National Academies Press: OpenBook

Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management? (2020)

Chapter: 2 The Changing World of Work and Workers

« Previous: 1 Introduction
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 18
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 19
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 20
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 21
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 22
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 23
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 24
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 25
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 26
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 27
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 28
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 29
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 30
Suggested Citation:"2 The Changing World of Work and Workers." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25796.
×
Page 31

Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   2 The Changing World of Work and Workers Workers carry out their jobs in the context of their workplace, and the workplace environment is affected by broader macrostructural forces. The context of work has changed along many dimensions over time, and one must understand these changes to examine properly any potential differences among workers. Context represents the situational opportunities and constraints at both the macro and mezzo levels that influence workers’ interactions and behaviors; therefore, examining context is necessary to understand the degree to which changes in observed behavior and attitudes are due to such individual characteristics as generation. Understanding the context of work is also essential to identifying applications of research findings to workforce management (Johns, 2006). Changes in work and workers have been the subject of frequent discussion among scholars, the popular press, management, and employees themselves (e.g., Hoffman, Shoss, and Wegman, 2020). This chapter summarizes the evidence on how work and workers have changed in both broad (macrostructural-level) and discrete (workplace-level) contexts (Johns, 2006). In so doing, it lays the groundwork for examining the intersection of these contexts with theories of and empirical research on generational differences in the workforce. Chapter 6 builds on the broad changes to work outlined here, and reviews specific challenges faced by employers in some job sectors and implications for workforce management. THE BROAD CONTEXT OF WORK Macrostructural changes in political, social, and economic institutions and structures, as well as in the broad context within which the military operates, are the basic drivers that have shaped the organization of work in the United States since the mid-1970s.1 These changes are interrelated and together have altered the nature of employment and work arrangements in the United States, increasing employment insecurity, reducing workers’ attachment to their employing organizations, and causing employers to recruit and seek to retain workers in new ways. (For overviews of these changes, see Cappelli, 1999; Cappelli et al., 1997; Hacker, 2006; Kalleberg, 2011; Osterman, 1999; and Osterman et al., 2001). These macrostructural changes have occurred in all developed countries, although their timing has somewhat varied (e.g., occurring later in Europe and the industrial countries of Asia than in the United States) (see                                                              1 Many researchers believe the drivers for the organization of work were different before the mid-1970s. They were still considered political, social, and economic in nature, but the characteristics of these structures were very different from those after the mid-1970s. 2 ‐ 1   

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   Kalleberg, 2018). These macrostructural changes have affected both the private and public sectors. Scholars in numerous social science disciplines, including sociology, economics, political science, anthropology, and history, have contributed to understanding the main macrostructural trends behind changes in the terms and nature of work and the characteristics of workers. Some of the significant macrostructural forces that have influenced changes in the economy, employer–employee relations, and the labor force are summarized below. Changes in the Economy Globalization The global interconnectedness of production and finance, which are closely linked with international trade, has risen markedly since the end of World War II (Haskel et al., 2012). This period has seen substantial economic growth in many countries, particularly those occupying the middle of the spectrum of economies, including the “BRICS” nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, which collectively accounted for nearly one-third of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015 (New Development Bank, 2017). As discussed below, the manufacturing sector has seen particularly large decreases in employment in the United States. A similar pattern of declines in manufacturing employment is found among other countries with advanced economies, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom, while manufacturing employment has increased in China and other rapidly developing middle-income countries. Since 1980, rates of economic growth in Asia have surpassed those of Europe and North America2; this growth, combined with advances in communication technologies, has led to greater economic, political, and social interconnectedness among these three regions. A feature of this interconnectedness has been the offshoring of work from more developed countries to developing countries, where wages are lower and labor protections are weaker. Technological Innovation Advances in information and communication technologies have facilitated globalization of production and sped up product cycles on the one hand, and introduced challenges of data management and security and worker education and training on the other (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [NASEM], 2017a, 2017b). These advances are shifting the image of work in many sectors as a result of the automation of job tasks that can be routinized, the augmentation of workers’ abilities to perform other tasks, and the creation of new kinds of jobs. Indeed, the pace of automation has raised renewed fears of a “jobless future” in which robots and computers will take over the jobs of vast numbers of workers (Autor, 2015). While researchers differ in their predictions about the extent to which this is likely to occur, it is important to keep in mind that extreme versions of this view are inconsistent with the evidence. The impact of information and communication technologies on employment will be determined not just by technical capabilities, but also by the choices made by policy makers, organizations, and workers in response to the economic, political, and social landscapes (NASEM, 2017b).                                                              2 See GDP Ranking at https://datacatalog.worldbank.org/dataset/gdp-ranking. 2 ‐ 2   

