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The State of the American Workplace: 2004 - 2014

· Jeremy Boudinet · 14 Minute Read

In the American workplace, the times are changing. And fifty years after Bob Dylan released his famous track announcing the arrival of the Baby Boomers, the song is as applicable as ever, with a slight twist. Here are four trends reshaping the American workplace as we speak.

Millennials, the segment of the population born between 1980 and 1995, are coming not only to take the proverbial torch from Baby Boomers, but find a way to print 3-D copies of it (while unlit, of course).

Dramatic shifts in workplace demographics and technology during this past decade - chief among them the Millennials' emergence and rapid technological growth - are the source of our most pronounced workplace developments since 2004.

The Forces Changing the American Workplace

The aim of this blog post is to offer a concise snapshot of the biggest changes to date and how they are influencing the American workplace and business practices moving forward.

The four most impactful forces:

  1. Technology
  2. Demographics
  3. Values
  4. Data Analytics

Embracing youth and technology will be a determinative factor in gaining a competitive edge in enterprise. Likewise, attracting top-tier talent, maintaining a loyal, inspired workforce & maximizing operations through data analytics will be pivotal to long-term success.

Let's explore each of these subjects in more detail. Though this analysis is by no means exhaustive, I hope it offers some good food for thought on the forces behind the changing American workplace, and how to respond.

1) Technology

Over the past decade, business has fueled technology and vice-versa. In the moden workforce, Millennials are digital natives for whom using technology comes almost second nature. 

Contast contemporary attitudes towards work and technology with those held in 2004, when widespread public concern over Blackberries (Crackberries) was peaking. At the time, people were starting to fear technology as a path to neverending work.

In 2014, that has changed dramatically. Some major trends: 

Trend A) Social Media

In 2004, Facebook was a great way for meeting people -- if you went to Harvard. A decade later, social media is a legitimate phenomenon, with some important implications for the workplace.

All Millennials are inherently marketers now: as their social media pages have allowed them to create their own "brand" of self-identity. At the enterprise-level, 94% of employers are using social networks for recruiting,1 while marketing and sales professionals that don't use social media nowadays might as well be dinosaurs.

Trend B) Business Intelligence

Tying in with social media, the stalker economy has emerged a way of sourcing and communicating with prospects. At the same time, Google Analytics allows marketers and engineers to see what drives website traffic, how customers are using products, and where improvements and tailoring needs to occur.

Consumer intelligence has completely overhauled: Businesses have more access to information about consumer demographics, employee interests, customer and prospect feedback, etc., than ever before.

The most successful businesses are the ones adapting to these changes & utilizing everything ranging from LinkedIn for recruiting and prospect sourcing to Yesware for communication tracking and prospect feedback. The emergence of data analytics seems poised to transform how organizations optimize operations going forward, as we'll discuss below under the Data Analytics heading.

Trend C) Correspondence Methods

In 2004, workplace correspondence was mostly limited to phone calls and email. Now, the workplace is portable. Almost everyone has access to work emails on their phones, which means people are more available for correspondence than ever. 

Interesting statistic: Research from Nielsen found 83 percent of the millennials surveyed sleep with their smartphones within arm’s reach.

Moreover, alternative methods of communication, such as Facebook, Twitter, Quora and LinkedIn are now emerging as points of contact.

In general, communication is much faster and more globalized. Even the language barrier is falling, as tools like Google Translate have enabled rapid understanding of foreign-written communication with a few clicks.  

Trend D) Collaboration

It is easier now for employees across different departments and offices to collaborate than ever before. New office tools allow for team chat, video calls, and webinars.

Here in the Ambition office, Double Robotics technology allows our Data Scientist in Pittsburgh ("iErik") to visually communicate with team members here in Chattanooga. While working with nationwide candidates as a Recruiter, I was able to prep interviewees via video Skype from my Fort Lauderdale office.

In fact, the dramatic decade-long growth in Skype market share of international calls really says it all: In 2005, it was 2.9%. In 2014, it's 34%.3 

As these numbers indicate, the walls of the workplace are effectively being torn down in employee collaboration. While it's certainly tough for five employees stationed on five separate continents to collaborate on a report, it's far from impossible. When Boomers entered the workplace, most collaboration required being in the same room.

