In braver, new workplace ahead looms the 24/7 employee

Published Aug. 29, 2014

Today's hand-wringing over greater wage inequality raises tough questions about the prospects for our economy. Is the once-enduring belief in the American Dream fading fast?

What better time but on a Labor Day weekend to realize the changes increasingly faced in the workplace — from the blurring of work and personal time to the shrinkage of benefits — are just a warmup act. Business experts say the pace of transformation at work will only accelerate ahead, whether we like it or not.

Think Big Brother meets Brave New World meets Global Competition meets Technology Rules.

Here's the key takeaway: Things are only going to get more competitive. Improve your education, then do it some more. Stay competent, at the least, in using technology no matter what kind of work you pursue. Be collaborative as more work gets accomplished in groups. Learn to communicate well. Be flexible.

Here's why.

Forecasts about the future workplace try to be accurate but are informed speculation at best. Those of us old enough may recall all those fancy reports that promised we'd work a lot less in the 21st century and enjoy more leisure time while being served drinks by friendly robots.

Instead, most Florida households remain bruised by the recession and flat wages. They scramble to pay basic bills and save modestly, if at all, for retirement while working multiple jobs. Many parents are leaving their children strapped with hefty student loans — if indeed the kids are even motivated enough to still be pursuing expensive higher education.

Still, some major consulting firms like pwc (as PricewatehouseCoopers now calls itself) that watch trends and talk to global business thinkers are constantly looking ahead at the workplace. They recently offered up some surprising and perhaps disturbing predictions of how workplaces may change. Better buckle up.

Here are some highlights from pwc — based on feedback from 10,000 people surveyed in the United States, China, India, Germany and Britain — that looks out at 2022, just eight years ahead.

• Technology breakthroughs will transform how people work more than any other force.

• Right behind tech change, resource scarcity — think energy, think water, think skilled people — will most influence the workplace.

• Global economic shifts of power and demographics — think slower growth by the United States, Japan and Europe, faster growth by China, India, Brazil, Russia and other countries — will redirect big companies to invest heavily elsewhere as they pursue the world's rising middle classes.

• Worker performance increasingly will be monitored 24/7 by employers. "Sensors check their location, performance and health. The monitoring may even stretch into their private lives in an extension of today's drug tests," predicts pwc, which finds younger generations more open to sharing such personal information. "Periodic health screening gives way to real-time monitoring of health, with proactive health guidance and treatment to enable staff to perform more efficiently, reduce sick leave and work for more years before needing to retire."

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The pwc report —"The Future of Work" — sees three kinds of competing, intertwined workplace worlds ahead.

First up are mega-corporations that will act more like "mini-states" to compete globally for the best talent with cutthroat efficiency. They will make big demands on the talent they hire in exchange for better pay, benefits and relative job security.

"The attractions include high rewards for high-fliers," says pwc. "This is a chance to be one of the 'haves' in a world where stable employment is less and less the norm." It's also a world in which social responsibility is minimized.

A second kind of workplace is less competitive but more collaborative. More socially and environmentally responsible businesses will meet the demand of workers who seek more family-friendly values in exchange for less pay. These businesses may gain more prominence if the notion of "sustainable" work habits and lifestyles gain ground in society.

Finally, there is the "small is beautiful" movement that will be based on the rise of a more fragmented and entrepreneurial workplace. This trend is bolstered by the rise of what pwc calls "the portfolio career" in which many people have come to realize they "could enjoy more flexibility and varied challenges by working freelance or as a contractor for a number of organizations."

So where does this potential glimpse of 2022 and beyond leave us today? Struggling to figure out where we stand.

Some polls suggest U.S. workers feel more positive about their work and more job-secure than they did only a few years ago when the recession forced massive job cuts across the country.

At the same time, a Rutgers University workplace survey out in the past week found 71 percent of Americans think the recession exerted a permanent drag on the economy. And a Sentier Research survey says wages today continue to lag behind what people were paid seven years ago.

Now toss in the morphing workplace looming ahead. Small wonder Labor Day weekends may feel so unsettling for years to come.

Contact Robert Trigaux at or (727) 893-8405. Follow @venturetampabay.