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Attitude Adjustment

A massive new study of the U.S. workforce has some sobering news for corporate America: many of today’s young workers are massively disaffected with their jobs and often constitute a negative influence on the whole workplace.

A massive new study of the U.S. workforce has some sobering news for corporate America: many of today’s young workers are massively disaffected with their jobs and often constitute a negative influence on the whole workplace.

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The survey, of 7,718 workers in every industry, by researchers from Ken Dychtwald’s Age Wave group, the consulting firm The Concours Group, and Harris Interactive, found that today’s workforce can be segmented into six distinct categories whose differences revolve more around attitudes toward work and life than age, gender, race or ethnicity. Among these groups are “Self-Empowered Innovators”, a segment that’s hardworking and entrepreneurial; “Maverick Morphers,” a group that’s distinguished by its penchant for innovation; and “Fair and Square Traditionalists,” the 20% of the force that clocks in, works hard, and doesn’t make waves.

But another 20% of the workforce falls into the group, “Stalled Survivors,” largely young people who look to work as a source of livelihood — but not a satisfying part of life. “Today’s workforce already experiences alarmingly low levels of engagment in work. Finding ways to encourage individuals to invest more psychic energy in work is the single most powerful lever that most corporations have to improve productivity,” says Tamara Erickson of The Concours Group.

Energizing that cohort will be a major task for corporations, especially as the boomer population begins exiting the workplace in droves. One solution, says Dychtwald, whose company advocates for older workers, is too keep mature employees in the workforce longer. It’s an idea that’s become very popular in Japan, according to a recent story in the Wall St. Journal, and may soon gain credence in places like Italy with similarly low fertility rates.

But in many ways corporations have only themselves to blame for their (upcoming) troubles. No wonder younger workers are already cynical about the workplace. Many have watched as corporations callously riffed their parents, stiffed them on their pensions, and moved their jobs off shore. And that’s when a bunch of felons in the corner offices weren’t busy looting their retirement funds. It’s hard to muster enthusiasm for a workplace that treats its “most valuable assets” like outmoded computers — suitable for the scrap heap, and only recyclable under duress. As the lyrics promise, “You gonna reap-a, whatta you sow.” And, if this study holds up, it won’t be pretty.

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About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.

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