evolution of work surreal concept

The evolution of work and workplace decision-making

Posted on: August 10, 2023

Over the past five decades, the world of work has undergone significant transformations. These transformations have been influenced by factors such as:

  • changing societal dynamics
  • technological advancements
  • evolving attitudes and preferences.

Within this shifting landscape of work and work-related decision-making are other emerging trends – or trends that have now become commonplace – such as considerations around work-life balance, benefits such as private healthcare, and generational differences.

It is important to understand how these factors – and others – have helped shape the modern work environment, influenced decision-making processes, and affected the wellbeing and satisfaction of workers across different generations.

The changing demographics of the workforce

One of the most noticeable changes in the past 50 years is the demographic makeup of the labour force. Baby boomers dominated the workforce for several decades. However, as they started retiring, Generation X and millennials (also known as Generation Y) took centre stage, followed by Generation Z, which has been entering the workforce over the past few years. 

Gen X witnessed the rise of new technologies and adapted to changing work arrangements. Millennials, meanwhile, alongside the emerging Gen Z, have brought fresh perspectives to work, particularly around inclusivity and sustainability. This new generation of young people has also emphasised the importance of work-life balance and wellbeing. 

These generational differences also apply in terms of attitudes towards work itself. For example, older generations typically valued job security, adhered to traditional work structures, and prided themselves on their work ethic. In contrast, millennials and Generation Z have been keen to seek more meaningful work than in previous generations, put greater stock in work-life balance, and prioritise job satisfaction over stability.

Understanding these generational nuances can often be essential when creating effective human resource management strategies, as well as creating work environments that cater to the diverse needs and expectations of employees.

Embracing new technologies and flexible work

The advent of new technologies has revolutionised the way people work. From the introduction of personal computers to the proliferation of smartphones and social media, technology has profoundly impacted work environments around the globe. It has also created opportunities for flexible work arrangements, allowing people to achieve better work-life balance and prioritise their wellbeing.

Some of the most significant impacts of new technology have included:

  • The internet. Having access to the internet has connected organisations in ways that were never before possible for the first time. They have access to better data and communication channels, and have been able to forge stronger relationships with customers, suppliers, staff, and other businesses. It has also helped pave the way towards flexible and remote working arrangements.
  • Automation and robotics. Robotics and automation have been instrumental in freeing up staff from non-skilled tasks so they can focus their time on more complex challenges.
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning. AI and machine learning are emerging areas of technology that are already having a significant impact on workplace systems and employee productivity.

Incentives and benefits

The past few decades have seen a shift in workplace compensation, with many employees seeking more than just a salary, pension, and potential bonus.

Additional benefits commonly seen in UK workplaces include:

  • private healthcare insurance, or health services such as free mental health support
  • schemes for purchasing additional annual leave
  • work spaces that prioritise co-worker collaboration and places for staff groups and social networks – typically accompanied by permission and encouragement from leadership
  • perks such as free meals or discounts on popular brands
  • enhanced maternity, paternity, and parental leave
  • subsidies for travel costs or alternative transportation methods, such as cycle schemes and car shares
  • dedicated budgets for training and development in support of personal career development, as well as mentoring and coaching programmes.

These benefits often correlate with increased employee retention and a reduction in employee turnover.

The pandemic’s influence on work and wellbeing 

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated existing trends and forced organisations to adapt quickly. From Germany to Australia, the United States to South Africa, full-time remote work became the norm for many, blurring the boundaries between professional and personal life.

While this shift provided newfound flexibility, it also raised concerns about maintaining work-life balance and wellbeing. Employers and employees alike had to grapple with the challenges of managing work hours, childcare, and the social isolation that accompanied remote work during this period of time.

Three years on from the height of the pandemic, though, hybrid remote working and a stronger focus on wellbeing remain high on people’s agendas, and it seems as though the pandemic created a new benchmark for working arrangements.

For example, one recent Forbes article on work-life balance in a post-pandemic world suggested the pandemic “gave many employees a taste of what their work-life balance could look like” – and reasoned it’s not an experience they’ll quickly forget:

“The pandemic resulted in a large majority of employees working from home for an extended period of time,” the article states. “This change in location gave many people a work-life balance they didn’t know was possible before, making it much harder for some to come back to the same old office routine.”

In fact, according to a survey conducted for the Office for National Statistics, three-quarters of home and hybrid worker respondents reported improved work-life balance. It also noted remote work is more common among higher-paid workers, with more than one-third of hybrid workers earning more than £40,000.

The future of work

It’s clear that over the past 50 years, work and work-related decision-making have experienced remarkable changes. Generational shifts, technological advancements, and evolving societal expectations have shaped the work environment and transformed how people approach their day-to-day working lives as well as their career paths in general. The focus on work-life balance, wellbeing, and job satisfaction has gained prominence, particularly among younger generations, and the COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated these changes, highlighting the need for flexibility and adaptability across both the public and private sectors.

Looking ahead to the future of work, it is clear new skills and adaptability will be crucial in the years to come.

  • Automation and artificial intelligence continue to reshape the labour market, requiring staff – and leaders – to continuously update their skill sets.
  • The gig economy, where individuals engage in part-time or freelance work, is becoming increasingly prevalent among several age groups.
  • Organisations will need to prioritise retaining talent by offering competitive benefits, promoting work-life balance, and fostering a supportive work environment.

As workplaces move forward, it is essential all organisations recognise and address the unique needs and expectations of their multi-generational workforce, leveraging technology, fostering work-life balance, and promoting overall wellbeing.

Help shape the future of work

You can develop the psychological skills to succeed in the modern workplace with an Association for Business Psychology (ABP)-accredited MSc Organisational and Business Psychology at the University of Wolverhampton. This flexible Master’s programme is taught 100% online, so you can study part-time around your current professional and personal commitments and earn while you learn.

Through this programme, you will enhance your career prospects as an expert and strategist for organisational development and improvement – an area of growing demand both locally and internationally – or as a business psychologist, studying areas including:

  • leadership and people management
  • personality, ability and individual differences
  • organisational strategy
  • strategic marketing
  • operations and supply chain management
  • financial management and control
  • sustainability in business.
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