Connecting Generations is on a mission to spark connection, understanding, and empathy across generations in the workplace. This 3-part series will cover the evolution of work, disconnection in the workplace, and how we can create positive workplace experiences.
Change is the only constant in life and business.
This is especially true for the state of the U.S. workplace. While the pandemic has accelerated the rate of workplace change, there has been significant evolution over the past 50 years.
The working world of the 1970s was a different place from a functional perspective. Computers were the size of rooms! Office work was almost exclusively done at the office. Now, 45% of us work from home either all or part of the time. Technological advancement has not only given us the ability to tap into the virtual office at any time, but it also enabled us to socially distance during the early days of the pandemic. We have never been so interconnected!
The American workplace has also shifted culturally. Many of our past leaders favoured certain demographics and ways of living. This created a situation where workers had to conform to a specific standard to find stability and success. Many more people accept and are inclusive of differences, though many still face exclusion. Additionally, the workplace has become much less hierarchical and top-down. Employees have more freedom to challenge their managers and the status quo.
The age of the company lifer is over.
More jobs have become commoditised. Undifferentiated and interchangeable roles make it easier for workers to switch positions and employers. Ironically, companies with commoditised roles are now seen as commodities among workers. Plus, switching roles and companies regularly has become normalised and destigmatised. More people than ever feel empowered to leave companies that aren't meeting their needs. Power has shifted. Employers are now having to adapt to meet the employee's needs after decades of employees having to adapt to meet the employer's needs. Perhaps the two are striking a balance.
We came away from the pandemic with stronger values and different priorities. While remote workers were reminded of the simplicities of home and the importance of life outside of work, many of those who couldn't work remotely were called essential when they really felt expendable. Many felt forced to compromise their safety to survive financially. Now, as we get back to a version of normalcy, many workers are no longer willing to compromise their needs and values and are leaving their jobs to find employers who are a better fit. This is particularly true among the younger generations.
According to Maslow's Theory of Human Motivation, we are naturally motivated towards satisfying our unmet needs. While every culture prioritises needs differently, American culture tends to prioritise basic needs, psychological needs, and self-fulfilment needs (Figure 1). Maslow's theory also says that once we feel secure about a need being met, we naturally and often unconsciously move on to figuring out how to meet the next need.