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James P. Cramer, Hon AIA, Hon IIDA
Chairman & CEO
The Greenway Group
Norcross, GA

Understanding Emerging Workforce Trends

July 15, 2000
by Kerry Harding

There is a new worker emerging in America today—one who has redefined traditional concepts of loyalty, job satisfaction and career advancement. In many ways the result of downsizing and an upsurge of outsourcing, this “Emerging” worker spans across all age groups, industries, and regions and is expected to represent the majority of the American workforce in the near future.

Driven by a unique set of values, the Emerging workforce is creating new career opportunities for itself and presenting traditional companies with significant human resources challenges. These are the major implications of a comprehensive new research initiative on the American workforce. Conducted by Louis Harris & Associates, the Spherion study of the emerging workforce is based on a nationally representative sample of full-time adult employees.

It is the second annual study by Spherion that examines the current values, expectations and experiences of American workers in light of social and economic changes. The Study examines the current values, expectations and experiences of American workers in light of recent trends—downsizing and the absence of lifetime employment.

In 1998 Spherion benchmarked an emerging workforce dynamic—the existence of a new breed of employee whose workplace values and expectations are very different from what we’ve traditionally known. This new breed—the Emergent Workforce—crosses all age groups, gender and geography and, according to Spherion, one of the world’s largest employers, is a revolutionary trend that is quickly changing the way companies attract, retain and motivate talent. As American companies continue to face the most challenging recruitment environment of the decade, the 1999 Emerging Workforce Study peers deeper into those workplace characteristics that attract top talent and motivate high performance amidst a changing workforce.

Where would you like to recruit your talent from? 29 million American workers or 100 million* American workers? It’s no secret that the larger the recruitment source you have to choose from, the higher the probability that you will find talented employees that fit your needs. So if the latter sounds like the place you want to be, you must become a preferred employer. And that means something different today than it did in the past. A significant number of employees today are embracing an Emergent attitude and looking for an employer who does the same. As a result, 100% of the American workforce is either equally satisfied or more satisfied working in an “Emergent company.” Conversely, the company that displays Traditional attitudes risks alienating a majority of the American workforce, remaining an equally attractive employer to only 29% of the workforce.

**According to US Census Bureau, there are 102,605,000 Americans employed 30 hours a week or more.*

Times are Changing: New views on Loyalty, Career Path, Career Security… The Emergent workforce’s values differ sharply from what most managers may have been accustomed to in the past.

Emergent workers, overall, are more concerned with gaining new experiences and having opportunities for mentoring and growth. They feel more in control of their careers and want an employer that rewards them based on performance.

Traditional workers, in general, are more concerned with job security, stability and clear direction. They feel that an employer is responsible for providing a clear career path and in return, deserves an employee’s long-term commitment. ## Crossing Generations Emergent views are not limited to Generation X, as some might expect. Just the opposite—the Emergent mindset has seeped into every generation, gender and geography, and is therefore expected to become the view of the majority, according to Spherion.

So what’s gotten into everyone? The sobering realities of life after downsizing. Spherion believes that whether people personally lost a job or not, the downsizing of the ‘80s and ‘90s created a paradigm shift in the way people view their work life and manage their careers. Most aren’t looking for 30 years of job security with a paternalistic organization. They are instead taking their careers into their own hands and focusing on opportunities for growth and development to ensure their own career security.

This is fortunate for all of the lean, competitive companies that need skilled people. But it is also positive for a more liberated workforce that has created a host of new opportunities for itself. These include flex-time, contract and consulting job alternatives and even the existence of a “virtual office.”

Fact: Emergent employees view job change as more positive and are more confident of their marketability.

Fiction: Emergent employees are less loyal and are job hoppers. Wearing responsibility for their careers on their sleeves, Emergent workers are very conscious of making sure that their careers continue to progress. They also have more positive views about job change and are more confident about their marketability. But don’t confuse these values with a lack of loyalty. According to the study, Emergent workers are just as loyal and have changed employers no more frequently than Traditional workers have. However, they define loyalty quite differently than Traditional employees do. Emergent employees equate loyalty with high performance—the level of contribution an employee makes to an organization—not tenure.

Bottom Line: Provide a fulfilling work environment for Emergent workers and a company will have highly creative, rapidly growing employees with no greater risk of turnover.

“Job Hopping” at a Glance: Emergent employees historically have changed employers no more frequently than Traditional employees have—on average, both have worked for four different employers and have been in the workforce approximately the same length of time.

