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3 Trends That Will Disrupt Your Workplace Forever
Business Journal

3 Trends That Will Disrupt Your Workplace Forever

by Andrew Dugan and Bailey Nelson

Story Highlights

  • Many millennials don't stay with their company for the long term
  • The AI revolution is here, and leaders are unprepared for it
  • Amid many changes, workplace planning and forecasting are increasingly vital

The "future of work" has become a much-hyped topic as change permeates the U.S. workplace.

Millennials view work in markedly different ways than the generations before them did, and technology and artificial intelligence (AI) are rewriting workflows.

Understandably, these rapid changes leave leaders wondering: What will workplaces look like in the future, and how are those differences affecting my workplace now?

Leaders are smart to ask these questions because with change comes the need to adapt -- and leaders don't want to find out the hard way that their workplace management strategies are no longer effective.

Gallup has been studying the American workplace for decades. Our recent research has uncovered three disruptive workplace trends that demand leaders' focus and innovative strategies sooner rather than later:

  1. Millennials now represent the largest generation in the U.S. workforce -- and many don't stay with their company for the long term.

For most employers, millennials now outnumber employees from the Generation X and baby boomer generations. Millennial workers have a lot to offer, including more diversity, tech savviness and a fresh perspective. The trick is getting them to stay with your company.

Gallup's 2016 How Millennials Want to Work and Live report revealed that 21% of millennials -- more than three times the number of non-millennials -- switched jobs in the last year. Gallup also found that only half of millennials strongly agree that they plan to be working at their current company in one year.

But compared with those from other generations, millennials are as satisfied or more satisfied with nearly all aspects of their job. Gallup uncovered this trend in a recent analysis of three overarching job aspects: the tangible rewards a job brings, the demands a job imposes on a person and the opportunities a job offers.

Satisfaction With Aspects of Job, by Generation
% saying "completely satisfied" with aspect of job
  Gen Xers and baby boomers Millennials
  % %
Vacation time 61 52
Health insurance benefits 40 44
Retirement plan company offers 39 43
Amount of money you earn 32 34
On-the-job stress 30 28
Amount of work required of you 53 56
Flexibility of your hours 65 59
Chances for promotion 43 40
Relations with coworkers 74 71
Your boss or immediate supervisor 60 62
Recognition you receive at work 49 51
Gallup Work and Education Survey: 2013-2016

So if millennials are as satisfied as older generations, why are they so likely to switch jobs? Because "job satisfaction" (measured by the three aspects noted above) isn't the same as engagement at work.

Engagement indicates a deeper emotional and behavioral connection to a job and company, and Gallup finds that only 29% of millennials are engaged at work. Gallup estimates that millennial turnover due to lack of engagement costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion each year.

One major contributor to millennials' low employee engagement may be poor or absent professional and career development. Nearly six in 10 millennials (59%), compared with 44% of Gen Xers and 41% of baby boomers, say opportunities to learn and grow are "extremely important" to them when applying for a job.

Unfortunately, many companies' development programs are missing the mark -- even with the influx of technology-based learning and development solutions. Four in 10 millennials are completely satisfied with their chances for promotion at their workplace.

But some companies are getting it right. The most progressive and successful organizations use advanced analytical techniques such as machine learning, which means a computer can learn without being explicitly programmed, to help them effectively and continually analyze and adapt their learning programs.

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For example, one global professional services organization is developing AI-based voice robot technology to deliver custom prescriptive advice to managers. This technology uses managers' unique strengths and performance data to help them better coach and engage their employees.

  1. The AI revolution is here, and leaders are unprepared for its impact on employee engagement.

Potential job loss from the AI revolution has many workers fearful of the future. According to Carl Frey and Michael Osborne in "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?," a significant proportion of total U.S. employment is in the high-risk category of being replaced by automation such as that produced by robots.

To determine each generation's susceptibility to the risk of losing their livelihood to artificial intelligence, Gallup combined its annual Work and Education poll -- which collects detailed information about Americans' occupation and type of work -- with the probability of computerization Frey and Osborne calculated in their paper. Frey and Osborne calculated such probabilities for 702 detailed occupations, which Gallup then mapped onto its 2013-2016 Work and Education poll data.

