By Carrie Zapka, SIOP Blogger
Think back to a typical workplace in 1992, twenty years ago. What were the hot I-O topics then? Now imagine 10, 20, or even 50 years from now. What will the new hot topics be? The Jan-Feb 2012 issue of The Futurist, a magazine from the World Future Society (WFS), and a YouTube video from odesk.com called The Future of Work pose some interesting possibilities.
Compared to workers today, workers of the future might be…
Today approximately 8% of the world population is over 65, and this is expected to increase to 22% by 2100 (http://esa.un.org/wpp). They will not be retired though. This aged population will be healthier than ever and willing to work. The line in the sand that exists today between working versus retired may wash away into a prolonged gradual transition.
In the future workers will have different priorities than they do today. Having a family, religion and being employed may decrease in importance as quality of life indicators, however, internet access is expected to increase in importance, suggested sociologist Choi Hangsub at the 2011 WFS meeting. According to the UN, Internet access is a human right. Some progressive nations are even beginning to incorporate this right into their laws.
Even the most remote and undeveloped regions of the globe are getting connected with community internet cafés and mobile phones. Telecommuting is on the rise. Employers of the future will have access to orders of magnitude more employees. That is why The Future of Work video emphasizes that workers will only excel if they stand out. Competition for jobs will increase.
Next generation employees are comfortable with less privacy. They may not view constant monitoring as Big Brother violations. Technologies that enable continuous recording of everything, everywhere, all the time are being developed. One of the desirable potential applications is that “Intelligent software systems could alter heating and air conditioning systems in an office, for instance, by monitoring devices in use to determine how many workers are staying late and which offices they are using” to save energy (Feb 2012, The Futurist, p. 4). One could imagine several not-so-desirable applications of these technologies in the workplace, however.
According to Rick Docksai’s review of the predictions of renowned futurist Thomas Frey in his new book Communicating with the Future, we can expect a “disappearance of the hiring and firing system that we have known for the last century. In the future, most work will be project-based, not permanent and full time and the bulk of professionals will be free agents who move from office to office as needed” (Feb 2012, The Futurist, p. 20). The Future of Work explained this phenomenon using a movie production team analogy: “Independent individuals with unique talents get together to work on a company’s project. At the end, they all go their separate ways.”
OK. So perhaps you think I’m getting a little carried away now. But replacing human jobs with automation is nothing new and recent advances in robotic technologies are amazing. Futurists at the 2011 WFS meeting predicted that one third of service jobs will be performed by automation and robots in 2040. Maybe it won’t be quite what Will Smith in I,Robot faced, but who knows?
We cannot be certain that any specific prediction is accurate, but we can be sure that I-O research and the organizations we work with will undergo drastic changes in the future.
- What are your predictions about the future workplace and I-O?
- Which of our principles and theories might become obsolete or irrelevant?
- Are some of our current methods, theories, and practices already becoming obsolete?
- What was your research focus 20 years ago? What is it now?
- What are the constants? What I-O principles and theories are so fundamental to human existence that they will not change?