ITB 2024 Special Reporting
Workforce & Workplace: A Look Ahead.
By Roger Herman
Friday, 8th September 2006
Significant evolutionary changes are underway in the workforce and consequently in the workplace as well. These transformations will occur much more rapidly than most managers expect or desire.

What I see today evinces that, while there will be some resistance to the changes, they will occur and will drag reluctant managers along with them.

Why the resistance? Understandably, a lot of managers, executives, company owners, and other employees are comfortable in their ways. This comfort is especially prevalent in situations where practices and expectations have been in place for a long time. Many organizations have conducted business quite satisfactorily for years . . . decades. A sort of euphoria lulled these employers into complacency. They've been content with the philosophy "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Now the world around them will force these organizations-and the people who populate them-to change. . . dramatically. They're not happy about these circumstances and, in many cases, they're bewildered. They sense something is changing-and that they have to change, too, but they are ignorant and uncertain of the trends, their influences, and how to respond. More leaders will turn to futurists to help them make sense of the trends and their implications.

The Adaptables

Much of the change is driven by changes in the attitudes, approaches, and behaviors of the workforce. Is it the younger employees, those twenty-somethings, causing all these problems, all this upheaval? Looking at what's happening, we might say the new design evokes everything Generation X or Generation Why stands for, but this issue goes deeper than generational finger-pointing.

In 1995, in my book, Turbulence!, I described a new breed of employees I called "the Adaptables." While eschewing references to age, I noted that "these workers will be light on their feet, ready to shift quickly in response to outside stimuli. They will easily adapt to changes in work requirements, job opportunities, and even major career shifts. Eager to accomplish their life goals, they will live practically all aspects of their lives in fast-forward."

Adaptables will be self-sufficient. They'll prepare deliberately and carefully for the work lifestyle they've chosen. Most Adaptables will be fairly well-educated; a large proportion will attend college classes, but some will study simply to acquire new knowledge or to spend some time in intellectual pursuits.

To respond to the myriad of new challenges and opportunities before them, the Adaptables will cultivate and hone their ability to learn quickly. Many will concentrate on earning liberal arts degrees-at the bachelor's and at the masters' levels. They'll continue to learn using audiotapes, videotapes, CD-ROMs, computer-based training, and other means. Adaptables, eager to grow will expect their employers to provide or support most, if not all, of their training and education.

Career Design

Workers will take control of their careers . . . and most aspects of their work. Autonomy and accountability will go hand-in-hand. More people will be free agents, floating to chosen opportunities in the highly fluid employment environment.

Coming out of school, workers will seek jobs where they can learn, gain experience, and make a difference. They'll change jobs every 2-4 years, sometimes more frequently. Many of these job changes will be within the same company, assuming the employer allows them such freedom of movement and growth. If the silos and job stability are inhibiting, these evolving workers will simply leave their employers for other companies that will allow them to change jobs periodically.

People will work for 8-10 years, then take some time off, like a sabbatical. The down time may last a couple of months or even a year. Then people will come back to work and continue working for another 8-10 years, before taking another break. This pattern will continue until workers are in their seventies and eighties. I call these time-off periods "mid-career retirements." These recesses will supplant traditional retirement practices. In a generation to a generation and a half, retirement, as we know it today, will cease to exist.

A hop-scotch approach will replace linear career pathing. Climbing the corporate ladder won't be cool anymore. Workers may take a hop forward in their careers, but they may also take a lesser job to do the kind of tasks they prefer. Or they may jump sideways into a different career or different employer. With plenty of opportunities, expect workers to change careers frequently to experiment, learn, and experience.

With portable benefits, and each worker's package individually designed, workers will be even more free to move from job to job, employer to employer, career to career.


The new design of careers will drive dramatic changes in management. Superiors will now be leaders, focused on bringing out the best in their people. Coaching will replace directing and personal development will be expected.

Bosses will practice what I term "facilitative leadership"-facilitating the high performance of each individual employee. Boss-subordinate relationships will be highly supportive, exemplified by coaching, encouraging, and self-responsibility. This new relationship design will produce a one-on-one personal partnership.

Status barriers will disappear. Compensation will be based on competencies more than position, though the roles played by employees will guide their compensation. Time off will become part of the compensation fabric, along with satisfaction of life balance issues.

The transformation will be an exciting, though sometimes exasperating experience. Hang on! We're in for a wild ride!

Roger Herman is Contributing Editor for Workforce and Workplace Trends. He is CEO of The Herman Group, consulting futurists based in Greensboro, NC.
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