Foundation Examines Evolution of Work, Worker

By SHRM Online staff Apr 28, 2014

A new report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation, in partnership with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), identifies nine key findings on the changing nature of work and the people who perform it.

“Companies will need to update their practices accordingly,” the Foundation states in the introduction to the 48-page report, What’s Next: Future Global Trends Affecting Your Organization, Evolution of Work and the Worker. “Many of the previously trusted [management] techniques,” it noted, now are as outdated “as the office typewriter.”

Technology’s role in redefining work is “supplanting many mid-skilled jobs, obviating the need for expensive offices and enabling cross-border teams to flourish” and cannot be ignored, the report points out. Additionally, the profile of the average worker will change—to someone who is older, female, from the developing world and “less likely to enjoy a long-term contractual relationship with an employer.”

The findings are part of the Thought Leadership Initiativethat the Foundation and EIUlaunched in 2013. EIU is the research and analysis division of The Economist Group, the sister company to The Economist newspaper. Its role in the partnership is to serve as a research team for the Foundation by reaching out to global C-suite executives, senior HR leadership, demographers, economists, futurists and others through surveys and focus groups.

The report identifies the following trends over the next decade:

*Demographic shifts. The developed world is faced with an aging working population while emerging markets have a predominantly young population.

*Mass unemployment or underemployment of young people could lead to social and political unrest.

*Burgeoning diversity in the workplace. This includes flexible work arrangements, multi-generations and cultures, and more women entering the workplace in emerging markets.

*A disconnect between educational standards and the so-called short supply of qualified workers who possess the hard and soft skills organizations want.

*The expanding services sector and the decline of jobs in the agricultural and industrial sectors.

*The technological transformation of the workplace. The rise of remote working offers the opportunity for a deeper pool of available labor, presenting new managerial challenges.

*Automation of routine tasks once performed by those with only high school diplomas. The need for people with specialized skills will “decimate the mid-skilled tier” of worker.

*Wages that do not keep pace with the economic growth that resulted from workers’ increased productivity, even as organizations increase their focus on the shareholder and benefit from globalization that allows them to find cheaper labor elsewhere.

*A review of the pros and cons of outsourcing operations, putting a heavier reliance on analytics by HR.

Written by EIU and published by the Foundation earlier this year, the report is the first of three papers that address critical themes that are expected to impact the workplace in the next five to 10 years. The other reports, to be published in 2014, will look at engaging and integrating a global workforce and using talent analytics to gain a competitive edge.

The research’s aim, according to a statement from the Foundation, “is to promote evidence-based research and to identify solutions for the HR challenges resulting from these trends.” The Foundation plans to follow up the papers with ongoing academic research to identify solutions for the challenges HR will face in dealing with the changing nature of work.

“We believe these reports will provide insights to help progressive leaders of multinational organizations plan more effectively for the future,” wrote Mark J. Schmit, Ph.D., SPHR, Foundation executive director, in the introduction. “This report,” he added, “also presents useful background information and data for students and researchers interested in the many questions raised. Additional articles and reports will be created to identify specific implications for HR and to guide future research on these themes.”

Earlier this year, as part of the initiative, the Foundation held an executive roundtable in Los Angeles with the topic of “The Changing Nature of Work and the Worker” that featured 14 expert panelists discussing themes from the reportand the implications for HR. An executive summary of this event is available online at

The Foundation/EIU initiative is supported through contributors that include SHRM, the HR Certification Institute, corporate sponsors, SHRM members, and SHRM state councils and chapters.


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