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The New Workforce Will Job-Hop. AND THAT'S GOOD

For the last 20 years, regardless of the economic situation, people have spent fewer and fewer years in a given job. Today, the average time someone in their twenties spends in a given job is 18 months, and this number has been steady for the past five years.

What this means for the future is that middle management will be full of people — Generation X (Gen X) and Generation Y (Gen Y) — who are accustomed to moving in and out of jobs, and in and out of the workforce — all the time. So companies will need to make employees valuable right away. If ramp-up time takes too long, the employee will already be gone.

The good news is that job-hoppers deliver more results in their careers. Job-hoppers develop skills at a faster rate, they grow their networks at a faster rate and they stay more engaged at work (engagement levels at work increase for two years and then start plummeting, unless the worker changes jobs within the company). In terms of the future of the workforce, this means everyone will be better at delivering results faster.

The new workforce will not use e-mail.

Today, e-mail accounts for only 5 percent of electronic communication. Ninety-five percent of electronic communication is via social networking sites. Gen X and Y are adept at social media tools, and the use will infiltrate more aspects of business very quickly.

This is because the return on investment (on budgets) to social media is stronger than traditional media. This is true for advertising, PR and recruiting.

Additionally, younger workers understand communication via social media because they view it as conversation, and it is more effective in terms of time management. But e-mail is only one-to-one, so it's a slower way to get out messaging.

Today, the majority of executives use e-mail. That is not likely to be the case in five years. People who want to stay relevant in their field must start understanding the utility of social media.

The workforce in five years will be the most effective at communication. Ever.

Stanford University recently unleashed a ground-breaking study that shows that students today are stronger writers than any students Stanford has ever had. The reason for this is that social media demands concise, persuasive writing. It used to be that people only did this writing in school, for an audience of one: The Professor.

Today, students write on blogs and networks and site aggregators, and these venues demand concise, persuasive writing every day, or else no one will take the time to read what the student writes.

Also, it used to be that people did 90 percent of their writing in school, and then largely stopped, aside from professions such as law and journalism. But in five years, almost all workers will continue to write outside of school for their whole lives, and their skills will get better and better as they have to compete more and more for audiences for what they write.

The more the workforce uses social media to communicate, the better the communication skills of workers need to be.

The workforce will become collaborative. Finally.

For the last 20 years, the Harvard Business Review has been publishing research about how collaborative teams outperform groups of individuals who are bad team players.

The problem is that the workforce has been full of terrible team players.

Baby Boomers are the most competitive generation ever. There have always been too many of them, they had to fight to get everything and then they measured their success by salary, car brand and the size of their house (they invented the term McMansion).

Gen X has been disenfranchised, and while Baby Boomers were building McMansions, Gen X was working McJobs — because there were no good jobs left for Gen X. Due to generational circumstances — such as lousy parenting and rejection in the workplace — Gen X is cynical and fundamentally individualist.

Gen Y is the only generation that got taught teamwork in school. On the playground, teachers taught them that “you can say you can't play.” They did book reports on teams and they went to prom as a group. Sometimes they even quit a job as a group.

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Additionally, the upbringing of Gen Y rests on collaborative, sharing software that other generations have not seen a need for (such as Yelp and PBWiki).

So what happens on a team? Baby Boomers want to lead. Gen X wants to go home, and Gen Y assumes everyone loves teams, and they're excited to be there and play as equals.

This means the future workplace will finally see all those productivity and creativity benefits of a truly collaborative work environment.

In five years, people will work fewer hours.

No generation has worked longer hours than the Baby Boomers. They got their identity from work, and they measured their success by their rank at work. They also thought that not being home for their kids was a statement of progress for women, so had no trouble doing it (they invented the term latchkey kid).

The method of their parenting horrifies members of Gen X. The current assessment of those who parented Gen X is that they were largely ineffective and negligent. Gen X leaves work at 5 p.m. to take care of their kids.

Whereas Baby Boomers see jobs that cross multiple time zones as challenging and prestigious, Gen X won't even take the jobs because they are so time-consuming. Additionally, the male contingent of Gen X is almost as willing as the female contingent to take a lesser paying job in order to spend more time with their kids.

Gen Y feels the same way as Gen X, and as Gen X enters senior management, the pressure to work longer hours will largely disappear from the workforce except for specific circumstances, where people specifically sign up for longer hours for a specific period of time.

People will be more productive.

Gen Y can run circles around other generations in terms of productivity. Time management is a cocktail party topic among Gen Y, and the most popular websites are all about how to slice and dice time to better meet one's long- and short-term goals.

While Baby Boomers are using their e-mail in-box as a storage unit, or a to-do list, Gen Yers often have empty in-boxes because they are so efficient at processing information. Gen Y enters a new job and downloads all their own productivity software because companies don't have the most up-to-date stuff.

And Gen Y cares more. They witnessed their parents working long hours for what? They got laid off, lost their nest egg and were downsized out of their entire career.

Gen Y wants to make sure they don't spend every second working, and they know the key to that is productivity: Do the same high-performance work in less time.

The workplace will get nice.

Gen Y is conservative. This does not mean they are politically conservative. In fact, many credit Gen Y with electing Obama in the early states of the primary. And, in fact, voting itself is a fundamentally conservative action. While Baby Boomers instigated change by taking to the streets, Gen Y went to the polls in greater numbers than either Gen X or Baby Boomers did in their 20s.

Gen Y is very close to their parents. Seventy percent of them move back to their parents' house after college graduation, and the parents are happy to have them because Gen Y is largely in sync with their parents. Baby Boomers taught their kids to always be learning, seek out meaningful careers and be hard workers. Gen Y is all of this — which is why they are conservative. Gen Y does not rebel against their parents.

Gen Y was parented well. They are the self-esteem generation, and you can say that they are annoyingly self-confident, but that has never hurt anyone at work. And, in fact, self-confidence makes people able to be more generous and kind. Remember: Self-confidence is not arrogance. Gen Y is a collaborative, helpful generation, and they are not just talk. For example, government jobs are popular with Gen Y because they want to give back.

This is a fundamentally trusting, optimistic, good-natured generation. Adults treated them well growing up — not just their parents but their teachers, coaches and tutors (yes, there were lots of coaches and tutors for Gen Y). This means that Gen Y expects the adult world to be kind, and this expectation actually makes people better behaved at work.

And as Gen Y gets more power at work in the next five years, they will probably extend more kindness and optimism through the ranks of the workplace. We can already see that effect happening today.

Gen Y will make up the majority of the workforce in seven years, and they will be largely kind, cooperative and sunny. This shouldn't be a revolution, because it's what everyone has been preaching makes a good workplace. But, in fact, these values will shake up the workplace, and this might be the first time since the industrial revolution that work is a positive influence for the majority of workers.


Penelope Trunk is founder of the social network Brazen Careerist, which has had millions of participants. Brazen Careerist focuses on the workforce of the new millennium, and it is a good starting point for people who want to understand the future of their own company and their own career. Contact Penelope Trunk at http://blog.penelopetrunk.com.

Generation Chart

Gen X: 1964-1980

Gen Y: 1980-2000
(Approximate, not firmly established yet).

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