27 September 2023

The age of empowered employees

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Martin Zwilling* says there are seven signs that we have entered the age of empowered employees.

Businesses are seeing an unprecedented type of employee rebellion after the pandemic.

As I work with businesses that are struggling to restore staffing and recover after the pandemic, I see a new culture and a new generation of workers who have found strength in working remotely from their homes and savouring their ability to survive on their own terms.

Many business leaders are assuming this is only a temporary situation, but I’m convinced this model is the new norm.

If you have a different view, I urge you to see the data presented in a new book, The Nine: The Tectonic Forces Reshaping the Workplace by Phil Simon, a globally recognized authority on technology, collaboration, and the future of work.

Among other things, he presents convincing reasons why employee empowerment is now a force that is here to stay in today’s workplace:

  1. A new generation of workers is flexing muscles.

Like it or not, social mores have changed.

Workers are looking for a more balanced lifestyle, meaning they are no longer willing to be tied to office devices every day or tolerate toxic work environments. Unions are making new inroads at companies, including Kickstarter and Amazon.

For office jobs, most of us have heard the new strong preference for working from home versus commuting to the office every day.

There are obviously pros and cons to working remotely, including productivity and costs, as well as balancing work and personal lives.

  1. Millions have bowed out of the labour market.

Compared to previous decades, fewer people are looking for jobs. The recent pandemic has convinced many, on both ends of the age spectrum, that they don’t need the pressures of full-time employment to survive and thrive.

They expect more than free lunches and office snacks to keep them engaged.

In my view, the greatest change in this area has been Boomers who were laid off or isolated at home during the pandemic, found they could survive without a full-time job, and enjoyed the newfound freedom. Many of these retired from the labour market.

  1. Since the pandemic, the U.S. has added more jobs.

More jobs are now available than people to fill them. The unemployment rate remains historically low, at about 3.7 percent. Small-business growth over the past three years has been phenomenal.

Layoffs from bellwethers make headlines and scare us, but these are now mostly behind us.

New and old entrepreneurs submitted over 5 million startup business applications in 2021 and again in 2022, making these the most popular years on record, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau. These are job openings for many new people.

  1. Immigration to the U.S. has sharply declined.

Thanks to Covid-19 and the policies of previous U.S. administrations, immigration to the U.S. sharply declined from 2017 to 2022. Even if immigration rates change over the next few years due to new policies, fresh entrants will likely not turn around the current culture now embedded in the workplace.

Immigration has always been a key source of diversity in the workplace, which is known to drive innovation and employee empowerment. Global entrepreneurs continue to find opportunities in the U.S., and I’m certain these always bring a more empowered culture.

  1. The birth rate in many countries is declining.

Americans are clearly procreating less. Japan, France, and other industrialized countries are experiencing the same issue, and it began well before the pandemic. Fewer births mean fewer workers later.

A related culprit is rising child-care costs, which burden mothers in their prime child-bearing years.

  1. Inflation has caused an increase in side hustles.

Millions of folks need to find supplemental income to rebuild their eroded purchasing power.

The problem is particularly acute for middle-class, non-managerial, and exempt employees who don’t qualify for overtime pay under tightening labour laws and high big-company expectations.

  1. The number of non-compete agreements is way down.

For decades, companies have restricted current and former employees from working for competitors for up to two years after employment ends.

These restrictions are ending as employees rebel, and even the Federal Trade Commission admits that non-competes depress wages and kill innovation.

Around the world, workers are holding their best cards in years, and they know it. That means that more emboldened employees are here to stay, and they won’t fall back easily to being largely silent and compliant.

If you expect your business to stay competitive and succeed in this new world, you will start looking for more ways to empower your team and lead the way.

*Martin Zwilling is founder and CEO of Startup Professionals

This article first appeared at inc-aus.com

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