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Change Your Workplace Culture or Struggle for Existence in the 2020s


As a “Gen-Xer” I look back over my career and can identify four out of ten organizations that had an incredibly positive influence on my life. What made that 40% stand out was that, despite economic market forces, technological change, evolving customer/consumer habits, and skills shortages (as new technical jobs evolved), they successfully adapted to change. They also evolved their workplace cultures to keep workers (typically a mix of three generations) engaged and motivated to perform at their best. The workers could look holistically at the challenges faced and work creatively (often thinking outside the box) and collaboratively to overcome them through the good times and the bad. 

Only the fittest will survive

As we begin the 2020s, I believe that the challenges faced by organizations are essentially the same. What is different is the pace of change (or transformation), the complexity/interrelatedness of the factors (through globalization/internationalization, the need to be data-driven, etc.), and the number of organizations now facing those challenges. What worries me is that many organizations are still not driving the cultural/mindset changes needed to thrive in the 2020s workplace of the future (a five-generation workforce enabled by technology), adding further complexity to the mix.

NelsonHall’s recent RPO, MSP, and Learning research projects each identified that one of the main barriers to organizations transforming their talent acquisition or learning strategies continues to be their unwillingness to collaborate on business-critical issues, choosing to operate in (and protect) their functional silos.

The harsh reality is those organizations will not secure/retain the talent they need and are unlikely to survive the decade!

Looking at the small details such as flexible working can make a big impact

With unemployment levels in many advanced nations set to remain below 5%, the nearer to zero unemployment rate that may present itself as the U.K. leaves the EU, along with the 2020s workforce having many demands, organizations will have to work extra hard to keep existing workers/attract new talent, if they are to remain competitive. They must nurture their workforce and evolve their workplace cultures to meet their needs.  

An aging population and five generations of workers (35% of them being over 50 by 2022 according to the CIPD) bring complex issues and demands. A higher proportion of older people living with medical conditions means that more Baby Boomers, Gen X, and older Millennials face carer duties, as they must look after elderly parents. This could require workers to break up their working day into two or three parts to fit around caring duties. Similarly, advances in medicine mean that workers with acute/chronic conditions can work around their treatment regimen. With much emphasis on employee/worker physical and mental well-being, more workers (irrespective of generation) want to break up their working day by attending an exercise class or mindfulness session, at a time when they are least productive (when their concentration levels dip). Gen Zs like face-to-face social interaction, security, and hold values around diversity and inclusion.

Organizations must examine how they can change the way work gets done (to be efficient, cost-effective, productive, etc.), by embracing blended work, using non-employed workers (to benefit Millennials’ preferences) as well as employed workers, so it is a win-win situation for all parties.

My 2019/2020 NelsonHall research showed that many RPO and MSP vendors have stepped up to an enhanced service excellence model, with the aim of providing unrivaled customer experience to their client organizations so as to give them a competitive edge. One vendor hired a “Manager of Small Things” whose remit was to make incremental improvements in service delivery that make a big difference. On a smaller scale, some RPO/MSP vendors are using AI and data-driven insights to look at the optimum window when workers are at their most productive. With positive client feedback, looking at the small details can make a big impact on the workplace. It is a shame that so many organizations fail to recognize this and are determined to stick to the old ways of doing things.

According to the IWG Global Workspace Survey 2019, 80% of respondents said when faced with two similar employment offers, they would turn down the one that didn’t offer flexible working. 85% of companies confirmed that productivity has increased in their business as a result of greater flexibility. Organizations be warned!

Big issues such as remote working also need to be considered

Millennials thrive on technology (from workplace apps that increase mobility to virtual workstations and cloud-based collaboration tools), so organizations must offer flexibility that gives them the option to work remotely, attend meetings virtually, and collaborate online rather than in face-to-face meetings. With the ongoing global skills shortage, candidates with in-demand skills are leveraging gig platforms more to seek out their next opportunity (enabled by global interconnectivity). In the 2020s, candidates will choose their work based on the value it will bring to their careers and will do it remotely from anywhere in the world. Organizations need to embrace the idea that if the work gets done, it doesn’t matter where it is carried out. RPO, MSP, and Learning vendors are adding new tech/tools to their ecosystems that enable a much more flexible approach to working (anywhere, anytime, and any device), paying attention to multigenerational needs. Recruitment vendors are adding gig platforms/Direct Sourcing platforms to their tech stacks.     

