The New Year is a traditional time for predictions. So here are mine, for the workplace. I predict an end of work as we know it, of course. But don’t get jumpy – it’s not going to be here in 2008. It’s going to come sooner than later, as the next generation infiltrates the ranks of workers. The best way to be ready is to start adapting your thinking today, because the way we think about work now is going to become obsolete.

The end of gender disparity
Pay is equal for men and women until there are kids. This inequality will change when Generation Y starts having kids because the men are committed to being equal partners in child rearing. We see already that among Generation X men and women are willing to give up pay and prestige in order to get time with their families. Generation Y’s demographic power will provide critical mass for big change.

The end of the stay-at-home parent
Women have already widely rejected the idea of sacrificing their time with children to a relentless, high-powered, long-houred job, and men are following suit. Women have also found that staying at home with kids all day is boring. Institutions are responding — finally — to these trends. Parents will choose some form of shared care. Each parent will work part-time and take care of kids part time.

The end of the grind
People will choose to work as a way to keep the job of raising children from being dull and alienating. The Washington Post reported that given the choice, most women with kids would rather work part-time than either be with kids full-time or work in an office full-time. People will choose to work because they love what they do. Generation Y is more community oriented and team oriented than any preceding generation. These people will want to work to be part of something larger than themselves. Also, this generation sees work as a path to personal growth – something to look forward to.

The end of “work friends”
Peoples’ networks will be filled with close friends who do not distinguish between work/family/play. As people create more integrated lives, their friendships will also be more integrated. Peoples’ work habits and work connections will make daily life look more like a salon than an office.

The end of office life
People will work from home, from their friends’ homes, from the beach, all the time. The need to have a home office will decrease because Generation Y will never really learn how to work 9 to 5 in an office anyway. They grew up blending homework and friends while they multi-tasked in their bedroom, and once they enter the workforce, they extend this behavior to everywhere — work life and home life will be blended in a way that makes each more rewarding.

The end of consulting
Everyone will be a consultant so the term will be useless. Employers will decrease costs by making almost everyone a consultant. Employees will push for this to get more flexible hours. People already feel no long-term loyalty, and people are already project-focused instead of job-focused. On top of that, everyone wants to be a consultant “if they could just build up a clientele.” One of the best harbingers of this trend is Web Worker Daily – a blog aimed ostensibly at people who do not have cubicle jobs, but appears to apply to every worker in some way or another.

The end of hierarchy
Pecking order really only matters if you are hanging out at the office all day, reinforcing ranks. So the less time people spend at their desk, the less they will care about rank. And the more people are on their own, the more they will focus on their own skill set. There is little point in climbing ladders when you know they won’t be around at one place long enough to hit every rung. The question people will ask managers is not, “When can I get a promotion?” but rather, “What can you do to help me expand my skills set?”

So what does this mean for you? Don’t be constrained by old ways of thinking. And don’t be scared of big change. If you are honest with yourself about what you’d really like for your life, you’ll probably find that you fit in just fine with the future of the workplace. For most of us, it can’t come too soon.

The changes that are coming to the workplace reward people who have strong relationships, entrepreneurial spirit, and a talent to leverage. People who don’t love their work won’t get any. People who don’t have strong personal ties will have no idea what the point of work is. I think this is all good news, even for those who hate change.

But I wonder, what do you guys think of these predictions? Do they seem right to you? Am I missing something? Have some things already happened? Are some things so far off we shouldn’t even be talking about them? Tell me what you think.

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  1. Anonym
    Anonym says:

    >People will choose to work because they love what
    >they do.

    Cool! So nobody will work so that they can eat? :-) I love this 21st century stuff :-)

  2. CLH
    CLH says:

    My prediction? Gen Y is a curious mirror of the Boomers, and will entrench & stagnate but still talk a good game once they’ve accumulated enough to have something to lose. And don’t count out the Gen Xers yet. They might be cynical & slow-moving, but they aren’t as self-infatuated as the Yers & Boomers, and they haven’t been completely absorbed and coopted yet either, which is pretty impressive. The race might go to the tortoise for substantial change, mutually beneficial relationships (with no spin), and flexibility with a code at its core.

