Emerging Expectations from Shifting Workplace Demographics

This is an excerpt from the recently released book The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media, by Tony Bingham, President and CEO of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), and Marcia Conner, Partner with Altimeter Group.

Think back to the year you joined the workforce. Then reflect on how things were about six months into that job. Did you think you should be given the opportunity to make big splashes and reap rich rewards? Did you consider your off hours your own, reserved to pursue your passions? Many of us did. Yet we forget that when we label newcomers to the workforce as unrealistic about advancement or uninterested in working hard.

Some of the qualities associated with the youngest generations in the workforce today are qualities of age, not generation. Brashness, dissatisfaction with the status quo, and constant questioning are characteristics many of us had when we were young. Because we didn't have Facebook connections with friends reinforcing our perspectives, let alone magazines and blogs showcasing young people who became chief executive officers at 19, we abandoned those mindsets to fit in.

Have your expectations of the workplace changed in this newly connected world? Are many things the same as they were as recently as last year? If you were to go to work for your company now, would you not have higher expectations than you had in the past? We certainly would.

Our wide look at demographic shifts has convinced us that organizations of all types and sizes have a lot to learn and do differently if they are to attract and keep the talent - of all ages - they need to succeed. It's not all about Millennials (also known as the Net Generation and Generation Y). Many of us, their older colleagues, also find that new social technologies allow us to work in ways we never believed would happen in our lifetime.

These shifts are about everyone in the workforce. We don't discount the generational factor; we simply see it as part of the whole.

We believe differences in generation, gender, and consumer outlook together provide a useful framework to address a changing workforce and workplace. Success will go to those businesses savvy enough to understand, learn from, and leverage these shifts.

We should aspire to create a workplace that uses the talents of everyone, connecting them in meaningful ways, regardless of differences in generation, gender, and consumer outlook.

By 2014, potentially half the workforce will be from Millennials. Overall, this generation has a high comfort level with technology and broad expectations about using it to learn. The previous generation, Generation X, shares many of these expectations but has learned to navigate slow-to-change workplaces. Millennials and generations after are not as apt to put up with inefficient ways.

Fairly soon, Generation Z will begin entering the workforce. They are even more intimate with technology and have higher expectations for instant answers and constant connectivity than Millennials.

Baby Boomers have already begun to retire. Although the perception exists that older workers do not widely embrace technology, a recent survey by ASTD shows that 79 percent of Baby Boomers, compared with 76 percent of Millennials, believe that social media tools are not being used enough for education activities within organizations.

To add to the demographic shift, estimates suggest that within this decade nearly 60 percent of the workforce will be female, a group more likely to turn to its social networks for insights and perspectives than males. Studies show that women experience a physiological and emotional change when they connect verbally - and combined with new ways to easily maintain, organize, and create new connections, these networks demonstrate value to women more quickly because these connections feel more like experiences they have off line.

Consumer Outlook
Another shifting workplace influence is consumer savvy. Rich media around us everywhere - on TV, on the Internet, in stores, and on mobile phones - have changed our expectations about communication inside our companies, too. We bring our knowledge and assumptions from the marketplace to work. As a result, we are no longer willing to put up with hard-to-manage interfaces, poor quality events, or questionably useful design because we now know - we've experienced - better alternatives.

More information about The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media is available at the official website.