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Imagine

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

By Anna Marie Schuh
May 27, 2022

Two hundred years ago, the American industrial revolution began. By 1920, the majority of workers had moved from farms to factories with the result being a much more urbanized society. In 1980, Alvin Toffler predicted that the home would become the center of both work and society as a result of the information revolution. In 2020, in the context of the pandemic, many of Toffler’s predictions came true. Given the fact that pandemics are temporary by nature and potential workplace changes were intensified by the extensive use of technological advances during the pandemic, managers need to reimagine the post-pandemic workplace environment as employers reimagined the workplace during the industrial revolution.

It is not possible to go back to the pre-pandemic workplace because the pandemic has changed employee expectations and understanding of where services are provided and where work is completed. For example, during the pandemic, more than a third of households had someone working from home. Households with higher income and those that included individuals with bachelor’s degrees were more likely to have someone working from home. Remote services also increased dramatically, offering providers of these services more opportunities to work at home. For example, Medicare recipients increased their use of telehealth by 63-fold. While the full impact of the pandemic on higher education is not yet clear, in a recent survey, 59 percent of institutions indicated that they would continue distance learning.

In addition to changes in where work is done and how service is provided, today’s workforce is changing. The current workforce is composed of 2 percent of the Silent Generation, 25 percent of the Baby Boom generation, 33 percent of Generation X, 35 percent of Millennials and 5 percent of Generation Z. By 2030, Millennials, who were born between 1981 and 1996, will make up 75 percent of the workforce. So, managers also need to understand Millennials in making post-pandemic workplace changes.

To understand any generation, it is important to be mindful of what they have experienced and how those experiences differ from other generations. By the time the youngest of the Millennials was 31 years old, three catastrophic events in three different areas of their lives had occurred, i.e., 9/11 which affected their safety perceptions, the Great Recession which affected their employment and financial affairs and the COVID pandemic which affected their health and social concerns. Unlike catastrophic events in previous times, these events influenced Millennial lives in vivid ways. Watching air planes crash into skyscrapers, being unable to get a job after four years of college and experiencing extreme social distancing have molded their world views. In turn, their world views have affected their expectations about their employment situation.

Jennifer Deal and Alec Levenson base their book, What Millennials Want From Work: How To Maximize Engagement In Today’s Workforce, on survey data from 25,000 Millennials in 22 countries. The survey found that Millennials do not separate life and work, a perspective enhanced by the pandemic’s extreme social distancing. Millennials want to learn and grow and at the same time they value their autonomy. Millennials want to do good.

These life perspectives manifest in specific work place behaviors and expectations. Millennials want to be able to contribute and have a say in their organizations. They want to improve work processes to minimize repetitive work. They are willing to work long hours; however, they do not want their employers to take advantage of them. They want mentors, frequent feedback and support in tough situations. However, they do not want supervisors who micromanage, again something heightened by working at home during the pandemic.

These workforce perspectives are apparent when Millennials are surveyed regarding workplace expectations. They want workplaces that provide them opportunities to serve both the mission of the organization and organization sponsored volunteer opportunities. They want organizations to provide a range of benefits (e.g., health care, retirement funds, vacation policies and flexible work arrangements) so they can balance life and work. They want workplaces that encourage them to speak up and to grow. They want their ideas considered and they want their development nurtured.

The pandemic has only enhanced Millennial perspectives about work. An August 2021 survey noted that flexible work arrangements that provide work-life balance were the top priority for Millennials. Millennials continue to want respect, mentorship and growth potential and they want fair pay and job security. As government managers build their post-pandemic workplaces, they must respond to Millennial expectations if managers want to compete successfully for the best employees.

In 1980, Alvin Toffler imagined the world of work in the future. We are now in Toffler’s future. In 1971, John Lennon sang: “Imagine all the people, livin’ for today.” Today’s workforce has very different experiences and expectations from previous workforces. Today’s workplace needs to change to accommodate those experiences and expectations. To be successful, managers need to “imagine all the people, workin’ in today” and then create that workplace.


Author: Anna Marie Schuh is currently an Associate Professor and the MPA Program Director at Roosevelt University in Chicago where she teaches political science and public administration. She retired from the federal government after 36 years. Her last federal assignment involved management of the Office of Personnel Management national oversight program. Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @profschuh.

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