, is the economy. If the job market is still in recovery mode, many new professionals will enter the workforce in co-ops and intern placements, but not as full-time, entry-level employees. They might then work six months to a full year before actually receiving a full-time job offer. This could put a kink in some financial plans, but there is an upside: These internships allow young people to acclimate to their prospective working environment. "A lot of organizations will utilize internships and co-ops in the future as a way to bridge the experience gap, and I don't see that trend diminishing in the future," Elliott says.

[See Millennial Workers: Entitled, Needy, Self-Centered?]

Comprehensive family leave benefits should become rules and not exceptions. "Sometime in the next 10 years, the United States will be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and offer 12 weeks of paid maternity leave universally," Elliott says. "Although there is substantial expense, it is just inevitable that the U.S. will have to move in that direction. We're the last major industrialized economy to offer them."

Millennials aren't the only generation that will enjoy a more fluid corporate culture. The BLS projects that approximately 25 percent of the labor force will be age 55 and older by 2020. All workers belonging to the Baby Boomer generation will then be at least 56 years old. And according to Elliott, this group of professionals approaching the end of their career will also get to experience some perks of the new workplace norm: "I see an emerging trend in phased retirement," Elliott says. "A number of companies hoping to maintain their older employees are offering phased retirement programs, where workers move into part-time schedules, or working on call, or consultant contracts."

This type of work allows the more mature worker to adjust to having more free hours while still earning a paycheck. And it gives greener employees the chance to learn from a wiser but retiring group of professionals.

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Here are just some of the most important benefits for the future workforce:

Telecommuting

The convenience of working remotely, away from an office environment, by connecting to an employer's office network.

Flexplace

A telecommuting privilege where workers are permitted to connect to an employer's office network. This term encompasses telecommuting that occurs at home, but is often used to denote working in locales that aren't home or office, such as a cafe, client office, or hotel room.

Flextime

Working something other than the traditional, corporate daytime, weekday hours of around eight hours a day, 40 hours a week. It could include early start and early finish programs, or compressed workweeks.

Maxiflex

An employee completes 80 hours of work for every two weeks, but might schedule more hours in one week than the next. Many companies that utilize this practice institute "core hours" when all employees should be available and working.

Gliding

Maintaining a traditional eight-hour work day for five days a week, but doing so with flexibility in your arrival and departure times.

Job Sharing

A situation where workers (usually ones working flextime) share the responsibilities normally given to one full-time employee.

Phase-Out or Phase-Back Hours

A temporary alternative work schedule that allows an employee to transition in or out of their usual working schedule. Phase-out privileges are frequently used by soon-to-be new parents preparing for their child, or for soon-to-retire (or quit) workers. Phase-back privileges are often used by parents with young children who are returning to work.



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