It's no secret that entrepreneurs who want to keep their businesses humming have to be willing to adjust to the ever-changing market. But like the market, employees are dynamic, too, and what works to satisfy them now likely won't be sufficient in just a few years down the road.

The biggest upcoming needs and traits

According to Lauren Wong, Senior Associate in the Innovation practice at Lippincott, tomorrow's workers will be characterized by three huge tension points.

1. Boundless Self

"[The] employee of the future might have many careers, skill sets and expertise she wants to pursue--all at the same time," says Wong. "Her 'boundless self' means that that she might be more interested in creating an increasingly complex, non-linear career journey, filled with her many interests and experiences. [...She] may no longer imagine herself in one role, company or career track for the rest of her life; instead; she might look to reinvent both herself and her career continuously, often at the same time."

Wong points to Daniel Glover as an example. Glover has been able to work as a musician, writer, producer, actor and more.

2. Endless Choice

"Traditionally, employees have experienced much less flexibility in how they work, collaborate, and communicate. But for the employee of the future, endless choice in how, where, and with whom they work will increasingly be the norm. This can create anxiety on how to make the right choice. So, companies should seek to help these employees navigate the sea of options by offering clear and simple guidelines or ways to navigate to the best decision."

Spotify offers a model in this area. The company recognizes that not everyone in their workforce celebrates or observes particular holidays, so they allow team members to decide which public holidays to take off or work through.

3. Restless Agency

"Restless agency means that the employee of the future recognizes her ability to make change, yet can feel restless when she doesn't see the purpose or urgency of her work."

This point means that workers will be looking for the chance to make an impact and enrich their lives while harnessing the power of their companies to make it happen.

A guiding company here is Patagonia. The company strives hard to support employees' pursuit of something meaningful in tandem with day-to-day jobs. For instance, they'll pay bail for employees arrested for peaceful environmental protest, and they also give paid sabbaticals to longer-term employees interested in environmental protection.

What's driving the shifts

Wong attributes the changes in the workforce first to increasing diversity and technology/data availability. Workers today are exposed to more variance and are used to being able to get answers with sophisticated tools. At the same time, with role models like Malala Youszafi and the Parkland students stepping forward, they're more keenly aware of their ability to create change and know the power of individual action. Rigid systems might cause problems, however, in that they can constrain workers from pursuing what they want.

How to get ready for the new workforce

"Some key to-dos employers can keep in mind as they prepare for the employee of the future include

  • Flexible Career Paths: Give employees the opportunity to choose their own path and reinvent it along the way. Offer rotation options or internal 'internships' where employees can learn different facets of the business that appeals to them.
  • Curated Autonomy: Give employees the opportunity to build their own vision, with the employer providing the building blocks. Prioritize mentors over managers, allocate time for creative projects, and encourage learning opportunities within and outside of the company.
  • Work-Life Integration: Give the employee the opportunity to create her own role, instead of keeping her within the restraints of a formal position. This will help align work and life passions.
  • Building a Path for Improvement: Help the employee of the future understand her strengths and prioritize adaptive and personalized learning. Help the employee self-identify her strengths often, and curate teams accordingly."

New workers, new innovations

"At the largest level," Wong asserts, "these tensions are effective at helping us understand how businesses could start to attract and retain future talent who desire different things than the current workforce. We're looking at a new demographic that's asking new things of businesses and seeking not just somewhere to work, but somewhere that aligns with their core beliefs."

Ideally, most businesses will respond to these new demands and expectations and adapt--Wong's four to-do points above offer practical guidance for getting started. But if some companies can't adjust fast enough, that isn't necessarily all bad for innovation. In fact, in might prompt the next round of incredible concepts.

"As a result of these shifts, we'll see that employees of the future who don't feel they fit in anywhere will take the steps to build companies of their own," Wong says.

The only question, then, is what we'll see them come up with.

Published on: Jan 15, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.