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   Continued Expansion of the Service Sector The composition of employment in the U.S. economy has been changing over time. Historically, jobs have been classified by three major sectors defined by the nature of the work: extracting raw materials (e.g., agriculture, mining, and fishing); manufacturing products; and providing services. In 1970, 3.12 million Americans worked in the farming sector; by 2014 this number had declined to 1.95 million (Roser, 2020a). Employment in manufacturing also declined, from around 18 million in 1970 to 12 million in 2014 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS], 2020a). At the same time, employment in the service sector expanded. See Figure 2-1. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects continuing declines in manufacturing employment and further growth in service employment through 2026.3 The service sector covers a range of employment in professional, personal, and public service, including but not limited to government, transportation, education, health care, and hospitality. The highest rate of growth is anticipated to be in health care and educational services. Notable growth in jobs in high- technology fields has also occurred since 2010 (The Computing Technology Industry Association, 2019). In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all sectors were immediately impacted, but certain industries were shut down (e.g., restaurants, hospitality, personal services), some had to ramp up quickly (e.g., health care and government), and many others had to adjust the way they do business. It has been estimated that 20 percent of all workers were employed in the industries that had to shut down temporarily (Dey and Lowenstein, 2020). The longer-term impacts of these transitions will be observable only over time. FIGURE 2-1: Employment by major industry sector 1975 and 2018 SOURCE: Created by the committee with data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, QECW SIC-Based Data Files, CSVs, by Area, Annual Averages, 1975,                                                              3 See the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment projections by major industry sector for 2008–2028 at https://www.bls.gov/emp/tables/employment-by-major-industry-sector.htm. 2 ‐ 3   

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   https://www.bls.gov/cew/downloadable-data-files.htm and Employment Projections: Employment by Major Industry Sector, 2018, https://www.bls.gov/emp/tables/employment-by- major-industry-sector.htm. Budget and Trade Deficits The United States has had a budget deficit since the early 2000s, and the national debt has reached record levels (Desilver, 2019). The aging of the U.S. population (see below), which will necessitate higher spending for social programs for the aged and contribute to a reduction in the proportion of the population that is active in the labor force, is anticipated to drive further increases in the U.S. budget deficit and national debt (Elmendorf and Sheiner, 2017). The U.S. budget deficit reflects a low rate of national saving, which, together with increasingly global financial markets, contributes to rising trade deficits (Cooper, 2008). These factors combine to create a greater risk of uncertain and poor economic conditions in the future. Regulatory Environment In the United States, a number of public policies instituted since the mid-1970s have emphasized market mechanisms and sought to provide key industries with greater flexibility through deregulation (beginning with airlines in 1978 and trucking and railroads in 1980), reduced enforcement of labor laws and standards, and overall replacement of government intervention in the economy with an enhanced role for markets (Harvey, 2005). These political decisions and the macrostructural economic changes described above were supported by ideological shifts in the U.S. culture toward greater individualism and personal responsibility for work (Bernstein, 2006), which represented a movement away from the idea that the government should provide economic security, as exemplified by the New Deal. Bernstein (2006) describes this vividly as replacing the idea that “we’re all in this together” with the idea that “you’re on your own.” This shift toward greater individualism served as the normative basis for the massive deregulation of labor markets that occurred under the administration of President Reagan (Kalleberg, 2011). Changes in Employer–Employee Relations Shift in Corporate Governance The 1980s saw a change in the conception of the firm from an entity that is committed to particular product markets and the production of goods and services (managerial capitalism) to one that is a bundle of assets to be bought and sold (finance capitalism). This “financialization” of the economy, under which capital markets play an increasingly important role in corporate decision making, was associated with a shift from the stakeholder model of corporate governance (which emphasized the welfare of managers, employees, customers, suppliers, and the community) to a shareholder model that gave priority to the interests of shareholders (Krippner, 2005). This shift put pressure on managers to increase profit margins and returns to shareholders and led to downsizing and outsourcing by even highly profitable firms seeking even higher profits. 2 ‐ 4   

