Tuesday, September 30

Of work place trends and work place readiness

http://www.act.org/wwm/student.html
In 2011, US News & World Report published an article titled 6 Ways the World of Work is Changing: flexibility, entrepreneurship, job-hopping, work-life balance as a priority, personal branding, and long-term employment.

Many of the changes were driven by the employed. We can blame or celebrate the Millennials, though they weren't the first to start some of these trends. But it's not really the trends themselves that interest me. It's how we respond to them. I've been thinking a lot about the world of work--what we really mean by "career readiness," how the work place has been influenced by Google and the open space proponents, how the global economy impacts how we think about doing business and being in business, and even how dress codes have changed and continue to change.

I read an article this morning about how social media is transforming how we work and not just because of the way social media is influencing how we think and behave. So that prompted me to do a bit more reflecting because I'm old enough to remember the world before smartphones. Heck, I'm old enough to remember the work place before personal computers and business casual.

My generation was deeply influenced by the 70s and those "long-haired hippie freaks." And as my compeers grew older and became a part of the work force, they conceded that resistance was futile and adapted to the expectations of the Establishment. Mostly. Sort of. Somewhat. After all, many of the changes we see in the work place, such as business casual, are because of my generation. And I suppose if I were to do a longitudinal study of shifts in work place habits and behaviors, I would discover that work place behaviors and dress have shifted because of the incoming generation as well as changes in technology.

It's not just millennials who are addicted to their smartphones. The inability to look away from the digital device and the fear of being disconnected quite possibly started with our fascination with the pager, early phones, and the BlackBerry. Mid-90s. (The first iPhone wasn't introduced until 2007).

I watch kids in high school now and the way they get to learn, and some of them get to learn using a cool array of resources, many of which are digital. And then I think about kids entering college and wonder if they'll still get to learn that way or if attending college will feel like a step backwards. And then I think about the expectations organizations will have of them: that they will have excellent if not outstanding spoken and written communication skills, that they will be able to work well with others, that they will be self-directed and able to demonstrate appropriate initiative, that they will know how to dress and behave appropriately on business phone calls and meetings and with customers, that they will have the technical skills to develop and succeed. And I wonder how much all of that will have changed by the time they graduate from college, and I wonder how we will know what has changed and what is changing.

I think of a friend's son who is talented at what he does and could probably go into management if he wanted to, and I wonder if his hair, beard, and style of dress might hold him back and how much he might be willing to compromise and change if it meant he might move up. On the other hand, I'm not sure he's that ambitious in that I think he might be looking for more responsibility but he doesn't crave the corner office some day. Even so, if he wants to move up a level, how much are others who evaluate influenced by his hair, his beard, and his style of dress? And who will tell him he has a shot of something more if only. . . he trimmed his hair and his beard, and if he dressed a little differently. And at what point, in any office situation, does it matter about dress and personal style if an individual is competent and capable and never sees a customer, or is capable of dressing "appropriately" if the need to see and meet with a customer arises?

On the other hand, because of Skype and Google Hangout as well as a host of other online conferencing tools, we can have meetings with customers at any time and from any place. If I'm having the conversation from my kitchen or home office, how much do I really have to dress up for a customer conference? Or do we instinctively understand that dressing in a particular way and representing in a certain way is a sign of respect for the other? And will even that change over time as the Millennials come further into their and perhaps redefine what it means to demonstrate respect?

There was a time when tattoos and piercings were verboten in the work place. In some places that's still true and it others not so much. I think, though, that the criteria on which we begin to build trust and we use for those impressions is somehow deeply embedded in our thinking.

The interview or initial meeting rituals seem to have a different set of expectations and rules which can be relaxed once an individual is trusted or on-board, part of the organizational culture. Then some of the rigidity of what is "appropriate" might be relaxed and individuals might be more able to show their true colors.

I muddle all of this as I continue to think about the future of work and what that means--the ways we work and if those ways differ depending on the industry in which we work and those with whom we work. I contemplate all of this as I continue to think about how we prepare anyone for the work place--students graduating from college or adults who are entering or re-entering the work place.

It's clear that much of what was true even five years ago is no longer true today even as some work place expectations are considerably more rooted.

So every time we talk with some sort of breathlessness about the current shiny thing that will change the way we work and how we behave at work, I think it's reasonable to acknowledge it may have some relatively immediate impact, but that real change in work place behaviors and mores will take much longer.

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