Loyalty at a Glance: 88% of Emergent employees believe that loyalty is not related to the length of employment but rather to the level of contribution an employee makes to an organization. 94% of Traditional workers believe that loyalty is about the willingness to stay with an employer for the long haul.

Emergent environment key to recruitment, retention, satisfaction: An Emergent company is more likely to:
View loyalty as contribution rather than tenure
Have low tolerance for low performers
Reward based on the level of performance rather than length of employment
Expect employees to independently pursue career development

Can’t please all the people all the time? When it comes to the best environment for recruiting and maintaining today’s talent, an Emergent culture is a sure win.

With the original 1998 Emerging Workforce Study that benchmarked distinct sets of employee values, Spherion theorized that Emergent employees would be happiest in Emergent environments and that the same would hold true for Traditional employees and Traditional environments. This year, the Study analyzed the issue of cultural fit and what it found was that when it comes to the best environment for recruiting and maintaining today’s talent, an Emergent culture is an all-around win. As you might imagine, Emergent employees working in Emergent environments report the highest levels of satisfaction with their work life and are unlikely to remain with a Traditional company. Migrating employees display similar tendencies, also preferring Emergent companies to Traditional ones. Somewhat less predictable, however, is the fact that Traditional employees are just as satisfied in Emergent environments as they are in Traditional environments. ## Traditional employees in an Emergent workplace Traditional employees appear to take “the middle of the road” when it comes to workplace expectations. In contrast, Emergent employees have a more definitive set of views on the workplace. Emergent employees require an Emergent workplace and have low tolerance for a Traditional workplace.

Work Environment While Traditional employees prefer a predictable job (56%), they also want opportunities for growth, even if stressful (66%). Emergent employees clearly favor high growth (89%), over predictability (27%).

Creativity While Traditional employees want day-to-day direction (93%), they also want to think creatively (96%). Emergent employees on the other hand, distinctly prefer creativity (98%) over daily direction (58%).

Job Security While Traditional employees believe companies are obligated to keep employees that “meet requirements” (38%), they also believe employees must grow and improve in order to keep their jobs (32%). Emergent employees clearly tend to believe job security is an employee’s responsibility to earn (42%), rather than a company’s obligation to provide (15%). Emergent employees + Emergent companies = highest satisfaction ## What Are Employees Saying?

Job change Emergent employees are less likely than their traditional colleagues to feel that changing jobs is damaging to their
long-term career advancement (E-26% vs. T-86%) or that their advancement is dependent on staying with one employer for a long time. (E-16% vs. T-85%)

Emergent Employees view job change as positive for their careers. “You’ve got to keep growing and developing if you’re going to get ahead—take on new assignments, additional responsibilities, acquire new skills. If my company is not willing to give me that room to grow, I’ll find it somewhere else.”

Traditional Employees view job change as potentially damaging to their careers. “I know everything there is to know about my job. That’s a good feeling and there’s no reason for me to start over again somewhere else. Besides, companies don’t like it when you’ve moved around too much.”

Innovation Emergent employees are more likely than traditional employees to strongly agree that they would prefer a job that allows them to think creatively. (E-70% vs. T-50%)

Emergent Employees like a job that allows them to be creative and think of better ways of doing things. “There would be no point in going to a job everyday where I’m told what to do and how to do it. Having the freedom to think of solutions and ideas on my own is what makes my job interesting and where I’m able to make a difference.”

Traditional Employees like a job that provides clear day-to-day direction. “It’s nice to have a job that gives you some freedom, but I like to be sure that I’m doing things the right way—you know, the company way.”


While 85% of Traditional workers believe that career advancement should be based on staying with an employer for a long time, only 16% of Emergent employees hold this view.

Emergent Employees believe advancement should be based on merit. “If I can learn my job faster than most and get up to the same or greater level of production as my senior managers, then I deserve to be promoted. It’s that simple.”

Traditional Employees believe advancement should be based on tenure. “It took me five years, working as an Assistant Coordinator, for a Coordinator’s position to open up. I waited my turn and others should, too.”

Job Security

Emergent employees are less likely than traditional employees to feel an employer has a moral obligation to keep long-term employees as long as they meet the requirements in the job description. (E-57% vs. T-95%)

Emergent Employees believe employees must do more than “meet the requirements” to maintain job security. “I think everyone today knows that you need to do whatever it takes to keep up with the changing pace of your work environment. No company is going to expect you to just do the same thing for years on end.”

Traditional Employees believe companies have a moral obligation to keep long-term employees. “When people devote years to a company, the least they deserve is to know that there will always be a place for them there.”