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The 21st Century Worker

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Jeffrey Zimmerman
June 2, 2015

The employment paradigm has significantly evolved over the past few decades. The constant improvements in technology have provided employers and employees with a variety of ways to work in the 21st century.

Mark L. Savickas argues in a 2012 Journal of Counseling & Development article titled “Life Design: A Paradigm for Career Intervention in the 21st Century,” that the digital revolution has brought a new social arrangement of work in which temporary assignments and time-limited projects replace permanent jobs.” A digital revolution can be beneficial to both the organization and the employee provided both entities indulge in it.

It would appear that the generation of employees coming out of colleges and graduate schools are taking part in the digital revolution as they are more likely to have been exposed to new technology at a younger age. Their comfort with technology gives them an edge as a 21st century worker where technology plays a substantial role in organizations. I should also point out that there are many workers who are not right out of college who are very in tune with technology.

As a result of the digital revolution, organizations expect employees to be more involved after work hours. After all, employees can access email and network servers from home and via portable devices. Is this a fair expectation of employees?

This is a good question and could be answered two ways. From the public sector side, governments do not operate on revenues or profits and theoretically work can wait until the next working day. In the private sector, sales, profits and revenues drive work. As a result, inquiries must receive an immediate response so that the customer don’t go to the competition. One advantage of a technologically savvy 21st century worker is that they can address these inquiries or concerns (most of the time) from a smartphone or tablet and not have to leave their home (this can be said for both the private and public sector).

How should a worker entering the workforce approach the paradigm shift from permanent positions to temporary or time limited positions?  The worker has to address many concerns such as benefits, career growth, personal growth and many other considerations. Will the organizations that employ time limited and temporary positions have to give more in terms of salary or benefits to recruit highly qualified employees? These are factors that organizations in both the private and public sector have to consider.

Workers in the 21st century do enjoy many benefits. Working from home is now an option with many companies and government entities. Use of smartphones and tablets provide many benefits to both the organizations and the employees. Portable devices allow employees to attend meetings, respond to emails, etc. Continued improvements in technology will give employees the flexibility to work from virtually anywhere in the world.

It can be argued that employees lose out on the personal interaction like hand-shakes. Does this or can this hurt the organizations? Will the majority of work and interactions be conducted from remote locations, such as employees’ homes? Are we as a society moving away from personal conduct and interactions? These are just a few important questions that must be researched further.


Author: Jeffrey R Zimmerman Ph.D (ABD) in Public Policy and Administration from Walden University completed his dissertation titled, “The Impact of Supervisor-Subordinate Exchange on State Government Employees.” Zimmerman serves as the director of processing services within the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles. Email: zimmerman327@gmail.com or jeffrey.zimmerman@waldenu.edu.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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