Articles > Trends to embrace -- and watch out for

Trends to embrace -- and watch out for
Globe & Mail, January 12, 2007

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.

When I think of key trends that will play out in this and coming years, I am struck by how so many of today's hottest corporate mantras, such as management development and succession planning, are reminiscent of the 1970s.

I note also many apparently contradictory trends. For example, organizations are crying the talent-shortage blues -- and yet young people without specialized degrees are having difficulty finding work, and many older workers are still experiencing age discrimination. These are contradictions that still need to be worked through in the years ahead.

Here are 13 trends that will continue next year and beyond.

Intergenerational tensions

When I recently wrote a column about young workers, I received a record number of e-mails. Older workers bemoaned the lack of work ethic among younger workers. Young workers scoffed at older workers: "When are they ever going to leave?" "They feel threatened by us and how we do things," were typical comments.

But they'll have to learn to get along. Abolition of mandatory retirement, as has occurred in many provinces, means many older workers will choose to stay on in the workplace for both financial and psychological reasons -- leading to continuing frustration among younger workers eyeing those plum opportunities up the ladder.

Diversity broadens its meaning

For years, organizations have been paying lip service to the concept of diversity. But now, as organizations look to liberate talent wherever it may be found, they have become very serious about it.

This has brought about several changes. For one, the definition of diversity is being expanded to refer not only to the four traditional groups (women, visible minorities, those with disabilities and gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered people), but also to diversity of age, life situations, personality and motivation. In other words, diversity reflects all differences.

As well, the direction on diversity is changing: Whereas before it tended to focus on how people are different, such as visible minorities or those with disabilities, now the emphasis is on inclusiveness, creating an environment that is welcoming to everyone.

While this is laudatory, it can still create its own problems: Some privately wonder whether they or their co-workers were promoted because of their skin colour, for example, instead of their skills.

Heightened sensitivity also leaves many bewildered about what words are politically correct, and how to describe someone without insulting them or being accused of being a dinosaur.

Forget balance

Organizations increasingly recognize that more people are willing to quit jobs if their work demands encroach on their ability to meet personal commitments.

And people have also become more sophisticated in their thinking about the issue, no longer pursuing the Holy Grail of finding a perfect work/life balance. They recognize, for example, that it's possible to have it all over the course of their careers, but not to have it all at once.

More people are prepared to make tough decisions, whether in favour of work demands or their personal lives, and understand the consequences of those decisions. That may mean choosing to work part time and being prepared to slow down career progress.

Leadership development

Leadership development has become sexy over the past few years. But some organizations became so caught up in the concept that people wanted to be "led" rather than managed that they neglected to teach people who were suddenly promoted the fundamental skills of managing others.

Now there has been a revival of management development, giving new supervisors the basics -- from how to hire and fire, to how to use resources effectively, manage a budget, get things done through others and set priorities.

That's giving first-line managers more support in their jobs. It also means more support for young workers catapulted into management positions in the past few years with little basic training.

But while the fundamentals of management are important, organizations increasingly recognize the importance of softer skills, such as emotional intelligence, and dealing with change.

It's no longer about choreographing staff to do what you want them to do but is, instead, about creating a trusting environment in which people feel respected and are motivated to perform by an egalitarian exchange of ideas.

Work with meaning

Increasingly, people are defining success in highly personal terms. For many, it means doing work in tune with their values, making a difference in people's lives, or doing work that speaks to them at a deep emotional or intellectual level. And it's not only middle class workers who are saying "it's about more than the money," but skilled workers at all levels.

Degrees of separation

On the one hand, organizations are singing the skills-shortage blues. On the other, there are a lot of abundantly talented young people with general arts and social science degrees who can't get entry-level professional jobs.

Ironically, while organizations talk about the need for broad knowledge, emotional intelligence and the ability to solve complex human problems, they ignore people who don't have specialized degrees. But these general degrees have taught them critical thinking skills -- the very skills that organizations are in search of.

Promotion for the wrong reason

Anticipating the skills shortage, organizations are trying to build bench strength by retaining and developing their talented younger workers. Sometimes this leads to poor job-placement decisions.

For example, in the desire to keep high-potential young workers, they may be placed in high-profile developmental positions for which they are ill-suited and trained. The result is demoralizing to other staff, especially those better qualified.

Older workers take this particularly hard. As one 50-year-old banker who was recently passed over for a job in favour of a 30-year-old with no experience said: "What am I? Invisible? Washed up?" Long term, the high-potential younger staffer also suffers if he is prematurely promoted and ends up in over his head.

Older workers seen as blockers

Although a number of my corporate clients have discussed the need to keep older workers engaged, in truth, talk to these older workers and many feel much like the 50-year-old banker. Organizations justify passing over older workers by saying: "They have no runway ahead of them," a particularly nasty comment which makes them feel like second-class beings.

So they are kept on but do not feel valued. Many also know that the organization sees them as blocking jobs that could be developmental positions for younger workers.

Ambition ambivalence

Many people are torn: Go for the brass ring or nurture their personal life? They understand the cost of getting the big job and are wary of making sacrifices. Many ultimately will decide the effort/reward equation is such that it's not worth it.

Authenticity reigns

People want to be able to express who they are in their work, and not have to adopt a corporate persona. This means that if they feel they have to compromise their values or repress their personality, they will look for another employer that represents a better fit.

Some skittish employers, however, in their desire to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone, fail to realize that what appeals to one person will not appeal to everyone. The result is a vanilla corporate culture, which neither appeals to anyone, nor particularly turns anyone off.

Coaching -- caveat emptor

It seems like almost everyone wants to be a coach, be coached, or both. They want a leg up or to give people a leg up in this era of the invisible, overworked manager who doesn't have the time to provide coaching and mentoring.

As organizations increasingly move to a self-service approach -- in which the individuals are forced to fend for themselves in figuring out everything from what training to take to the best career options -- people will pay for a person to help them achieve their goals.

Organizations are also willing to foot the tab for high-potential workers. However, because so many people have entered the coaching field recently, some are not up to snuff. It's buyer beware.

The employee brand/experience

Organizations are turning their attention to building their employee brand, recognizing that they can't build a successful external brand for clients if it's not consistent with how internal staff experiences the company. The brand represents the personality of the organization whether that be flexibility, family friendliness, or challenging opportunities.

Employers use this brand to differentiate themselves from other potential employers, selling it to hire and keep staff. As one head of talent management said: "We want people to say: 'I choose to work here because it is special and I can connect with its values and what it feels like to work here.' "

Midlife renewal

More people are availing themselves of interesting career options that don't require a major career change. This takes a variety of forms.

A common one is developing a portfolio career: People identify their emotional, financial, and intellectual needs and ways of meeting them through paid and unpaid work. Another form of renewal is a career break, whether to return to school or volunteer in a third-world country.

Many also discover the joys of reconnecting with the path veered away from or not taken. They reconnect to underlying career themes. For example, the HR professional who, 15 years later, finds herself in the executive ranks, now wants to go back to using her professional skills. Sick of management headaches, missing the stimulation of professional challenges, or wanting to leave a legacy, she sets up as a consultant.