December 13, 2013
Millennials And The Fifth Age Of Work

In less than a decade, millennials will outnumber baby boomers in the workforce, and tomorrow’s most successful companies will have learned to leverage both the traits of the new generation, as well as cloud-based technology that is rapidly transforming business practices around the globe.

Anthropologist and business school professor, Andrew Jones, analyzes the impending shift in his new book, The Fifth Age of Work: How Companies Can Redesign Work to Become More Innovative in a Cloud Economy. He builds on the framework first developed by Nigel Nicholson that suggests we’ve had four major work periods:

  • The First Age: the time of hunter-gatherers
  • The Second Age: the time of farmers and artisans
  • The Third Age: the time of the Industrial Revolution
  • The Fourth Age: the time of the information economy

Jones argues that the fifth age was officially marked by the Great Recession of 2008, and ushers in a new business environment that will thrive with cloud-based technologies such as remote storage and retrieval (e.g., Evernote, Dropbox), new communication channels (e.g., Skype, Yammer), and the decentralization of offices and workers.

He describes how the principles of design thinking can lead business executives to new solutions in three distinct areas:

1. New Talent. Instead of hiring MBA graduates from traditional business schools, learn to attract and recruit talent with diverse perspectives, from non-traditional places.

2. Rethinking Workspace. Giving more thought to physical spaces and environments can have a major impact on corporate community, inspiring creativity and enhancing collaboration.

3. Anywhere, Anytime Work. As technology allows more and more flexibility, adopt workplace policies that mirror that freedom, allowing workers to work when and where they work best.

Implementing these changes in large, legacy organizations will be a challenge. Indeed, it may well be impossible for senior, legacy leaders to understand the changes that are taking place and what needs to change internally to survive. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently came to this very decision, noting that for Microsoft to remake itself for the century ahead, it is best if new leadership with fresh eyes and opinions could replace him.

While the industrial age required command and control structures, the Fifth Age requires leaders who know how to assemble and empower workgroups—flexible communities that can largely self-manage as they work towards their goals. It is the companies that embrace these new principles that will attract the best talent and flourish in the century ahead.

Kevin Kruse is a NY Times bestselling author, speaker and serial entrepreneur. His latest book is Employee Engagement for Everyone.