Enabling a Human Intelligent Workplace for the 21st Century Changing Demographic Workforce

HI workplace
HI

Human Intelligent (HI) Workplace
Helping Leaders Help Themselves

February 12, 2024

Organizations can ensure that they proactively and progressively address the growing and changing diverse workforce of today and the future. Doing this provides organizations an opportunity to determine how to build in practices and behaviors of being an (HI) Workplace while capitalizing on this changing workforce.

We define (HI) Workplace as one where leaders model effective leadership behaviors by creating an environment where the worker’s experience is one of being engaged while collaborating with their diverse team members. It is a workplace where the workforce feels safe when raising different perspectives, taking risks, being innovative, and/or creative. It is a workplace where the workforce feels listened to and understood by their leaders. It is a workplace where the workforce finds fulfillment in the work they do, and in the organization they work in.

As you reflect on these changing trends you might consider the following questions. How is my organization adapting to these changing demographic trends? Is my organization modeling an HI organization by creating an environment where everyone is engaged irrespective of age or ethnicity and in turn engages its growing diverse workforce? Is it an organization where all are truly listened to, and feel psychologically safe and fulfilled due to effective leadership behaviors? Is it an organization where the environment presents a supportive work experience for all?  An important consideration to keep in mind, is not only how you answer these questions, but how your changing workforce answers these questions, and are they in alignment or seeing things differently? This will have an impact on the future success of your organization.

The What

Growing Mature Workforce

The world is aging, and this has implications for society, especially in a global economy, and particularly the workplace. The importance of an aging society is supported by research that has highlighted that the key replacement number for workers is 2.1 (Coughlin, 2017) and many countries and in turn organizations don’t have enough workers. This number includes births, deaths, immigration, and emigration.

As noted by Wilner-Golden in her book Stage, not Age, “population aging, fueled by declining birth rates and increases in life expectancy, is a megatrend that will continue in the U.S. and many other countries for the next several decades”. Depending on how an organization addresses this trend, it will either create opportunities or challenges for it. If an organization and its leaders address it proactively and progressively, it can mean maintaining a strategic human capital advantage over its competition. 

One of the opportunities is the financial impact the aging segment of the workforce has on society. The over 60-year segment is estimated to be a $22 trillion opportunity. Presently there are more 60-year-olds than 5-year-olds, by 2035 60-year-olds will outnumber 18-year-olds, and in the U.S. by 2030 65-year-olds will make up 35% of the population (Wilner-Golden, 2022). This demonstrates the power of this growing consumer market.

The main reason for the above is due to humans living longer. In the early 1900’s the average age was 47, today it is above 80. And it’s not like this has crept up on organizations. This has been happening for some time, yet it is estimated that only 15% of organizations have a strategy to address this aging segment of the workforce. To make matters worse, a recent study of 10,000 organizations found that 2/3 consider an aging workforce a competitive disadvantage (Bersin & Chamorro-Premuzic, 2019).

The above is further compounded by the stereotypes and myths not supported by research about this aging workforce (Taylor & Lebo, 2019).  One of the myths consists of the belief that older workers are more expensive. Not only is this not supported by research, but also it has been found that experience and expertise are not part of the equation to assess the real value of the older workforce. It has been found that older workers can be less expensive because they do not need healthcare from their employer since they are eligible for Medicare (Sisson, 2023). Another myth is that training the aging worker is an expense and not an investment. This when Dan Pink in his Ted Talk, The Puzzle of Motivation highlighted that one of the things that motivate the workforce is Mastery, or ongoing development, irrespective of age. One last myth is that the older worker is less productive. Instead, there is research highlighting the engagement, loyalty, and willingness of older worker to remain with an organization, longer than their younger workforce counterparts which leads to reduced turnover and in turn bottom line.

In addition to this, the traditional career paths have evolved through stages. Traditionally the age group of 20-30 has been primarily for early career, 31-45 mid-career, and 46-65 late career and retirement. This has now evolved to include Legacy Careers from 50-75 (Taylor & Lebo, 2019). To make matters more interesting, the fastest-growing workforce segment is those over 75 (Lucas, 2023). 

Shifting Demographics

But nothing happens in a vacuum. While there is a segment of society and in turn the workforce that is aging, there is a diverse growing segment behind this older workforce. In his book, Aftermath, Phillip Bump highlights the following for the U.S. “America will be getting older and grayer. At the same time, it will be getting less densely White-a change that creates significant ripples.”

Today in the U.S., there is a growing diverse society and in turn workforce. The largest segment of this diversity is the growing Latino demographic. It is estimated that there are presently 63 million Latinos or 1/5 of the U.S. population or 25% of the U.S. workforce. Another way to view this is that the U.S. is the second country in the world with most Latinos and also where Spanish is spoken. The U.S. has more Latinos than Canada has Canadians and Spain has Spaniards. The average age of this demographic is 27 while for the rest of the U.S., it is 40.

