by Bob Nelson | February 14, 2012
Understanding the future of work will help you better prepare for that future, especially when it comes to better motivating your employees. There are five major trends that will increasingly impact all organizations: 1) the growing shortage of skilled workers, 2) the rise of the Millennials, 3) the increase of contingent workers, 4) the evolving role of virtual employees, and 5) the globalization of the labor market.

1. The growing shortage of skilled workers. With unemployment still hovering over eight percent, it is hard to grasp the concept of an impending skilled labor shortage. However, this is exactly what is unfolding and will continue to unfold in the decades ahead. The evidence is found in current demographic trends, which indicate a declining birth rate in industrialized countries and an aging population with many workers heading into retirement. This will be the most significant human resource trend over the next few decades: not a labor shortage, but a skilled labor shortage.

2. The rise of the Millennials. Millennials represent a significant part of the shift in demographics. Those born between 1980 and 2000 will soon make up the largest segment of the U.S. workforce in both number and attitude, reshaping the workplace for all workers. This generation of 90 million prospective workers thinks unconventionally and is motivated differently than previous generations. They expect work to be part of their lives but not to define who they are, yet they also expect meaning in their jobs from day one and are not interested in paying their dues. This group is shifting work expectations from "career ladder" to "career lattice."

3. The increase of contingent workers. The recovery from the Great Recession has led to a significant increase in contingent workers. In fact, the temporary employment segment has generated more jobs than any other segment since the recession technically ended. Businesses have been hesitant to hire full-time employees due to the uncertainty and volatility in the economy. Many believe this change will be permanent versus just part of the economic cycle. There are currently 10 million contingent workers—greater than total union membership. There are now 22 million companies that do not have payrolls. This group’s work expectations are shifting from "lifetime employment" to "lifetime employability."

4. The evolving role of virtual employees. The evolving role of virtual employees is noteworthy. Some 42 percent of all organizations currently provide some type of flex time or option for telecommuting, job sharing, or alternative work schedules, yet we haven’t mastered how to make technology replace the social bonds formed in the workplace. Often, the more connected we are at work through technology, the more alienated we tend to be in our jobs and feel less connected with others. Work is increasingly becoming more a state of mind than a place to be.

5. The globalization of the labor market. The globalization of the labor market continues to erase the geographical bonds between producer and consumer, and work and jobs are increasingly transferable around the globe. Companies will increasingly need to decide on a core competitive advantage and things that others firms can do better to "move the work or move the worker."

Human resource leadership needs to take charge in helping their organizations prepare for these significant workplace trends by being proactive in making the case for action now and by creating solutions before the trends become overwhelming. It is a function shift from transactional to transitional to transformational.

The preceding by Dr. Bob Nelson was based on content in the new edition of his book 1501 Ways to Reward Employees. Also a speaker, Nelson, known as “Dr. Bob,” can be reached at (800) 575-5521, (858) 673-0690, or [email protected] to present on the above trends or related topics for your conference, association, or management team. For more, visit