The undeniable power of the emerging workforce

From the pages of In Business magazine.

In San Francisco, employers with 20 or more workers are now required to state why they deny employee requests to work different hours, to telecommute, or even to share job duties. You heard that right — such work-life balance considerations are becoming a legally protected right, at least on the West Coast. But even if Madison employers never have to provide the government with such a note, they might want to make note of Spherion’s latest Emerging Workforce Study.

Actually, “evolving workforce” might be the better term. It comes as no particular shock to employers that we’ve been transitioning away from traditional workers, who are more resistant to career change, to “emergent” workers, who view frequent job-hopping as an opportunity for growth. This trend is only intensifying, and given the gap between available jobs and the ability to fill them, it will force employers to adopt more creative approaches to meeting workforce needs.

Another reason creativity will be essential is the increasing number of knowledge jobs, which are growing faster than transactional jobs and will require a rather complex skill set of problem-solving, data analysis, relationship-building, and collaboration. Margaret Leitinger, a vice president for Spherion, notes that knowledge jobs will be filled by younger workers who will replace retiring baby boomers and have tremendous bargaining power. So whatever retention strategy you adopt, it must be based on these realities:

  • Technology such as supercomputers on mobile devices, increased accessibility, and real-time sharing will require workers to be more productive and collaborative.
  • As the war for millennial talent increases, and as medical advances make it possible for some mature workers to remain in the workforce, employers must recruit and develop workers from both ends of the age spectrum. Leitinger notes that great companies will have all five generations working side by side, and a customary practice will be for organizations to tap into the youthful energy of “star” high school and college students.



The most effective incentive will be flexibility, not money. Only one in six employers offers telecommuting and flextime, but they are the most desired work-life balance options.

In addition to these emerging workforce characteristics, Spherion predicts a widening talent gap as more than 14 million new nonfarm jobs are created by 2018 but only 9 million new workers are available to fill them. Clearly, it’s either time for employers to adjust to the changing worker pool or be left behind.

Employers will need to have the technological capability to accommodate workers of all ages and meet the various engagement and recruiting needs of each generation, especially millennials (those born in the 1980s and ’90s).

“With millennials being the most likely of all generations to look for a new job in the next 12 months, employers looking to engage and retain them should consider creating more opportunities for them to contribute in the workplace, as 29% report increased engagement in those situations,” Leitinger explained. “They also heavily value flexibility, with one in five (21%) rating the ability to work from home full or part time as having the greatest impact on their decision to work for an organization.”

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