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Are You Planning for the Polywork Generation?

July 22, 2021

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

It’s neither the one job for life nor the one specific career path for life that motivates the new workforce.  Today, particularly millennials (aged between 25 and 40 years old) and Gen Z (up to 24 years old), are rejecting the concept of one full-time job and a single boss in favor of something that’s being dubbed polywork, or having multiple jobs at once.

A study done by the social network by the same name, Polywork, found that 55% of the 1,000 workers polled, aged 21 to 40 years old, said an exciting professional life was more important than money. Just 35% said they could envision sticking with a single job for life, while nearly 64% said they already were doing more than one job or hoped to in the future. More than 70% of those surveyed believe the pandemic accelerated the trend.

Roughly 72% of the young professionals surveyed say being able to work virtually due to the pandemic has opened more work possibilities for them in the last 12 months than ever before.

“The data from our community shows that there will no longer be such a thing as a single job for life and that people are rejecting the single job titles that have been bestowed upon them for the last 10 years in favor of representing all the different types of things they do, and working in multiple ways at once on their own terms,” said Polywork’s founder Peter Johnston, a Belfast native and a former designer at Google and M&C Saatchi London.

That desire to live a multifaceted professional life must be understood and supported by employers, as Johnston sees it. “If businesses do not listen to their talent, we will see those companies start to become dinosaurs,” he said.

A vertical career path is not as attractive as in the past.  Employers need to think horizontally and vertically to attract new talent.

Although the concept is to hire for the current job, job postings should expand to show the possible depth of opportunities once a person steps in the door.  San Francisco-based Idan Gazit, director of research, future projects at the software developer GitHub, who has also advised on Polywork, said: “If you look at a lot of job descriptions, they are one-dimensional: write code and more code. Where can you find people and opportunities to write code but also grow professionally, be given responsibility for outcomes? That’s what professional growth is.”

It also fits the stereotype of Millennials who want to be the boss faster and would jump jobs to get that opportunity.  What training are employers providing to grow these employees to meet some of their expectations?  Employers have to be thinking multi-faceted to keep up.  Succession planning, mentoring, and career planning are additional tools that need to be employed more consistently.  Moreover, for many in this generation, day care and elder care has to be incorporated within the benefit package and part-time employment cannot be a barrier to promotions.

Support of these employees’ outside gigs, be it with nonprofits or their own business (as long as it doesn’t interfere or compete with the organization) is becoming a new expectation of this workforce.

However, acceding to this generation comes with pitfalls, not the least age discrimination.  Although Boomers are retiring at a faster rate than in the past, and the dearth of talent has a fear of employers pushing employees out (whether out the door or to other positions) before they are ready could lead to systemic age discrimination.  Given everything, HR needs to be more creative and employ the tools they have in order to make work more attractive, and at minimum, retain the employees they have.

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