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   Decline of Unions and Worker Power The proportion of American workers who are union members has declined steadily since the 1950s (Hogler, 2020). This decline has been concentrated in the private sector, although recent antiunion legislation targeting public-sector unions enacted by governments in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan has led to reductions in this sector as well. In 2018, 10.5 percent of the U.S. labor force comprised union members, down from 20.1 percent in 1983, with the union membership rate of workers in the public sector (33.9%) continuing to be much higher than that of workers in the private sector (6.4%) (BLS, 2020b). The continued decline of unions has helped shift the post–World War II balance of power from workers to employers. In turn, the weakening of worker power has facilitated the expansion of the macrostructural forces discussed above, such as globalization and changes in corporate governance. Moreover, the decline of worker power has helped accelerate the post–World War II reduction in institutional worker protections, which provided job security and contributed to the expansion of the middle class (see Rosenfeld, 2014; Greenhouse, 2019). Changes in the Labor Force Changes in the U.S. labor force since the 1970s have played an important supporting role in the macrostructural transformations discussed above. Among the key changes are the rise in the education levels and skills of the labor force, the growth in women’s participation in the labor force, and evolving population characteristics (i.e., aging and increasing racial and ethnic diversity) (Fischer and Hout, 2006; Fry and Parker, 2018). In addition to general population trends that have affected the workforce broadly, certain lifestyle trends have implications for the workforce in some employment sectors (see Box 2-1). BOX 2-1 Lifestyle Trends Two lifestyle trends—increasing urbanization and rising obesity rates—have implications for recruiting and managing workers for some job sectors. Increasing Urbanization: In 1970, 74 percent of the U.S. population lived in urban areas; this proportion had increased to 81 percent by 2014 (Ritchie and Roser, 2020). Increasing urbanization has been a global trend over the past century. Since 2000, the majority of rural counties in the United States have seen more people move out than move in and a growing share of older adults in their populations (Parker et al., 2018). By contrast, urban communities have more diverse and younger populations. Therefore, workers in different areas have had varying exposure to different mixes of age groups and cultural experiences. Of note, there is preliminary evidence of recent shifts away from urban areas, which may offset earlier trends. Rising Obesity Rates: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2015– 2016, 36 percent of people aged 20–39 were obese, as were 43 percent of those aged 40–59. The current rate of obesity among young adults is strikingly higher relative to previous generations and appears to be rising (Harris, 2010; Lee et al., 2010, 2011). The military is one employer that has been impacted by the rise in obesity, which has reduced the number of youth who are eligible 2 ‐ 5   

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   to serve and raised concerns about future capabilities to protect the nation (Maxey, Bishop-Josef, and Goodman, 2018). [END BOX] Rising Educational Attainment As noted, the United States has seen notable growth in educational attainment, which has occurred in conjunction with an increase in educational and economic inequality. Between 2000 and 2017, the percentage of people aged 25–29 with an associate’s or higher degree increased from 38 to 46 percent, and the percentage with at least a bachelor’s degree rose from 29 to 36 percent (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2019). While the increase in educational attainment can fuel growth in high-skill jobs, research indicates that many young people are “overeducated” for their jobs (Clark, Joubert, and Maurel, 2014). More than one-third of adults aged 18–29 have student debt; nationally, student debt totals $1.5 trillion (Cillufo, 2019). The percentage of postsecondary graduates taking loans to finance their education has risen since 2000 and was more than 60 percent in 2016 (NCES, 2018). Figure 2-2 shows the growth in the supply of more educated workers from 1963 to 2017. The share of the labor force consisting of those with college plus postcollege education increased from 12 to 39 percent, and the share of those with some college education from 13 to 28 percent; at the same time, the share of those with a high school degree or less declined from 75 to 33 percent. During this period, there was also a rise in the number of children growing up with a parent holding at least a bachelor’s degree and the number of young adults pursuing a college degree after high school. FIGURE 2-2 The rising supply of educated workers. SOURCE: Autor, 2019b. Reprinted with permission. 2 ‐ 6   

