The Evolving Workplace BY KEVIN MOE The workplace environment is a constant sea of change, and it has only grown more volatile since 2008. Juggling shifting demographics, additions of new technology, and the evolving needs of employees is a required skill to have in maintaining a successful workplace. Work and Organizations Emeritus Professor John Fossum has seen both recession-related and secular changes in the workforce over the past few years. “From a recessionrelated standpoint, employers improved productivity with much leaner workforces than before. From a secular trend standpoint, the demand for STEM-based (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) labor has consistently exceeded the supply, while the supply of physical and low-skill labor has increasingly exceeded the domestic demand in the long run,” he says. Another inequality in the workforce that Associate Professor John Kammeyer-Mueller notices is the demand for high- and low-paying jobs. “Jobs for those with college educations and high levels of experience have had a much more significant increase in demand relative to jobs that don’t require these credentials,” he says. Kammeyer-Mueller also says that much has been made regarding the discrepancy between the knowledge and skills of the workforce and employer demand. “Basic communication and problem-solving skills are seen as lacking,” he says. “This has put a new pressure on education providers to transform their models, which is actually at odds with political pressure for standardized testing models that are notoriously lacking when it comes to evaluating skills such as communication and problem solving.” Students 20 UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA coming into the market may find themselves needing to invest additional time developing these skills. As new generations of employees enter the workforce, employers need to be aware of their wants and needs to enhance their happiness and productivity and foster harmonious work teams. Many employees are seeking healthier lifestyles, and employers can benefit by promoting these desires. Work and Organizations Professor Avner Ben-Ner recently studied the effects of employees using treadmills instead of office chairs as they work. The results were encouraging. Calorie expenditures increased, which could be expected, but there also was a marked increase in worker productivity—close to one point on a 10-point scale. “That’s a substantial increase,” Ben-Ner says. Professor Joel Waldfogel, the Frederick R. Kappel Chair in Applied Economics, has noticed the impact of changing technology on the workforce. “For a long time, improvements in technology served as substitutes for only rather menial work and as complements for more skilled workers,” he says. “For most people—including most white collar employees—machines made them more productive. Now some combination of better computers, better data, and better software is allowing machines to serve as substitutes for more and more sophisticated kinds of workers. “The most skilled people—those who can use new technology to be more productive rather than to be replaced—are prospering from these changes. But many others, particularly those in the middle, are threatened.” Visit carlsonschoolmagazine.com for video.
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