It is estimated that every 30 seconds 2 non-Latinos retire while one Latino turns 18. Latinos make up $2.6 trillion in GDP, which if this segment of the U.S. society were a country, it would be the 16th largest economy in the world. They are a growing marketing and consumer demographic. 75% of Latinos are active technology and social media users. As you can imagine, Latinos will continue to be a growing segment of the U.S. workforce and consumer market.

And they have not just been passive consumers but also contributors to society. Latinos are credited with numerous inventions including the contraceptive pill, the Color TV, eyeglasses, pen, artificial heart, digital calculator, wheelchair, astronaut space suit, and neuroscience just to name a few.  Something that most, including 77% of Latinos aren’t even aware of.

As they continue to grow, they are still under-represented in many key areas ranging from executive boards to political representation, to primetime movie stars (such as characters like Tony Montana, a Cuban drug dealer in the movie Scarface is played by Al Pacino). 

In summary, there is an aging segment of society and workforce along with a growing diverse, in particular Latino demographic. Unfortunately, both are sometimes seen through bias filters, whether it be ageism (which is alive and well, per AARP and many other sources), discrimination, and reduced opportunities for growth, inclusion, and impact.

So What?

Collectively, these two groups alone make up close to $25 trillion in financial impact on society and organizations. These are not market segment consumers that can and should be overlooked. In addition, they are, can, and need to be viable human capital resources for organizations going forward.

While the biases and “isms” present a challenge, there are plenty of opportunities if organizations and their leaders take a proactive and progressive approach with these two segments of today’s and tomorrow’s workforce. And yes tomorrow, because if 75 is the fastest growing segment of the workforce due to people living longer, and either needing or wanting to work, then they too can be part of tomorrow’s workforce for some time.

The older segment of the workforce brings experience, and expertise, can serve as mentors, and coaches, and even be allowed to work part-time (if they so choose), so they can contribute to their new Legacy Career. In addition to this, it has been noted that the older worker brings certain attributes to the workplace, such as interpersonal communication, adaptability, strong work ethic, and emotional maturity among others (Sisson, 2023).

The younger Latino demographic can be positioned to grow to be the leaders and a contributing member of the workforce of tomorrow. Collectively, if done correctly it can position an organization to enable a changing demographic workforce and gain a human capital advantage over their competitors.

Now What?

The U.S. workforce is changing. How organizations adapt to these changes will be the difference between success and failure in reinventing themselves for their future. There are organizations such as Circuit City and Blockbuster that were once successful but did not adapt to the changes happening around them that no longer exist. It may not have been due to diversity, but still these organizations did not adapt and now no longer exists. The take-away is that diversity is not only the right moral issue to address, but it also has bottom-line business implications. The organizations that address these changing trends will be in a better position for their future and viability. 

The following are some considerations for leaders and their organizations as they look to make their organization an HI Workplace while addressing these trends.

  • They need to recognize these changes and what they mean for their respective organizations. They need to understand the implications for their organization. They need to assess their workforce and how they might position themselves for the changing workforce. They need to ensure they are capitalizing on the diversity of their workforce by creating a collaborative environment where all can contribute.
  • They need to recognize that the changes are occurring whether they adapt and change or not. In doing so, they need to develop a change management plan to adapt to the changes. This should include leadership expectations, an organizational culture that supports the changes, and values that enable an inclusive environment.
  • They need to assess their HR policies and practices from hiring to promotions, and developmental opportunities. They should look to utilize individuals in different capacities such as mentoring and allowing for part-time work for any of the older workforce that may want this option made available to them. To ensure the policies and practices do support a psychologically safe environment where the workforce, irrespective of their identity, can be innovative and creative.
  • The organization needs to create metrics that they can measure themselves against when it comes to not only growing the diverse workforce but ensuring engagement from all in the organization. These metrics need to be part of the organizational systems that hold those in authority for making the changes accountable and rewarding those that do.
  • The organization needs to consider as part of their change effort, an educational program, so the leaders and workforce become increasingly aware of the biases that all humans have and look to proactively address these. However, these educational programs should not only address biases, but also the business and human reasons why an organization adopting a proactive diversity strategy is good for the organization, its leaders, the workforce, and its bottom line.

Today’s workforce has more demanding expectations and a changing psychology of its organizations and leaders. There will be an increasingly diverse workforce. AI is beginning to play an increasingly important role in organizations and their workforce going forward, it will not however address the human needs such as inclusion, collaborative teams, psychological safety, and effective leadership to name a few. How leaders enable a Human Intelligent workplace will create a differentiating advantage for those organizations that proactively adapt.

As Mr. Spock in Star Trek use to say, “live long and prosper”.

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