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   Growth in the Employment of Women The growth in the proportion of women choosing to work is a continuation of a longer- term trend. In 1950, as many as 34 percent of women were employed, compared with 86 percent of men (Toosi, 2002). The employment rate of women peaked at 60 percent in 1999 and was 57 percent in 2016. In contrast, by 1999 the employment rate for men had dropped to 75 percent, and in 2016 it was 69 percent (Hipple, 2016). As the employment rates of women have risen, so, too, has the percentage of dual-earner families and mothers as either sole or primary sources of family incomes. In 1970, 31 percent of households with children under age 18 had both parents working full time; as of 2015, this proportion had risen to 46 percent (Pew Research Center [PRC], 2015). In 1960, 11 percent of households with children were supported by mothers, either as single parents (sole providers) or primary providers; as of 2011, this proportion had grown to 40 percent (PRC, 2013). The growth of two-career couples is one of many factors associated with rising urbanization (see Box 2-1), particularly among those with college degrees (Costa and Kahn, 1999). The rising rate of women’s employment has not only transformed family structures but also affected the way people think about their jobs and consider what they need and want from paid employment, such as greater flexibility and control over work schedules (Golden, Henly, and Lambert, 2013). This change has in turn created greater interdependencies between work and family; thus one cannot understand the consequences of changes in work environments without also taking into account family structures, and vice versa (Cherlin, 2014). Population Aging The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the number of Americans aged 65 and older will nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, rising from 16 to 23 percent of the population. Population aging is a worldwide trend; between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world's population over age 60 will nearly double, from 12 to 22 percent (World Health Organization, 2018). Within the United States and worldwide, it is anticipated that rapid growth in the number of older people in the population will lead to greater demand for services and government-funded programs to meet their health and social care needs (Sullivan, 2016). The aging of the population is also reflected in the increasing share of U.S. jobs that are held by people in older age groups. Retirement ages are rising: in 2002, the average retirement age was 59 years, while in 2014 it was 62 years (Riffkin, 2014). Continued employment of older people has contributed to the overall growth of the U.S. labor force and is one component of increased workforce diversity (discussed below). Figure 2-3 illustrates the trend away from a workforce dominated by young and middle-age workers toward one in which a growing proportion comprises older workers, aged 55 and up. 2 ‐ 7   

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   FIGURE 2-3 Proportion of employed workers by age in the U.S. labor force, 1970–2019. SOURCE: Created by the committee with data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (fourth-quarter figures, not seasonally adjusted). Rising Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Labor Force In addition to the age diversity noted above, the labor force has by many accounts become more diverse with respect to race and ethnicity (Fry and Parker, 2018). In 2018, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual report (2019b), “whites made up the majority of the labor force (78 percent).4 Blacks and Asians constituted an additional 13 and 6 percent, respectively. American Indians and Alaska Natives made up 1 percent of the labor force, while Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders [constituted] less than 1 percent. People of two or more races made up about 2 percent of the labor force….Seventeen percent of the labor force were people of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, who may be of any race” (BLS, 2019b). This diversity of the labor force mirrors the increasing racial/ethnic diversity of the U.S. population generally (see Figure 2-4).                                                              4 Non-Hispanic whites made up 63 percent of the labor force in 2018.  2 ‐ 8   

