Your Future Workplace: Intergenerational Offices, Neurodivergent Employees and Four-day Work Weeks

by Diana Drake

What can you expect as an employee of the future? Science.

Companies are using data and analysis for recruiting, compensation and performance evaluation because they believe it leads to better decisions about the people they hire and manage.

Adam Grant, a professor and organizational psychologist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said that he first saw this field of People Analytics unfolding at Google, where the company brought together a team of traditional human resource professionals, consultants, engineers and academics like him who studied organizational behavior to collaborate on workplace decisions. “It was amazing that they were able to take questions that used to be answered based on intuition and actually run experiments and gather data to figure out the right choices to make,” Grant said.

It was against that backdrop of building a better workplace that the Wharton People Analytics’ team, led by Wharton management professor Matthew Bidwell and executive director, Laura Zarrow, recently convened a group of leaders to discuss the latest research and practices related to employees and the future of work.

Here are a few of the hot issues and highlights from the 2024 Wharton People Analytics Conference:

The Intergenerational Workforce. Organizations now employ more generations of workers at one time than they ever have before. Professor Bidwell spoke with Jacqueline Arthur, global head of human capital at Goldman Sachs, to discuss Goldman Sachs’ approach to leading an intergenerational workforce with relatively young workers coming in right at the beginning of their careers. Highlights:

👩‍👩‍👦‍👦 Goldman Sachs has worked on destigmatizing mental health and creating an open dialogue in the workplace. “One of the things we’ve done is implement mental health first aider programs,” noted Arthur. “700 professionals have been trained through that program over the past couple of years…Your role [as a manager] is to understand the resources that are available to support your employee and to truly be supportive.”

👩‍👩‍👦‍👦 The company is implementing policies to avoid burnout. “Coming out of the pandemic, one of the things we saw in our data was that employees were not taking vacation. We all feel it’s incredibly important from a resilience perspective to have that time off to recharge,” said Arthur. “We implemented mandatory five-day consecutive vacation, which we asked managers to monitor (to gather data). Are your employees taking vacation? Are your employees taking consecutive days off?”

👩‍👩‍👦‍👦 GS surveys new employees to identify cultural priorities. “[We found that] 80% of our summer interns were using AI in their daily lives, and they think it’s going to have a very positive impact on society…One of the key focus areas for us is how do we leverage AI to enable our employees to be more strategic and to facilitate their roles?”

👩‍👩‍👦‍👦 Gen Z is forcing a generational shift in the workplace. “With Gen Z in particular, what you see is an insatiable desire for connectivity with managers,” noted Arthur. “So, what we’re really trying to do is upskill our managers to focus on giving more real-time feedback and engaging with their employees.”

Neurodiversity in the Workplace. Nat Lyckowski, global neurodiversity advancement leader at IBM, joined journalist Eric Garcia to explore how organizations can create a culture where neurodivergent employees are positioned for success. Highlights:

🧠 Neurodiversity defined (from an intro video). “Neurodiversity is the concept that there is natural variation in the human brain that leads to differences in how we think and behave…Neurodiversity can be valuable, as the differences in how our brains work allow us to come at things from different perspectives, have vastly different skill sets, and accomplish more than we could if everyone’s brain worked the same.”

🧠 Inside the data. “Looking at some of the studies, there’s now a very, very strong business case to focus on neurodivergent hiring,” noted Lyckowski. “The NIH (National Institutes of Health) found neurodivergents to have a 66% higher job loyalty [and] 32% more innovation. JP Morgan found neurodivergents to be 92% more productive, for almost no cost [to the employer].”

🧠 This return on investment requires getting beyond biases. “It’s usually a matter of opening your heart and your minds,” suggested Lyckowski. “Thinking about the bias that might be in your interview process, thinking about the bias that might be in your career-development process, and just being able to talk about these things. And…making neurodiversity be a factor of diversity, and not a deficit.”

🧠 Neurodiversity is becoming recognized as an identity factor, not a disability. “We need a lot more data because there’s still stigma,” said Lyckowski. “We now have a self-ID campaign in Workday [an online platform for employees at work] where people can hit the button and say [they] are neurodivergent and have it be separate from a disability.”

🧠 Companies are talking more about the power of neurodiversity. “There’s an organization called Disability:IN that runs a neurodiversity at work employers’ roundtable,” said Lyckowski. “Right now, there are 40 or so companies working together – IBM, Microsoft, Google and even Rising Tide Car Wash – where we’re all coming together to work on this at every different level.”

The Four-day Work Week. Yes, you heard that right! Data is flowing about the prospects of reporting to work for four days, rather than five. In fact, studies suggest that a four-day week may reduce burnout and depression. During the conference, Wharton’s Iwan Barankay sat down with Juliet Schor from Boston College to explore the topic. Highlights:

👩🏾‍💻 Schor and her team have been doing lots of data collection on this topic, regularly surveying employees and companies globally who are piloting four-day weeks. “Huge well-being improvements,” observed Schor. “Something like 68% of employees are registering reductions in burnout. About 40% [reduction of] stress and anxiety, fatigue reduction and sleep problems… better physical and mental health, positive on all the satisfaction questions. Negative emotions down, positive emotions up. Very, very high preference for the four-day week; over 90% among the employees.”

👩🏾‍💻 Her team has also been gathering data from the company operational side, which is not as rigorous thus far. “The number to pay attention to on the company side is 91%. That is the fraction of companies who continue [with a four-day week] after one year,” said Schor. “We’ve got about 9% who revert to five, so it’s working for [most of] them.”

👩🏾‍💻 Schor has found some of the research surprising. “One of the big findings we have from the employee data is that their self-reports of productivity soar,” she noted. “So, it’s not just that the firm is better off when its employees are better off, which everyone in this room will attest to. But [it’s] that being more productive makes the workers better off, and that’s what I didn’t expect.”

👩🏾‍💻 What else is the data telling us, especially about what employees are doing with that extra day off? “There are no side gigs,” observed Schor. “Especially in the U.S., no increases in second-job holding at all in any of our trials. Also, the results for the off day are similar across the globe. The biggest thing [people are doing with that extra day] is leisure hobbies, like ‘me’ time. That’s No. 1 (60% of respondents are women). No. 2 is domestic work, like housework and childcare. And No. 3 is personal grooming.”

👩🏾‍💻 So, are more employers likely to move to a four-day work week? “I really think [the four-day work week] needs to spread,” concluded Schor, who has been studying these types of workplace issues for decades. “Particularly as we look at the future with AI coming into the workplace in a big way, we’re going to have big productivity increases. We have to ask the question: what do we do with that productivity increase? Do we use it to give people more free time, or do we increase output? In the United States…and also in the Anglophone countries, we have not had a reduction in average working hours in many decades. There is extreme time poverty in this country — time squeeze due to a big increase in [dual-worker] households with kids. We heard from a number of people in our studies that two days is not enough; a weekend is not enough.”

Conversation Starters

What is the field of People Analytics and why is it valuable to employees and employers?

The article alludes to how Gen Z is forcing a generational shift in the workplace as younger employees demand more attention and feedback from their older managers. Would you agree with this assessment? Why the need for greater connectivity?

Overall, what do you think about these various trends influencing the future workplace? What surprises you? What excites you? What else would you like to see? Share your thoughts in the comment section of this article.

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