  3. cindy*staged4more
    cindy*staged4more says:

    SO interesting… As a Gen Yer who owns her own business, I feel that this post echoes of what I go through. While my dad who is very traditional and who feels very strongly that once I married my husband I should just stop working and stay home with the kids, I don’t agree with that at all. I choose to work because it keeps my mind fresh (not that having kids don’t, but I have seen too many couples whose lives become revolved around kids and nothing else). Further more, it’s nice to have adult conversations with the significant other at the end of the day. I work because I love it, because it gives me a sense of accomplishment. Same with my mom, she was a full time working mom who raised us while she worked. Granted, she had her own practices, so she was able to do so.

    Most people that are my age that I know (at least my friends) do have less distinctions between work and play. In more traditional values where people have more strict definition between work and play, whereas now that line is a bit more blurred. I do socialize with my clients on a personal level.

    The differences between both sexes are becoming more leveled. Now men receive maternity leaves just as women do, where 20 years ago women didn’t have maternity leave and people can get fired for being pregnant. I do feel that people do start recognizing the importance of having time off to be with the family and spend more time with them or themselves for that matter, that’s why we see such popularity with books like “4-hour work week.”

    I do think hierarchy will still exist, just more blurred between the lines.

    Just my 2 cents ;) BTW, I wonder how many the nay sayers are actually Gen Yers?

    Cheers,
    Cindy

  4. Rani
    Rani says:

    I think it is happening now, but not so widespread. It is mainly a few early-adopters that managed to fit into this “lifestyle”. I would say, 15 years from now, at least, then this lifestyle would be mainstream. It may be sooner in US or Europe, but Asian countries would need a bit longer time, mainly because those countries require great leap to shed gender stereotypes.

  5. Andre
    Andre says:

    I think the whole consulting point really makes sense, especially since people are starting to slowly become “experts” of sorts in various fields through the whole social media explosion.

  6. European Regional Manager
    European Regional Manager says:

    America is done. Everyone is outsourcing to Eastern Europe, Asia, and India. I have seen this mentioned countless of times and never once addressed. PLEASE PENELOPE! Respond to this! The Gen Y spoiled generation you try to address for your own personal gains won’t have any jobs!!! We’ll outsource them in a second!!! We’re doing it RIGHT NOW! Pluggin in your IPOD is not tech savy. Knowing how to code is. You wouldn’t believe the talent that is taking your audience’s jobs. I love it!

  7. Blake Thomas
    Blake Thomas says:

    Gen. this and Gen. that,
    I think you are right on! I’m not so sure it is generation driven as much as it is technology and transportation costs driven. My wife and I for example have moved to the country to secure less hectic and safer surroundings for our last child. She is a contract consultant for a state agency and works from home via the web, commuting 70 miles one way once a week. I on the other hand am a second career teacher / web business developer. My teaching days will soon be over as my web interests and writing continue to gain popularity.

    Our mission was to escape the rat race and be self sufficient on our farm and live life in peace. It’s not for every body. I have historically been very independent in my approach to work and will continue to do so. I do believe in the work all the time aspect too. For me it’s not work, as much as it is completing the project. It’s just that the project never goes away.

    Blake

  8. Eric Pennington
    Eric Pennington says:

    I think your ideas are realistic as we see a shift in the demographics. On the whole I think changes in the work place, like you describe, would be a good thing.

    There definitly are some “wild cards” to consider. First, markets and humans are often driven by fear and greed, which can cause the best of intentions to sour. Second, the slave owner mentality in corporate America will die hard…not sure Gen Y is prepared for that battle. Third, can the baby boomers truly afford to retire (specifically at 65-68 years old).

    My hope is that more entreprenuers will be created. I see that as an ongoing trend that will force change where it really has a chance to cement.

  9. C M Paulson
    C M Paulson says:

    Definitely your best post yet…. I like your prediction regarding the end of consultants – I always thought consultants were overrated personally.

    With technology advances being where they are and workers being expected to work from home at all sorts of weird hours anyways, I think that women who want to work from home will find more opportunities to do so – maybe not from the old boy’s network Corporate America companies YET, but I am seeing more opportunities with smaller, more flexible organizations for those who want to raise their kids but still maintain their footing in the work world. It takes awhile to find these sorts of roles, but I agree with you that the time is coming where women who want to work part-time and raise their kids will be able to find jobs that give them this balance.