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   FIGURE 2-4 Racial and ethnic change in the American population. NOTE: Whites, blacks and Asians include only single-race non-Hispanics; Asians include Pacific Islanders. Hispanics can be of any race. SOURCE: PRC, 2015. THE DISCRETE CONTEXT OF WORK The macrostructural changes reviewed above have led to changes in the discrete context of work—the social and technical environments in which work is done, which include such aspects of a worker’s immediate work environment as the types of occupations in one’s workplace, financial incentives, the types of tasks performed, and the nature of business interactions. The Increasing Complexity of Work Social scientists have devoted considerable attention to documenting how the jobs and occupations that make up the economy have changed over time, and thus how the level of complexity associated with work has changed. This increased complexity reflects rapid technological advances, the emergence of the knowledge economy, and the expansion of the roles of employees—especially those in professional jobs—to meet competitive demands (Acemoglu and Autor, 2011; Fried et al., 2008; Morgeson and Campion, 2003; Wegman et al., 2018). According to a report of the National Research Council (1999), the cognitive demands associated with modern work, and knowledge-based jobs in particular, are much greater relative to previous decades. In addition, there is evidence that these changes have occurred both across and within occupations. In other words, although part of the observed increase in the complexity of work is associated with the increased proportion of high-skill occupations, evidence also indicates that the tasks of those high-skill jobs are more complex. Such competencies as problem solving and communicating continue to be important in many jobs, and the ability to critically evaluate and transfer knowledge is vital (Lyons et al., 2020). Further, the tasks workers must 2 ‐ 9   

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   perform increasingly emphasize creativity, adaptability, and interpersonal skills over routine information processing and manual tasks (Wegman et al., 2018). At the same time that the demand for high-skill labor has increased, advances in technology, among other macrostructural changes discussed above, have replaced many middle- skill jobs, resulting in an increase in the proportion of low-skill jobs in the economy.5 The growth of the service sector has yielded continued demand for personal service jobs that are often low-paying. For example, there has been a surge in demand for personal care assistants to care for the aging population, which some have labeled “the care economy.” The rising rates of professional and technical employment with parallel falling rates of middle-skill jobs and rising rates of personal services is a phenomenon known as employment polarization. Changes in technology and automation and the decrease in institutional protections for middle-skill jobs have resulted in the polarization of jobs relative to skill requirements, especially in the 1990s. This represents a shift from the more monotonic employment growth of the 1980s, whereby occupational growth was slowest among lower-skill jobs and greater among high-skill jobs (see, e.g., Autor, 2019a, 2019b; Dwyer and Wright, 2019; Howell and Kalleberg, 2019). There is considerable debate among scholars as to when the trend toward employment polarization first began and whether it continues (Mishel, Schmitt, and Shierholz, 2013). Still, regardless of whether these trends are ongoing, the influences of the previous polarization of employment are still being felt by organizations and workers. Rising Income Inequality The macrostructural forces described above—especially greater globalization, rapid technological change, the financialization of the economy, and the decline of unions and institutional labor law and other protections—have led to the highest levels of income inequality seen in the United States since the early 20th century. The United States has seen declining average earnings across all education levels since 2000 even as the incomes of the highest- earning workers have risen markedly (Haskel et al., 2012). This income inequality has been coupled with growth in wealth inequality, including racial gaps (Keister et al., 2015). Residential segregation also has been increasing, and data suggest that the opportunities for Americans to move to higher-income categories have declined over the past several decades (Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, 2011). Projections of future job growth portend ongoing inequality. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7 of the 10 occupations that are expected to add the greatest number of jobs between 2016 and 2026 pay less than the national median annual wage of $51,960.6 In fact, four of these fast-growing occupations—personal care aides, food preparation workers, home health aides, and food servers—have median annual earnings below half of the median for all jobs. Although employment polarization has been blamed for growing income inequality,                                                              Scopelliti (2014) [p. 1.] “characterizes middle-skill jobs as routine jobs that are cognitive or manual in 5 nature and require one to follow precise procedures; examples of middle-skill jobs with declining employment include cashiers and telemarketers (cognitive) and mail carriers and cooks (manual). He characterizes high-skill jobs as nonroutine and cognitive, requiring problem-solving skills—for example, analysts and engineers—and low-skill jobs, such as food service workers, as nonroutine and manual.”  6 See new-job projections at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/most-new-jobs.htm. 2 ‐ 10   

