HR professionals often want to know what the workforce will look like in the future. Some organizations, like Upwork, dedicate time and effort toward making that forecast. The findings are always interesting. The biggest takeaway was that aside from Gen Zs and Millennials making up the majority of the workforce, 75% of them work remotely for significant portions of their time.
Here to help us make sense of some of these findings is Upwork’s Senior VP of Human Resources and Talent Innovation, Zoe Harte.
HR Daily Advisor: Your report showed that 75% of Millennials and Gen Zs work remotely for significant portions of their time. That’s compared to only 58% of Baby Boomers. Do you think this trend will level off?
Harte: The trend toward remote work is growing faster than most realize. Our report found that hiring managers were three times more likely to agree that offices will serve as occasional anchor points rather than as daily travel destinations in the future. And, by 2028 nearly three-quarters of all teams will have remote workers.
This remote mind-set is largely being driven by younger generations. These flexible-work natives place a high value on flexibility and are pushing companies to break down the barriers of time and place that are relics of the Industrial Era. They expect the freedom to work when and where they want to achieve a better work/life balance and will continue to drive organizations to evolve beyond the traditional office model.
While we don’t believe that workplaces will cease to exist entirely, we expect that as commute times grow and agile workforces embrace more contract talent, organizations will realize that they need to adopt a “remote-first” attitude—or at least move toward allowing remote work and implementing policies that support it.
HR Daily Advisor: The report also found that almost half of younger generation managers (including Millennials and Gen Zs) are director-level or higher. That would suggest that their influence on workforce planning should be growing. What changes might we expect from this?
Harte: What many people don’t account for is the sheer size of this generation—Millennials have surpassed both Baby Boomers and Gen Xs to be the largest cohort in the workforce, with Gen Zs following close behind. They are dominant in ways other than size. As these younger generations ascend into managerial positions, they’re ditching traditional, archaic models in favor of a flexible workforce, which includes engaging freelancers more frequently and encouraging policies that promote remote work.
Along with that, they are rethinking existing paradigms. Rather than focusing on climbing the proverbial corporate ladder, they’re trending away from a hierarchical structure and taking a more fluid, hybrid approach to their own career progression, as well as to that of their colleagues.
They have a sense of self-preservation and are willing to take the necessary steps and investment to remain competitive. That means focusing on their own professional development by reskilling to stay relevant—whether that’s through taking courses or doing work with another team to gain cross-functional expertise.
HR Daily Advisor: Burnout for employees is hardly a new thing. But the findings show that 85% of Millennials have reported experiencing burnout in their jobs. That seems high and unsustainable. What forces are at play here?
Harte: Millennials live in a culture of “workplace hustle” and are accustomed to long hours. Part of that stems from their preference for work/life integration. When you’re constantly tethered to technology and don’t have regular “office hours,” it can often feel like you never get a real break. There are other factors at play, including financial pressures such as student loans and escalating housing prices. Add to that the stress of increased competition and constantly evolving workplace skills, and it’s easy to grasp why this generation feels squeezed.
But the reality is that in many cases they are sprinting through what is really a marathon. And as you said, it is unsustainable—and that’s precisely why we are seeing younger generations take the future of work into their own hands and shape it to fit their lifestyle and needs. The report found that Millennials are nearly three times more likely than Baby Boomers to rank future workforce planning as a top priority for their department and are 60% more likely to have a future workforce planning strategy in place. They feel more confident when they are the ones holding the wheel and driving the future that works for them.
HR Daily Advisor: It seems that there are significant differences in how Baby Boomers and Millennials/Gen Zs encourage reskilling with only 12% of Baby Boomers encouraging reskilling while 32% of Millennials/Gen Zs encourage reskilling. Why might that be, and what impact does that have on an organization?
Harte: You only have to look to Millennials’ history to see why they are so incredibly focused on staying competitive. This generation lived through the 2008 recession, and one lesson they learned from seeing their parents and neighbors lose their jobs—and in some cases, their retirement savings—was that the person who cares the most about “my career is me.” As the need for advanced skills continues to accelerate, Millennials are thinking about self-preservation and how they can stay ahead. That’s the key reason that our report found Millennials and Gen Zs are nearly three times more likely to believe that reskilling is their responsibility, compared with 90 percent of Baby Boomers who put the onus on the company.
As a result, we can expect to see a greater focus on lifelong learning, coupled with an increased reliance on flexible teams that can be formed on the fly to fill critical skills gaps. We remind companies that this can be a key differentiator as they strive to attract and retain employees. With younger generations craving training, it’s an ideal opportunity to view it as an investment, to engage talent, rather than as a cost.
It reminds me of the saying, “What if we invest in training, and everyone leaves?” The response, of course, is, “But what if they stay?” This generation is hungry for those opportunities and if companies don’t provide them, they risk losing the best talent to companies that will.
HR Daily Advisor: These differences were also highlighted concerning making workforce planning a priority. Millennials and Gen Zs were three times more likely, at 52%, to rank future workplace planning as a top priority for their department. What is happening here, and what might happen in the future?
Harte: As Millennials ascend into managerial roles, they’re seeing their future and approaching it with plans in mind. They’ve already realized that their current situation—long commutes, costly housing expenses, expanded work hours—is not sustainable for the long term. Therefore, they’ve decided that if they’re going to survive—and pass on a thriving work culture to their children—it’s up to them to redefine work on their own terms. They have seen the pain points and are forcing organizations to bake new processes into their future.
We believe that will involve an increased focus on optimizing work to fit their lives. There are many ways to accomplish this, and it will entail working more efficiently, upskilling, improving outdated processes, embracing remote work, and leveraging external talent sources.