  10. Beth C
    Beth C says:

    Hi Penelope,
    I think, and certainly hope, most of your predictions are spot on. From my vantage point as a consultant, I’m seeing the leadership of some organizations start to realize that significant changes, like those you listed, are on the horizon. While, clearly, I’m biased, I’m not sure that consultants will be going away so soon. Leadership in organizations may realize their challenges and issues, but I have found most are ill-equip, from a talent perspective, to operationalize the solutions. The idea of making everyone a consultant prompts a little bit of concern. I'm not convinced most people have the right competencies to "consult" successfully, particularly since relationship building, project management and broad thinking are so critical.
    For anyone interested in reading more on this topic, I recently read a book, Mass Career Customization, written by a partner from Deloitte. (http://www.masscareercustomization.com — I promise this isn't just a shameless plug!) I found the book really insightful about the future of corporate job structure. It touches on exactly what you discuss in this post and advances the idea of the "corporate lattice" instead of the "corporate ladder", positing that it will be increasingly important for organizations to take on a more flexible notion of career building. In my humble opinion, this mindset can't come too soon –

  11. Dave
    Dave says:

    I’ve been thinking and writing on similar ideas for the past year. I don’t see it as a Gen Y or Gen X event. It’s more a product, as another poster pointed out, of advances in technology.

    What’s interesting, though, is that this is not a vision so much of the future but rather one of the past. Prior to the Industrial Revolution most people worked out of their homes or small shops. What you’re describing is a return to a craftsman work model, where people are paid for what they produce and not for how many hours they spend at a job.

    This is a difficult model to apply to jobs that require manning a post for certain times of the day, such as customer service call centers or security guards, but it can work for a surprising number of other jobs. The key element is to pay people for what they can produce and not for work hours. To pay people based on work hours has its roots in machinery, or more particulary adapting human beings to man the machines for specified shifts of time. This was necessary since machines can run virtually non-stop.

    Health care and insurance has to be addressed to make any significant change in the way we work a reality. That will require either taking the profit out of insuring people and replacing it with government, or a market correction of sorts takes place due to mass numbers of people either being unable or unwilling to pay for health care or health insurance. I think the latter has already occurred to some extent in the past few years.

    What used to be called contract workers are now being called consultants. In that context, I agree that maybe the term consultant will become meaningless in the near future. When you start work for a company and you’re doing the same job as the regular worker in the next cubicle, you’re just an employee with no benefits, not a consultant.

  12. Gwen
    Gwen says:

    A comment was posted on December 12th regarding one spouse having to stay employed to get health insurance. That has changed recently with a network marketing travel company called YTB. They also heard the same complaints from those that wanted to work from home but really couldn’t due to the burden of health insurance costs. They now offer that to their agents so both spouses can work the business and still have health coverage. In fact, they pay for that health coverage and have an awesome comp plan.

  13. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    I’m an older corporate worker (53) with many degrees and many interests, most of which exists outside of my corporate world. I don’t agree with everything Penelope had to say but I welcomed her opinion. Most people merely spout off without thinking aout what they are saying. At least these articles are writtten with some thought and insight. The work place is changing and it certainly should. The thing that is important is that people in these organizations need to take charge of their own lives. All indviduals need to take charge of their own lives. It seems that Penelope leads the charge in that area. At least you had an opportunity to wrtie for Yahoo for a year. There is now doubt that someone with as much energy and ambition will go further to do neat things (and stillk have time to share with the kids which is one of the neatest things).

  14. MH
    MH says:

    The first one might happen sometime soon. The others are with us for the time being if not at least our lifetimes. One out seven..not good.

  15. just me
    just me says:

    “The end of "work friends"”

    I’d have to say that this one is already done. As a younger worker, I hang out with my ‘work friends’ well outside of work. We hold BBQ’s, parties, drinking events, .. more drinking events, etc. And when I leave my job, I intend to keep hanging out with them. Some because they are awesome people, some because they are good contacts.

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