The Changing Workplace

The Changing Workplace

Sure, the contemporary workplace has its fair share of challenges.

But were things any better in the workplaces of previous generations?

There’s no doubt that things have changed since the Baby Boomers entered the workforce in the 1960s.  From then to now, who’s working, what industries they’re working in, how they’re finding a job, and how long they’re staying in it, have all shifted dramatically.

Let’s take a closer look.

And no, not all of this was covered in Madmen.

The faces of the workforce

 With an unemployment rate averaging about two per cent (compared with today’s jobless rate of just under six per cent), jobs weren’t scarce in 1960s Australia.

What was more scarce?  White collar jobs and women in the workforce.

In the mid-1960s, around 55 per cent of jobs were classified as blue collar.  Post-2010, this dropped to around 30 per cent, with 70 per cent of jobs now classified as white collar.

In terms of workforce participation, the 1960s saw only 34 per cent of Australian women working outside the home.  The reality was, the Boomer workplace was not female-friendly – part-time work was uncommon, childcare rare, and the roles offered to women were largely inferior (think tea lady who wheeled a trolley of appetising cakes around the office).  Married women were wholly banned from working in the public service until 1966.

While barriers certainly still exist for female workers, policy and workplace shifts have seen the rate of female participation rise significantly.  Around 59 per cent of Australian women participate in today’s workforce – almost double the rate of the 1960s.

Finding a job…

Networking and newspapers were the keys to the 1960s job market.  The means of that networking?  Word of mouth.  Employers and employees alike relied on the recommendations of friends, relatives, colleagues and neighbours.  If that technique failed to yield results, a scan of the Help Wanted advertisements in the back of the Sunday newspaper was a job hunter’s next best bet.  Whipping up an application on a typewriter and getting it in the post was standard practice.

Once you were in a role, chances are you worked your way up within that organisation and rarely ventured out into the job market again.

Unsurprisingly, Millennials now go digital when searching for a role.  Social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, online job boards and company websites are crucial.  Employers are casting their nets wider for potential employees, and while networking is still essential, people are using digital tools to do it.

…and keeping it

Baby Boomers averaged just one career per lifetime.  That’s right, one.  Started out as a teacher in 1961?  Chances are you retired as one too.

Millennials, on the other hand, will average a staggering six careers in their lifetimes.  Career change – and lots of it – is clearly the new normal.

How long people stay in their jobs is also shifting considerably.  For Boomers, average tenure is seven years.  For Gen Xers, it’s five years.  And Gen Ys?  They’ll likely get itchy feet after two.

Across all employees today, average tenure is around four years.  By 2020, that will reduce to three years, with voluntary turnover approaching 20 per cent per annum.  By this time, more than one in three workers will be employed on a casual basis, and Gen Y will make up 40 per cent of the workforce.

So what does the future hold?

 The workplace environment itself is in for a big shift – the days of working at the same desk in the same cubicle are numbered.  Some have even heralded that the “death of the office” is imminent.  The workplaces of the future will be less centralised, more mobile and increasingly flexible as technology gets used to maximum effect.

As this happens, distance will mean less in the job market.  There’ll be more competition for jobs, and some predict there will be a global ‘talent war’.

Just like the workplace shifts between the 1960s and now, there are certainly interesting times ahead.  But one thing’s for sure – the only constant in the workplace will continue to be change.

By Stephen Rooke