According to Gallup's analysis, millennials are the generation most vulnerable to the threat of AI and automation, as they are disproportionately more likely to hold positions that Frey and Osborne estimate as having a strong likelihood to one day be replaced by this new technology. Nearly four in 10 millennials (37%) are at high risk of having their job replaced by automation, compared with 32% of those in the two older generations.

Likelihood of Job Being Replaced by AI, by Generation
  Gen Xers and baby boomers Millennials Total
  % % %
Low risk 42 32 39
Medium risk 27 30 28
High risk 32 37 33
Gallup assessed risk that any given job would be replaced due to AI or automation by using estimates from "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?," by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne.
Gallup Work and Education Survey: 2013-2016

To proactively manage employees through the reality of AI integrating into their work environment, leaders need to better understand the nuances of the emotional toll that replacement risk takes on employees. For instance, Gallup finds that 34% of millennials whose jobs are at "medium" or "high" risk for robotic replacement say they are worried about either losing their job or having their job outsourced, compared with 27% of older generations -- a statistically significant difference.

Job Anxiety by Generation
Among workers who are at "high" or "medium" risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence
  Gen Xers and baby boomers Millennials
  % %
Worried about being laid off or outsourced 27 34
Not worried about being laid off or outsourced 73 65
Gallup Work and Education Survey: 2013-2016

The best-performing companies -- particularly their human resource departments -- proactively communicate about and plan for the AI revolution as it relates to employees. These leaders look beyond productivity and efficiency; they measure and address employees' emotional states. By understanding employees' needs and demonstrating how AI can assist employees, companies can improve employee engagement and amplify workers' performance.

Many companies successfully manage employees' emotional states through future state readiness audits. These audits involve partnering closely with other business leaders to map out future job demands, AI adoption plans and the current state of the workforce in light of these changes.

For example, one professional services firm uses cutting-edge pulse survey technology to better understand employees' emotional states -- especially when introducing new technology-driven solutions that affect how employees collaborate and learn.

Another manufacturing company uses aggressive learning programs to help employees foster data-driven behaviors. This company does more than teach statistics and coding skills; it equips its workers to incorporate data and analytics into their natural thoughts, feelings and behaviors. In doing so, this company prepares and equips workers for an AI-driven future, helping to enhance their engagement and performance.

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In an increasingly data-driven world, ensuring workers are comfortable with data is paramount. In a recent study, Gallup found that 59% of executives believe that in five years, data science and analytics skills will be as essential as communication skills in their company.

  1. Baby boomers are postponing retirement, and millennials are getting married and having children later in life -- making workplace planning and forecasting increasingly vital.

Leaders must proactively incorporate a number of converging social and demographic trends into their workforce-planning activities.

As baby boomers move past retirement age, many are staying in the workforce longer than prior generations did. Gallup finds that the percentage of post-retirement-aged workers (aged 65 and older) in full-time jobs more than doubled from 2001-2002 (4%) to 2015-2016 (9%). Further, millennials who have delayed marriage and children are now entering these two critical life stages.

Rather than simply reacting to these changes, high-performing companies use workforce analytics and forecasting to enhance their workforce-planning strategies.

Leaders of one such company realized that amid changing employee needs, historical trends of benefits adoption might not predict future trends. To remedy this problem, the company expanded its benefits forecasting models to include broader external data, such as market employment and socioeconomic data.

The company's new forecasting model also incorporates more advanced data science techniques, such as predicting fluctuations in participation as more millennials add dependents to their healthcare plans. Through these efforts, leaders can more accurately predict future demand and adjust benefits plans to cater to employees' future needs.

While most organizations continue to talk about the workforce of the future, the best ones are already predicting what's coming and are building the analytics and capabilities to prepare for it. These world-class companies are constantly assessing their current state and leveraging advanced analytics and technologies to evolve as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

In the midst of such rapid workplace changes, one thing is for sure: Passivity is not an option.

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