Trend E) Workplace Portability

As alluded to earlier, the workplace is now coming home with an increasing number of professionals.

According to Gallup, "37 percent of millennials claimed mobile technology increased the amount of work they do outside the office."4 And by 2016, "an expected 63 million American workers will telecommute at least partially."5 

There are enterprise benefits to these arrangements as well. Millennial entrepreneur Josh Tolan, who founded a recruiting and talent-management tech company, recommended that employers should use adapt to Millennial demands for "more attractive flexible-time options." The purpose: to attract candidates "seeking a better balance between their work and personal lives," save on overhead, and improve morale."6

2) Demographics

Turning to demographics now, here are four major shifts that have occurred since 2014.

Trend A) Age

The biggest trend: Millennials are making a full-scale entrance into the workforce, while Baby Boomers are beginning to exit.1 

Per Forbes, 36 percent of the American workforce are currently Millennials, a number that will continue to rise. Meanwhile, 18 percent of boomers will retire within five years.

These combined trends lead to one of the starkest demographic projections: By 2025, Millennials will comprise a full 75 percent of the American workforce.1

Trend B) Education

The percentage of the workforce that is college-educated has noticeably increased. Select industries have even seen double-digit increases in percentage of young workforce members (ages 18-35) with a Bachelor's degree or higher. For some good insight on the latter trend, the graphic at the bottom of this post captures the percentage of young workforce members with college degrees by industry and in comparison to 2004.See Graph 2

The bottom line: We are seeing a workforce that is more educated (and also more in debt) than any before it.

Trend C) Diversity

In 2014, the workforce is more accustomed to & accepting of diversity than ever before. Of course, it bears noting that there's a difference in accepting diversity and embracing it, as indicated by Graph 3 at the bottom of the post.

As the graph illustrates, there are still major income and access disparities in certain sectors, such as technology and finance, where women and minorities are lagging far behind their male caucasian counterparts. That being said, look for improvements to continue occurring as the Millennials seize more Executive and Decision-Making positions.

Trend D) Quality of Life

There are currently 6.6 million fewer jobs in the United States than there were in 2010, according to economist Joseph Stiglitz.7 Pew’s Millennials in Adulthood survey pinpoints the young workforce (age 18-35) as being hardest hit:

"Millennials are the first generation in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations had at the same stage of their life cycles."

The result: More Millennials are "boomeranging" and living at home, and repaying student loan debt rather than buying mortgages.

3) Values 

Unsurprisingly, technological evolution & the surging Millennial workforce numbers have ushered in a new set values to the 2014 American workforce. Several of the most prominent recent developments are as follows:

Trend A) Fluidity

The days of the company man are officially over.

In terms of working-age employees, 51% of the Millennial Generation will look for jobs in other organizations in the next year, compared to 37% of Generation X and 18% of Baby Boomers.5 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average tenure of a millennial in a position is a mere 4.4 years.5 Millennial independence extends beyond the workplace, actually, and into religious and political institutions as well.Graph 3

Trend B) Fulfillment

The Creative Jobs Report found 35 percent of millennials surveyed found it important to have a job with a positive social impact, compared with just 19 percent of employed Americans overall.8 One quote: "Millennials don’t just want a desk job; they want to save the world."2

Trend C) Creativity

55 percent of the employees surveyed would exit their traditional jobs for a more creative self-employed track. Among millennials 18 to 34, the ratio was even higher: Sixty-seven percent of the millennials surveyed would hand in their resignation and embark on ventures of their own if they thought flying solo could pay the bills.8

Trend D) Competition

An underrated effect of social media on Millennials: The relentlessly onslaught of peer successes on Facebook and Instagram. For example, a 2013 study by the University of Michigan led its researches to conclude that Facebook "sets up social comparison — you maybe feel your life is not as full and rich as those people you see on Facebook."9

Thinking about it intuitively, Facebook status updates tend to focus on positive life developments in most cases. A working-age Millennial (and some Gen-X members, as well) who uses Facebook is greeted every logon with pictures and status updates celebrating weddings, job promotions, graduation, childbirth, "true love," and so forth.

