How the Great Generational Shift is Causing Transformation in the Very Nature of Employment

Excerpted from RainmakerThinking, Inc.’s white paper, The Great Generational Shift
What is the Great Generational Shift?
There is a “Great Generational Shift” underway in the workforce today. This is the post-Baby Boomer shift that demographers and workforce planners have been anticipating for decades. It is not only a generational shift in the numbers in the workforce, but an epic turning point. This is the final stage of a historic period of profound change globally and a corresponding transformation in the very fundamentals of the employer-employee relationship.
The Numbers Problem: Workforce 2020
While there are always different people of different generations working side by side in the workplace, today there are as many as six different generations, depending on which demographic definitions one uses. The workforce is aging on one end of the spectrum and getting younger on the other. In the middle there is a gap, with the prime age workforce shrinking as an overall percentage of the workforce.
Generations in the workplace in 2016. The oldest, most experienced people in the workplace, “pre-Boomers,” those born before the post-WWII “Baby Boom” began in 1946, are still greater than 1% of the workforce. The Baby Boomers (born 1946-64) are 30%, Generation Xers (born 1965-77) are 27%, and The Millennial Generation is 42%.
Because both the Baby Boomers and the Millennials are such large generations with such long birth-year time spans by the broadest definitions, we have found it useful to split them each into first-wave and second-wave cohorts. Based on our model, here is a chart of the generations in the workplace today:
Bruce Tulgan article - GENERATIONS CHART 1
The age bubble. On the older end of the generational spectrum, the workforce is aging, just as the overall population is aging. This is particularly notable in Japan, most of Europe, and North America. In North America alone, ten thousand Baby Boomers have been turning 65 every single day since 2011. The Boomers are filling up an “age bubble” in the workforce such that there are many more people at or near the ordinary age range for retirement. The exodus of the first-wave Boomers from the workplace – postponed for several years by the economic crisis that began in 2008 – is now swift and steady. By 2020 Boomers will be less than 20% of the Western workforce; older Boomers (born before 1955) will be less than 6%. What is more, Boomers who do remain in the workforce will continue trending heavily toward “reinventing” retirement and late-career-pre-retirement: Working less than full-time, often partially telecommuting, and often working nonexclusively for more than one employer.
The youth bubble. At the same time, the fastest growing segment of the workforce is made up of those born 1990 and later, so there is a growing youth bubble on the younger end of the spectrum. The youth bubble is growing even faster in “younger population” regions of the world. But even in “older” North America, Europe, and Japan, the youth bubble in the workforce is rising much faster than in recent years because employers are once again hiring new young workers after several years of formal and informal hiring freezes resulting from the economic crisis. By 2020, second-wave Millennials (those born 1990-2000) will be greater than 20% of the Western workforce and another 4 – 5% will be made up of post-Millennials born after the year 2000. And in most of the world, the youth bubble will be much, much larger. The rising global youth tide will bring to the workplace radically different norms, values, attitudes, expectations, and behavior.
Workforce 2020 – Remember “2020, 20, 20.” By the year 2020, the Western workforce will be made up of less than 20% Baby Boomers and more than 20% second-wave Millennials, (plus another 4 – 5% of post-Millennials).
The rising global youth tide. The youth bubble is much, much larger in Africa, Latin America, and much of Asia. Second-wave Millennials are already, in 2016, greater than 45% in India, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, and Vietnam; in Nigeria greater than 60%. By 2020, in these younger parts of the world, those born 1990 and later will be more than 60% of the workforce. Considering the increasing globalization of the workforce, one important feature of the growing youth bubble is that it will be increasingly global, with a much greater percentage of the new young global workforce coming from outside of North America, Europe, and Japan.

Real-time Messaging in the Enterprise: Here We Go Again

There was a good Wired article, published yesterday, that bemoaned the rapidly-growing plethora of communication applications centered around real-time chat. Its author lists consumer-oriented applications to demonstrate the situation:

“I bounce through a folder full of messaging apps. I talk to a few people on Hangouts, a few others on Facebook Messenger, exactly one person on WhatsApp. I Snapchat all those people, too. I use Twitter DMs, GroupMe, HipChat, Skype, even Instagram Direct a couple of times. Livetext, Yahoo’s new app, is fun; I’ve been using that. Oh, and there’s email. And iMessage. And, of course, good ol’ green-bubble text messaging.”

The same problem is beginning to develop within businesses as their employees self-adopt enterprise-first chat tools from startup vendors that have been in-market for a while, including Slack, Hipchat, Wrike, Flowdock and others. Oh, and let’s not forget that many employees use the consumer-grade applications mentioned in the Wired article to conduct business, even if it’s against company policy.
Of course, all of these newer chat tools compete with IT-approved enterprise real-time messaging offerings for employees’ attention and love. IBM Sametime, Microsoft’s Lync and Yammer, and Salesforce Chatter are just a few well-known examples of longer-lived, enterprise-grade messaging applications and services that support real-time exchanges. To further compound the clutter, we are also seeing new chat offerings, from established enterprise collaboration software vendors, that mimic their consumer-oriented cousins. Jive Chime and Microsoft Send are real-time chat apps that have been released in the last four months to support organizations’ increasingly mobile workforces.
There are a few problems created by this overwhelming collection of enterprise real-time messaging options. First, these applications are largely siloed from each other, so employees have to remember in which one a certain conversation occurred or know in which application they have the highest probability of gaining a specific coworker’s attention. Second, some can interoperate with other enterprise applications via RESTful APIs, while others require more costly, time-consuming integration efforts. Third, some messaging applications support information governance initiatives such as records retention and disposal whereas other offerings essentially assume that chats are throw-away conversations that do not need to be archived and managed.
There are so many other issues that they will be better dealt with in another post. But they are bound by one clear fact: we’ve made all of these mistakes with previous generations of enterprise messaging technology.

The BIG Problem: Why?

The biggest problem facing the newest wave of enterprise chat tools is an existential one. It is not clear why they are needed when existing real-time messaging tools satisfy the same use cases. I voiced this in the following mini-tweetstorm on the day that Microsoft Send was announced. (read from the bottom of the graphic to the top)
Larry's Enterprise Chat Tweetstorm
That’s right. You can hold my feet to the fire on that prediction. Enterprise real-time chat is destined to quickly fail as a market segment and technology with significant, positive business impact. Just like the combination of status update and activity stream features in enterprise social software failed to displace email, instant messaging and other, well-established forms of business communication.
Insufficient technology is not the cause of poor communication within organizations. We have had at our disposal more-than-adequate messaging technologies for decades now. The real reason that employees and their organizations continue to communicate poorly is human behavior. People generally don’t communicate unless they have something to gain by doing so. Power, influence, prestige, monetary value, etc.
Well-designed technology can make it easier and more pleasant for people to communicate, but it does very little to influence, much less actually change, their behaviors. So the latest enterprise real-time chat applications may offer improvements in user experience, but they won’t measurably increase communication frequency or effectiveness in most organizations unless their deployment is accompanied by change management efforts that include meaningful incentives to communicate.
I intend to track and chronicle the rise and fall of enterprise real-time chat as part of my research agenda at Gigaom Research. Stay tuned over the coming months as we watch this drama unfold.

Do we need defined hours of work any more?

Are defined hours of work an anachronism that’s holding us back from becoming more efficient? Or is the freedom to work whenever we want something still reserved for a select few, and/or a trap that causes us to work more rather than less?