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The New World of Work

Written by: Hudson
Published on: 22 Feb 2018

Five generations, five different attitudes and expectations

Peter Istead, Managing Director, Hudson Talent Solutions.

Many organisations now have as many as five generations working alongside each other, with the newer generations bringing with them attitudes that challenge conventional thinking around work, recognition and reward.

Add to that demographic changes – as many as a third of workers will retire in the next ten years – and it is inevitable that the workplace of the future is likely to be completely unrecognisable to the baby boomer leaders of today.  By 2020, those born after 1980 will make up around 50% of the global workforce.  By 2025, they will account for 75% of all workers.

Hudson’s research indicates strongly that many organisations are radically rethinking their entire approaches to structure, leadership and people management.  Far from thinking in terms of the “future of work”, they recognise that the New World of Work is here and are evolving accordingly.

In this context, the biggest challenge for leaders – likely to be baby boomers or GenX – is not to assume that other generations share their values, attitudes and expectations.

Five generations with very different attitudes and expectations

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Understanding what makes the new generations ‘tick’ and adapting organisational structures, leadership styles and processes or policies is emerging as a key issue for organisations looking to attract and retain talent.

Right here, right now

Just as organisations are having to respond to customer expectations around the ‘on demand’ economy, so too are they having to meet similar demands from their younger workers.

These are a cohort who cannot remember life without the internet, email, Google, texting and social media.  Their preferred method of communication is email, not face-to-face.  They build social networks online, amassing thousands of connections and challenging the very concept of “friendship”.  They demand instant access to bite-sized information – thanks to channels like Twitter which limit characters – and consume information from a variety of sources online.  They are accustomed to see animation, video content and infographics to bring messaging to life.

Live to work or work to live?

There has been much debate in recent years around the concept of work/life balance. This is a high priority for baby boomers and Gen X who seek to compartmentalise their lives into work and life.  For the newer generations work is a significant part of their lives but the boundaries between work and life are blurred.  Rather than think in terms of “balance” they think in terms of “integration”.  They value remote working options – whether that is at home or the local coffee shop – and expect the workplace to have some of the comforts they might enjoy at home.

A sense of purpose

The blurring of lines between work and life also manifests itself in a wider sense of community in the younger generations.  They do not necessarily see work in terms of being successful and making money.  It is also about working somewhere that aligns with their values, where they can identify with the social and environmental benefit of their work and feel part of the positive impact their employer is making. Understanding both their own and their organisation’s “purpose” is a key requirement for them.

Experiences over career paths

Younger generations struggle with the concept of a career path based upon progression by job title (particularly within a defined function).  Instead they think in terms of a sequence of experiences and crave responsibility early on, as Hudson research shows.

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Alongside this, their concept of learning and development is heavily influenced by their digital upbringing – the Google effect.  Real-time, on-the-job, always-on learning that allows them to build their knowledge quickly, remotely and on their own terms is their preference over structured learning programmes. Aligned with this is a strong preference for regular, informal feedback over more structured annual appraisals.

Challenging the traditional employed model

For GenY and the digital natives, ‘work’ does not necessarily mean the traditional employment model.  According to Hudson research, 16 to 34 year olds are far more open to the prospect of freelance or contract work and portfolio careers.

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How are organisations responding?

If having newer generations challenging the status quo were not enough, there are two other megatrends that are driving disruption and organisational transformation: 

  • Expotential technology change:  whole industries are being disrupted by the pace of technological change and the rise of disruptive competitors.  Customer and employee expectations have changed, with the ‘right here, right now’ attitude permeating all areas of life.  And the ubiquity of social media means that nothing remains secret.  With social networks helping overthrow governments, employers are increasingly alive to the potential damage to their organisations.
  • Political, social and economic change: originally used by the military, VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) is now more widely used to describe both the global political and economic landscape and the environment in which businesses operate.  Organisations are increasingly asking themselves what the future might hold and having to adapt their planning horizons accordingly.  Becoming more agile and flexible is now a business requirement.

These factors are prompting organisations to radically rethink their entire approaches to structure, leadership and employee engagement.  What is emerging (or in many cases has emerged) is a new type of organisation:  flatter, more agile where alignment around a common purpose, employee empowerment and collaboration are the norm:

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To find out more about the New World of Work, down a copy of our latest executive briefing at