The Univ. of Michigan study helps explain the findings of a major study on Millennials and workplace competition: A 2013 Pew report where 59% of the Millennial Generation cite competition as “what gets them up in the morning,” a percentage that outpaced those of both Generation X (54%) and Baby Boomer (50%) respondents.10

Last but not least, there's this especially eye-opening insight from the Pew study: Only 24% of Millennial respondents agreed that doing their job adequately was enough, compared to 45% for other generations.10

Trend E) Mentorship

According to a massive U.S. Chamber report in 2013, Millennials are unique in their attitudes toward management and feedback. Millennials tend to "view their managers as coaches or mentors," making hands-on instruction and consistent feedback a pivotal part of a Millennial's workplace confidence and satisfaction.7  

The report further instructs that Millennials hold loyalty to their bosses, rather than companies, and that bosses "can earn the loyalty of Millennial employees by keeping commitments."7 

4) Data Analytics

Our final topic looks forward to the future of the workplace, and the encroaching spectre of enterprise "big data". An analytics-fueled destiny seems inevitable in enterprise's next decade, and industry titans are leading the way.

No need for dividing this section into sub-trends -- this force is only trending one way: Up.

Look no further than revelations from a 201 Fortune 1000 survey, which polled nearly 100 senior executives and indicated that 91% of the respondents' companies were investing in big data projects, with roughly 88% of the respondents' expecting investments to exceed $1 million dollars by 2016.11

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, according to two major reports published earlier this year.

First, a major joint research initiative by MIT and the Sloan Conference, "The Analytics Mandate," had its findings published in Spring 2014. The following statistics come from an exhaustive study that included a global executive survey with over 2000 respondents as well as 30 in-depth interviews with decision-making executives.

  1. Between 2009 and 2013, investments in business analytics grew annually at an average of 8.5%, amid lackluster overall IT spending.

  2. 87% of the Executives surveyed are presently calling for their organizations to step up the use of analytics.

  3. Only 43% of the Managers surveyed feel they have all the data they need when making decisions.

  4. More than 50% of Analytical Practitioners and Analytical Innovators agree that analytics has changed the way their company conducts business.11

Beyond these findings, the Corporate Executive Board just released findings demonstrating the amount of unmined territory in using analytics to engage, measure and retain talent:

  1. Only 52 percent of organizations are using talent metrics to prove ROI or inform business decisions.
  2. 40 percent of organizations lack a plan or use assessments to engage and retain top talent.12

If this data is any indication, it's only a matter of when and how long until "big data" analytics technologies begin directing operations at nearly every level of a company. If you're a computer savvy Millennial thinking about launching your own business, make friends with some really good data scientists, as there is a lot of money to be made in this industry going forward.

Forecast: How Tech & Millennials Will Impact Industry

If I had to make a single prediction about the next ten years of the American workplace, it would be the rapid sophistication and adoption of advanced data analytics by the mainstream enterprise. Make no mistake, Millennials are an ambitious, competitive generation. These traits combined with their tech savvy create the perfect storm for continuous advancement of data and tech-centric business operations.

Look for data analytics to play a major role in creating competitive advantages within the workforce in forthcoming years. A decade from now, technological processes such as automation 3-D printing will be the workplace norm, opportunities that emphasize creativity and self-autonomy will be more attractive than ever, and Generation Z will be nipping at Millennials' heels to stake their claim in the workforce.13 

Graphs

Age Demographic1

workforce management

Young Workforce Education Attainment2

workforce management

Millennials and Institutions3

 workforce management

Citations

1. Forbes 

2. Nielsen

3. Telegeography 1 & 2

4. Gallup

5. Forrester

5. Bureau of Labor Statistics

6. Entrepreneur

7. U.S. Chamber Foundation 

8. Creative Jobs Report

9. University of Michigan

10. Pew Research

11. Sloan-MIT Review

12. Corporate Executive Board

13. Macleans

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