What will the employee of tomorrow look like?

Is your employee of the future going to be a young, be-suited man sitting at his desk from nine to five?        

Personality profile

According to Howard Grosvenor, managing consultant at people performance specialist SHL: “Changes in the wider context of work will have a great impact on the worker of the future and how we use psychometrics to assess them. Two of the factors that are likely to have the strongest influence are globalisation and IT.

“Starting with globalisation, the worker of the future will need to be flexible enough to continually work across time zones, languages and cultures. An imminent need for work-relevant tests of language fluency will be the start of this change.

“The rise of China and India to positions one and two in the global economies in the next 20 years will bring a change in the dominant business ideology from an American/European one to an Eastern/Asian one. It’s fascinating to speculate on how we in the UK will need to adapt to occupying a less strong position in the global marketplace. We are likely to need to ‘export our skills’, for example, to stronger markets which in turn places emphasis on assessing those skills.

“The exponential rate of change in IT will also significantly change work in the next 20 years. The recent emergence of ‘virtual jobs’ – roles in virtual environments where work activities and transactions have no physical representation (like Second Life’s ‘estate agents’) – will be intriguing to follow.

“The development of virtual communities will change the way companies attract applicants. Smart organisations will be able to reduce effort in candidate sourcing by targeting relevant online communities and people will be able to better market themselves to potential employers through their virtual identities.”

Demographic profile

The age profile of the workforce will be one of the most dramatic changes compared with today, predicts the Employers Forum on Age. Over the next 25 years, the number of people aged 65 years and over is expected to rise by nearly 60%, making up almost a quarter of the population. At least one-third of these are expected to be ‘economically active’, suggesting they will be in work.

According to a 2007 report by the former Equal Opportunities Commission, the future world of work will also see changing opportunities for women, ethnic minorities, migrants and older workers. As the number of jobs in the so-called ‘knowledge economy’ (knowledge-intensive services such as computing) grows, it is likely these will be filled by women.

When it comes to migrant workers, the notion of a male migrant worker who seeks to bring his family to the UK once his work is established will change, with more women migrant workers in professions such as nursing and carework, the report adds.

Employee engagement 

“One of the biggest things that is likely to change over the next 20 years is what ties us to our jobs,” says Lucy McGee, head of marketing at business psychologist OPP. “Everyone has a different bond with their work, but the common denominators have changed considerably. Whereas 20 years ago salary and status may have come top of the list, we’re now seeing a much bigger shift to things like family-friendly policies and a good corporate social responsibility record.

“These things are likely to play out a lot more in the coming years, and by 2028 we may well see ourselves in a position where the first question is no longer ‘how much does it pay’, but rather ‘what’s the environmental record of the company?’

“The business applications of social networking and the phenomenon of social entrepreneurs – people trying to achieve ‘caring commerce’ and seeking business models that include giving something back – are also things we’ll see more of in the coming years. The divide between professional and personal contribution to society is becoming less defined, so successful employers will recognise that and build structures to support it.”

Health and wellbeing

Imagine stressed employees having pacemaker-like devices wired into their brains to control depression, says Noel O’Reilly, editor of our sister title Occupational Health magazine. Or an office where staff have chips implanted in their brains to allow them to control machinery or computers by thought, thus avoiding the back and neck problems that plague today’s workforces.

Innovations in genetic testing could allow recruiters to ensure they do not recruit people who are vulnerable to specific workplace hazards – or be tempted to screen out staff who are likely to develop disabilities and take time off.

Other key factors influencing health at work will be the unrolling of the current government workplace health strategy, an increase in older workers, changing work practices including more teleworking, developments in genetic engineering, and more professional and managerial roles.

The number of psychologists and therapists is likely to increase in the workplace when the government rolls out talk therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy, and the use of ‘positive psychology’ approaches by HR to engage more highly skilled employees.

The only certain thing is that HR will have a central role co-ordinating a wide range of workplace health practitioners.


According to a 2006 report by the Orange Future Enterprise Coalition, an even greater proliferation of mobile devices will force workers and their employers to draw greater boundaries between on- and off-duty time.

At the same time, economic conditions will have forced many organisations to use technology in a bid to make processes or people more efficient, rather than more innovative.

Employee monitoring will also increase: the fact that Microsoft has developed‘spyware’ to keep an eye on workers’ productivity is just the start of a workplace trend. Even extremely mobile workers such as couriers will be able to be tracked and will follow schedules specifying where they need to be and when.

Dr Marie Puybaraud, director of global workplace innovation at facilities company Johnson Controls, predicts social networking will also become more central to business relationships, and more robust networks will enable organisations to make better use of bandwidth intensive technologies such as videoconferencing and Skype.


Following the terrorist attacks in New York in 2001, employers began considering the relocation of staff to satellite offices, rather than risk having all their staff in one place, according to Dr Marie Puybaraud, director of global workplace innovation at facilities company Johnson Controls.

Mini business centres will spring up near these satellite offices, and increasingly people will work from home as organisations cut down their spend on office space. These communities will build up around ‘streetscapes’ with services for workers such as hairdressers and cafés. Workers will only come to the office to collaborate. Better technology infrastructure will make distributed working easier.

The way offices look will change too. At the moment they tend to consist of 70% desk space and 30% collaborative space. In the future, workspaces will be made up of mostly meeting space with just a few desks. The concept of having your own desk at work will no longer exist.

The notion of nine to five will gradually disappear, with staff working ad-hoc hours around their home commitments. All of this will have a positive impact on health and stress levels.

Work-life balance

By 2028, elder care will have overtaken childcare as the number one concern for families, says Anna Allan, senior consultant, Balance @ Work/Working Families. Elder care is much more difficult to organise as the needs of the elderly are less predictable, so employees will not only be looking for more flexibility, but for employers to be more responsive at short notice. The outcome of elder care is also different – it typically ceases when the old person enters an institution or dies. So employees may look for more counselling support to come to terms with this, which will lead to a further increase in the popularity of employee assistance programmes.

The continuing pensions crisis will mean an increasing number of people wanting to continue to work beyond 65 and the new norm for retirement is likely to be about age 75. Skills shortages will encourage employers to retain older staff, but many will want to work flexibly, probably on reduced hours.

The ‘green agenda’ will support huge increases in home working which will make it much easier for families to combine work and caring responsibilities. However, there is a risk that careers might be negatively affected as people are less visible to managers making promotion decisions.

Flexible working at senior levels will be more acceptable, which will encourage more men, particularly in younger age groups, to ask for flexible arrangements enabling them to participate more fully in family life. However, there will still be a social expectation that mothers should remain at home in the early months of a child’s life.


According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) September 2007 report, the outlook for pay and benefits over the next 20 years could vary wildly.

Sandy Pepper, a partner in the HR services practice at PwC, envisages three possible scenarios: one where highly sought after executives have their own agents to secure their wage packets a second where organisations have more of a conscience and distribute wealth as equitably as possible and finally a world where smaller organisations dominate the economy, most staff are self-employed, and wages are doled out on a contract basis, with plenty of non-cash benefits.

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