Government Affairs & Human Resources

Changing Workplace Dynamics and The Great Generational Shift: Employers Face A Whole New World of Emerging Employment Trends

By Bruce Tulgan

Employers in 2018 are scrambling to adjust to a new normal of change and uncertainty driven by an environment of regular, yet unpredictable and often wild, market fluctuations. Indeed, that scramble has been picking up steam every year since 1993, when we at RainmakerThinking began tracking the current generational shift.

The changes we’ve been tracking are coming to fruition, maturing everywhere we look. The worldwide business environment of perpetually high risk, constrained resources and fierce competition puts constant pressure on employers to remain lean, flexible and high performing. Despite the pressures constraining employer resources, employers are struggling to attract, motivate and retain the best young talent –– even as they watch their oldest, most-experienced employees ride off into the sunset. This leaves business leaders asking how they can possibly square their business needs with the increasing widespread workforce expectations and demands for greater flexibility in work conditions and career paths.

“One Size” is Gone

The workplace of the past was based on one-size-fits-all, long-term, hierarchical employment relationships in which employees worked exclusively for one employer in exchange for job security and long-term vesting rewards, such as pensions.

Nowadays, the workplace revolves around short-term, transactional employment relationships, and there is no going back. Because organizations will need to continually increase productivity, quality and cost-effectiveness, employment relationships will become increasingly short-term, transactional and highly variable. The traditional employer-employee relationship will finally fade away.

Here’s the Future

What does the workplace of the future look like? It is lean, high-performing and incredibly flexible. Any work that can be streamlined is streamlined. That’s done through highly efficient labor production: part-timers, short-termers, consultants and vendors. These positions can be staffed-up quickly and staffed-down just as quickly. There are many fewer long-term, traditional employee roles. There are many more people who flow in and out of the organization in highly variable roles and arrangements.

It is true that some people do come to work whenever they feel like it and bring along their dogs. But those people are given that flexibility in exchange for doing great work –– delivering on-time, high-quality results with few errors (or whatever the particular performance benchmarks may be). Flexibility and accountability go hand-in-hand where those superstars are making their valuable contributions every day. And when they fail to deliver, they don’t get rewarded in return. They don’t get to keep coming to work whenever they feel like it (and must leave their dogs home) until their next big demonstrable success.

Core Talent Groups

In the future workplace, the most effective employers build and maintain small, powerful core groups of key talent. They also manage fluid talent pools in order to maintain long-term, flexible employment relationships.

Flexible work conditions, learning and knowledge-management, pay-for-performance and coaching-style leadership are the keys to being an “employer of choice” for in-demand talent. The ability to get people on board, up-to-speed and delivering results quickly is the key to most staffing challenges. Strict accountability is directly tied to providing rewards for employees — with opportunities to earn more money and work flexibility going to employees who are willing and able to bend over backward and jump through hoops for employers.

The workplace of the future is characterized by many other trends, as well as corresponding impacts for employers. They include:

Baby Boomer Exits

When they leave an employer, Boomers take with them a great deal of skill, knowledge, wisdom, institutional memory, relationships and the last vestiges of the old-fashioned work ethic. Organizations with significant “age bubbles” must plan to dedicate substantial resources to support knowledge transfer and wisdom transfer processes, as well as developing flexible retention, succession planning and leadership development initiatives.

Rising Youth Tide

Around the globe, organizations that rely disproportionately upon young workers will face the challenges of an increasingly high-maintenance workforce. This is one in which employees will not hesitate to make suggestions, special requests and demands — particularly as related to rewards and flexible work conditions. This trend will require employers to dedicate substantial resources to their staffing strategy and to their attraction, selection, onboarding, training, performance management, accountability, differential rewards and retention efforts.

Perpetual Staffing Shortages

The pressure to get more and more work out of fewer and fewer people means staying lean staffed, always. At the same time, the rising demand for high-skilled labor — especially in the science and technology fields    promises ongoing staffing shortages and technical skill gaps. Employers in every industry will be struggling to attract, motivate and retain the best talent.

Development Investment Paradox

Employers must invest in developing their new young employees. However, the more an employer invests, the more negotiating power the new young employee has in a short-term transactional labor market. With the employer’s development investment in hand, the new young employee becomes more valuable — and can leverage the employer’s development investment by selling it to another employer or by negotiating for increased rewards.

Young Employees: More Power

What appears among young employees as a high-maintenance characteristic is actually this new power to ask for more. Opportunities to earn more money and flexibility will go to the employees who most consistently deliver the most value. Employers will be forced to pay high premiums with lush benefits, lavish work conditions and lots of flexibility for in-demand talent. It’s what we call “dream jobs for superstars.”

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking Inc., a management research and training firm. He is the best-selling author of numerous books, including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy and It’s Okay to be the Boss. You can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website,



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