The Future Belongs to the Employee

On May 3rd, the US Labor Department announced that unemployment had dropped to 3.6%. That’s the lowest since 1969, and is another sign that we’re living in a time when power is shifting from companies to employees.

The connected world is facilitating rising employee expectations that are disrupting the attitudes and behaviors of the American workforce. The Employee Experience (EX) movement has emerged as a second iteration of Customer Experience (CX), driven by similar increased choices, information, and amplified individual voices brought by the internet. When combined with changes in demographics, the trend toward empowered workers calls for dramatic changes in the human strategy of companies.

Trends Empowering the American Workforce


Talent Scarcity

50-year lows in unemployment and high competition for the most capable employees give people new opportunities for job mobility.

A Younger Workforce

Millenials and Gen Z make up 65% of the workforce. These digital natives have a pop understanding and accompanying high expectations of organizational culture, social responsibility, and can find dozens of open jobs from their phone if expectations aren’t met by their employer.

Focus on Purpose

If the 30 year rule holds true, organizations with a clear and authentic purpose will become the norm in the next decade (innovation widely impacts markets about 30 years after the first innovators make a splash). Purpose innovators like Southwest Airlines have adjusted the expectations of the workforce. Now, held accountable by the empowered workforce, purpose-weak companies are feeling the pain of high turnover and stagnant levels of engagement.

The Atlantic reports that “when asked what their primary concern was during their first job, about 64 percent of older Americans talked about  making as much money as possible or learning new skills. When asked the same question, younger Americans were much more likely to say that their top priority was doing something that they found enjoyable or making a difference in society, with 57 percent choosing one of these options.”

Complexity

Jobs in America require more skill than ever before. Even entry level employees are often called upon to manage multiple digital platforms, respond to customer needs in real time, be on-call outside work hours, collaborate in a team environment, and be adaptable enough to adjust to rapidly changing market demands and business initiatives.

The need for all team members to perform psychological work and develop multiple soft skills places a complex challenge on business leaders. America’s education system is largely silent on topics like emotional intelligence, teamwork, and collaboration. Often these topics aren’t discussed until graduate level programs, leaving much of the workforce ill-prepared for modern complexities. Organizations must augment decentralization, complicated structures, and agility with innovative workforce development programs if they want to equip workers with the skills to be successful and create value for their companies. Programs like coaching and mentoring can be complex to implement, but provide a path to retain top talent.

Multi-Generational

Developing the skill of managers to understand, communicate, motivate, train, and ultimately to retain four or five generations is mission-critical. According to The Center for Generational Kinetics, managers who “speak multi-generational languages” will continue to become more valuable as companies attempt to stem rising turnover rates by meeting the unique needs of each generation.

Amplified Employee Voice

Companies who spent the last decade learning to leverage customer review sites have reaped the rewards of a customer market that is empowered by easily accessible product information and ubiquitous reviews. Expect to see prospective employees continue to become more comfortable making employment decisions based on information on sites like Glassdoor.

Just like Yelp!, TripAdvisor, and Google revealed the average quality of the food in that new restaurant down your street isn’t really that good, impressive compensation packages and inauthentic employer branding campaigns will become easy for prospective employees to identify and avoid. Smart companies are beginning to map out the ROI of authentic, fulfilling work on recruiting and retention.

All these trends combine to move power away from the C-suite to customers and employees. Adaptable, purpose-driven leaders who celebrate the empowered workforce will enjoy the reward of loyal employees and customers. Companies who believe their business model doesn’t have a shelf life choose a painful path. The average lifespan of S&P 500 companies in the 1950’s was 60 years. Now, it’s under 20 years.

Here’s to the teams and leaders who develop the habits of a growth mindset, and embrace the challenge of winning over a generation of empowered employees. The future is theirs!