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   Hunt and Nunn (2019) recently demonstrated that employment polarization explains little of the growth in individual wage inequality. Interdependence As a result of the increase in jobs with greater cognitive complexity and the growth of the service sector, work has become increasingly interpersonal and interdependent. Specifically, the flattening of once hierarchical organizational structures and the proliferation of teams seen in recent decades necessitate exerting lateral rather than downward influence to respond to volatile environmental demands more readily and achieve organizational objectives (Salas, Stagl, and Burke, 2004). Demand for interpersonal skills is evident not only in more complex jobs but also in low-skill jobs. Specifically, the growth of the care and service economies is associated with an increase in interpersonal interactions with customers and colleagues. Together, these trends point to the growing importance of interpersonal skills in the modern work world. In one of the few studies to examine this issue, Wegman and colleagues (2018) found that modern jobs require cooperation to a greater extent relative to jobs in the past. Organizational Structure and Autonomy The 1980s was an era of downsizing in which, when faced with increasing economic pressure from global competition and a shift to shareholder-focused business, organizations eliminated layers of midlevel management. To compete in the global marketplace, organizations also have restructured to decentralize decision making, thereby facilitating more agile responses to a turbulent business environment. Autonomy refers to “the degree to which the job provides substantial freedom, independence, and discretion to the employee in scheduling the work and determining the procedures to be used in carrying it out” (Hackman and Oldham, 1975, p. 162). Global competition and the resulting flattening of organizational hierarchies have led to more diffuse decision-making authority, with lower-level employees being granted a greater span of control and more responsibility than in previous decades (Cappelli, 1999). This increased autonomy in decision making has resulted in demand for employees who can work independently and without supervision. Finally, although the working hours of the average employee have been relatively constant since the 1970s, a greater proportion of the adult population is working (Rones, Ig, and Gardner, 1997), in part because of the increase in dual-earner families (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). At the same time, aided by advances in information technology, there often is less need for workers to be in a central office location (Tam, Korczynski, and Frenkel, 2002). Autonomy in the form of flexible work schedules is meeting a need of employees trying to manage work and family roles and has become a more prevalent feature of the modern work environment (Wegman et al., 2018). Organizational Fissuring Organizations have increasingly been turning to contracting and subcontracting, resulting in complex relationships between workers and their employers and contracting organizations. For example, many workers are employed not by the organization at which they work but by 2 ‐ 11   

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   other, contract organizations, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “fissuring” (see Weil, 2014). As a result of fissuring, large corporations in particular have shed their traditional role as direct employers of the workers who produce their products and services, instead outsourcing these activities to smaller, contract companies. An important consequence is that contract company employees often receive less support and fewer benefits relative to workers in comparable jobs that are not outsourced because contract companies, in general, have fewer resources than larger companies. Further, contract companies often release larger companies from having to follow internal pay equity norms7 (Howell and Kalleberg, 2019). As Appelbaum and Batt (2017, p. 77) summarize the literature on the topic: “Most empirical research in both the USA and Europe suggests that the rise of the networked firm and outsourcing of production has led to a deterioration in the jobs and pay of workers and to a growth in wage inequality.” Nonstandard Work The “standard” employment relationship that was normative during most of the post– World War II period—in which employees worked for employers on a full-time, “permanent” basis at the employer’s place of business and received regular pay and benefits—has been replaced as the employment norm in many cases by “nonstandard” work arrangements, such as temporary work, contract work, and independent contracting. Nonstandard work arrangements tend to be relatively uncertain and insecure and to lack many statutory and social worker protections (see Cappelli, 1999; Cappelli and Keller, 2013a; 2013b; Kalleberg, 2000). In such countries as the United States, many benefits, such as health insurance, are delivered via employers, and are often unavailable for nonstandard work arrangements. While the evidence suggests that the percentage of workers in nonstandard work arrangements has increased only slightly since 1995 and still constitutes a minority of the labor force (see Howell and Kalleberg, 2019), the available information on nonstandard work is inadequate and likely underestimates this phenomenon, especially for workers who work as independent contractors to supplement their main jobs. Nonetheless, the qualities of nonstandard jobs are generally judged to be inferior to those of standard jobs, and evidence indicates that employment insecurity, low wages, and the shifting of risks from employers to workers increasingly characterize even standard employment (see Howell and Kalleberg, 2019). Increasing Uncertainty Because of the economic, political, and social changes discussed above, the world of work that was once more predictable and stable is now volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, or VUCA. The concept of VUCA was introduced by the U.S. Army War College in 1987 to describe dynamic threat environments, complete knowledge of which cannot be attained in the limited timeframe for decision making (Jacobs, 2002; Gerras, 2010). The VUCA concept has been adopted for business leadership (e.g., Bennett and Lemoine, 2014) and other purposes (e.g., sports management [Hogan, Santomier, and Myers, 2016]) as a way to frame the dispositions and skills required in a complex world.                                                               When a client company (the “larger company”) hires a contract company, agreements often allow that the 7 client does not have to pay the contract company workers the same as it pays its regular workers for similar types of work.  2 ‐ 12   

