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5 Trends Changing the Nature of Work

CHICAGO--It once took weeks to send a letter across the country. Today it takes just seconds to send an e-mail. Just as technology and communication have evolved, so too should the ways in which human resource professionals approach how their employees work.

In his Monday session at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference & Exposition, “The Changing Nature of Work: Five Global Trends Affecting Strategic Human Resources,” Gary B. Kushner, SPHR, outlined the five global trends affecting the changing nature of work and how HR professionals must approach those trends within the next 10 years.

Kushner is president and CEO of Kushner & Co., a global HR strategy and employee benefits consulting and administration firm.

The trends include technological advancement, outsourcing, changing worker attitudes and values, demographics and diversity, and globalization.

“The organizations that are going to be successful are those that are nimble,” Kushner told the standing-room-only crowd. He added that embracing change isn’t just a necessity, it is a requirement.

Technology. Smart devices that allow continuous connectivity continue to blur the line between work life and personal life. “I think one of the challenges in HR is trying to figure out how to have engaged employees” without having them work around the clock, Kushner said. “For the most part, most organizations haven’t thought through what that differentiator should be. Telecommuting and flexible hours are just the first steps down that pathway” of navigating the issues surrounding constant connectivity and work/life balance, he said.

Outsourcing. Companies have come to define which work is critical and which work is not, Kushner said. “Organizations will move in the future to outsourcing the noncore competencies of the workplace,” he said. Organizations now use more “free agents,” he explained, who come in for projects and provide a specific expertise while improving their skill sets—then move on to other organizations. According to Kushner, “the challenge for HR as this trend continues is it causes us to look at our organizational strategy and develop our HR strategies around how work gets done in our organization and by whom.”

Changing worker attitudes and values. There was a time, Kushner said, when people remained in one job their entire lives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a worker in the U.S. today has an organizational life expectancy of just 3.5 years. That is going to be a challenge for HR, he said, as it struggles to “reconcile how we engage our workers in such a way that they want to be here, but recognize they have interests outside the workplace.”

Demographics and diversity. People are living longer and, for the first time ever, “in the next 10 years, we will have five generations in the workplace,” Kushner pointed out. “You’ll have traditionalists, Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and what I like to call Gen wireless. These are people who grew up with technology in their hands—they understand it; they know how to leverage those tools.

“Within HR, it’s going to change the way we think of some of the traditional ways we strategize all sorts of things in an organization”—especially training and development, he said.

Today, he explained, “institutional knowledge is passed down and around—you end up in a mutual training paradigm. That’s an amazing change in the way we’ve done this for thousands of years.”

Globalization. Before it was bought by Oracle, Sun Microsystems had employees working in the U.S., India and Europe around the clock on special projects. “Now they get 24 hours of work time. This dispersion of work geographically is the best possible way that work can get done,” Kushner said.

If you’re in HR, he noted, you should be “looking at your organization’s goals and objectives” and aligning HR strategy accordingly.

Aliah Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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