With several news-dominating incidents over 2019/2020 (Amazon fires, Australia fires, the melting Antarctic icecap, Coronavirus, etc.), these concerns are at the forefront for all generations of workers. The 2020s will require organizations to significantly step up their CSR focus on these issues. Introducing more remote working, enabled by technology, will help reduce organizations’ and individuals’ carbon footprint. Reducing the need to commute/travel to an office (the knock-on positives of reducing traffic/air congestion and emissions, alleviating a creaking and unreliable transport infrastructure, and avoiding highly crowded environments, etc.) would support increased worker well-being, productivity, and engagement. Longer-term, climate change and natural disasters may force populations to relocate, so organizations embracing remote working as a workplace cultural norm could be less impacted by such an event. 

Digital resources will play a growing part, but not at the expense of humans

All generations of workers have embraced technological change to some degree, especially in their personal lives. According to Apple, the 2018 average daily smartphone screen time was 136 minutes for Baby Boomers, 169 minutes for Gen X, and 205 minutes for Millennials. The consumerized and personalized use of apps as part of everyday life has touched everyone (thanks to Uber, etc.). The convenience of using any device, anytime, and anywhere is the new norm. Gen Zs are known as the first fully digital generation, with 40% of them self-identifying as digital device addicts. Gen Zs can quickly and efficiently switch between work and play, working on multiple tasks with various distractions going on in the background (the multi-multi-tasking generation).

Organizations must evolve their digital journey aligned to the tech expectations and tech-savviness of their existing and future multigenerational workforce (from initial talent attraction through to exit from the organization). This requires more effort than operating in tech silos. It is about creating a joined-up strategy that will keep the workforce engaged, motivated to perform well, and retained through the future challenges those organizations will face.

As a starting point, organizations need to leverage their existing platforms better. Firstly, this means ensuring features and functionality are “switched on”. NelsonHall’s research into RPO, MSP, and Learning services highlights that a lack of visibility of data causes organizations to make poor business decisions, the stumbling block being getting access to the data, not the lack of it. Secondly, it means plugging and playing appropriate new tools to enhance the user experience of those legacy platforms (maximizing opportunities to automate and speed up processes).

Fall at any of these hurdles, and the Gen Zs will be off to another organization. In many cases, organizations may need to explore new ways of using technology. For talent attraction, that may involve campaigns across different social media platforms, “a day in the life” video footage for a specific job, and one-click apply through an app. For onboarding/induction and ongoing skills training, it may involve bite-sized sessions (to fit around busy lives), accessible 24/7 on any device, using engaging modalities (gamification, virtual reality, etc.). With 60% of Gen Zs preferring to learn through YouTube tutorials and videos, enabling the workforce to undertake self-paced, pull learning is a must.

So, will your organization struggle for existence in the 2020s, or embrace a workplace cultural change?

The struggle for existence will intensify for organizations in the 2020s. Their ultimate survival will be determined by how those organizations nurture the highly demanding workforce of the future. It is doubtful that organizations can embrace this change single-handedly. They might need to seek expertise from MSP, RPO, or Learning vendors. What is clear, though, from NelsonHall’s research, is that there are lots of opportunities for the vendor community to enhance/develop new services around the culture of work for the 2020s workplace of the future. Both vendors and organizations can race to the top. Those who get there first will be the winners.

While only some workplace cultural issues have been the focus of this blog, there are other areas where organizations need to work hard to be future-fit. Rest assured, if the multigenerational workforce feels neglected in any way, or feels that the workplace culture is misaligned in terms of their values, it will seek refuge elsewhere. As I look back at the 60% of organizations I have worked for that didn’t make a positive impact on my life, I know that some will no longer exist at the end of the decade! Where do you want to be? Make your choice!   

Comments to this post:

  • Great points, Nikki. Culture is key.

    Feb 27, 2020, by Michael Yinger

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