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   Volatility is the rapid rate of change of the environment. Volatility in the Information Age means that even the most current data may not provide an adequate context for decision making. Uncertainty denotes the inability to know everything about a situation and the difficulty of predicting the nature and effect of change (the nexus of uncertainty and volatility). Complexity refers to the difficulty of understanding the interactions of multiple parts or factors and of predicting the primary and subsequent effects of changing one or more factors in a highly interdependent system or even system of systems. Ambiguity refers to the difficulty of interpreting meaning when context is blurred by such factors as cultural blindness, cognitive bias, or limited perspective. DISCUSSION This chapter has summarized some of the influential trends that have occurred in the United States in the broad and discrete contexts of work. Transformation in the broad or macrostructural context includes changes in the economy (e.g., shifts in the global economy, technological advances, and the dominance of service industries), changes in employer– employee relationships (e.g., declines in unions), and changes in the labor force (e.g., increased demographic diversity of employees with regard to gender, age, race/ethnicity, and education). These macrostructural changes have been accompanied by changes in the discrete contexts of organizations and occupations. As a whole and over time, occupations have become more polarized, with a rise in high- and low-skill jobs and a decline in middle-skill jobs. As a result, there is demand for both highly skilled workers with advanced problem-solving skills and workers willing to take low-skill jobs. Further, for many occupations, critical job tasks have changed with the incorporation of technologies and the rise of nonstandard work, necessitating a review of the knowledge, skills, attributes, and other characteristics required of employees. Taken together, the broad and discrete changes discussed in this chapter have led to greater uncertainty for both organizations and workers and greater insecurity for workers. Especially vulnerable are those workers who lack the human and social capital resources to achieve success in the labor market. Many of the changes documented in this chapter have likely created new views of work, particularly for those just entering the workforce. These perceived differences between new hires and tenured workers may represent general adaptations to the changes in the broad and discrete contexts of work outlined in this chapter. As noted at the start, it is important to consider context when investigating differences among workers. The characteristics associated with a particular age group or generation of workers may reflect broad changes over time (i.e., period effects) in the nature of work rather than generational differences. The evolution and use of generational theories are discussed in the next chapter, followed by a review in Chapter 4 of the state of the research that has sought to identify generational differences among workers. This review considers whether this research has sufficiently separated generation effects from period or age effects. Later in the report, Chapter 6 revisits the implications for workforce management of some of the trends discussed here. Conclusion 2-1: Understanding potential and meaningful differences among workers requires consideration of the broader context of work. Research across disciplines has identified shifting economic, military, political, and societal trends that have led to workplace and workforce changes. For example, technological advances, globalization, 2 ‐ 13   

Prepublication copy, uncorrected proofs   and other factors are altering the nature of work. In addition, the diversity of the labor force has increased in terms of age, gender, race, and ethnicity. To remain competitive, organizations are facing the need to align their workforce management policies and practices with the changing world of work. 2 ‐ 14   

Next: 3 Origin and Use of Generational Theories »
Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management? Get This Book
×
Buy Prepub | $64.00 Buy Paperback | $55.00
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

Headlines frequently appear that purport to highlight the differences among workers of different generations and explain how employers can manage the wants and needs of each generation. But is each new generation really that different from previous ones? Are there fundamental differences among generations that impact how they act and interact in the workplace? Or are the perceived differences among generations simply an indicator of age-related differences between older and younger workers or a reflection of all people adapting to a changing workplace?

Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management? reviews the state and rigor of the empirical work related to generations and assesses whether generational categories are meaningful in tackling workforce management problems. This report makes recommendations for directions for future research and improvements to employment practices.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook, NAP.edu's online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!