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Is it the death of the 'office job'?

By Marcus Beaver, UKI lead at Alight Solutions

March 29 2022 - The idea of what an ‘office job’ is has changed in people’s minds. Most of these roles have been performed remotely for two years. Some still are. The very fabric that defined what an ‘office job’ is in our minds has shifted, and the world is just playing catch-up. Presenteeism has diminished in favour of efficiency and the world needs to adapt. There must be a ‘conversation’ between companies and their employees, an understanding of what both parties need out of the contracts and the best way to deliver the results whilst keeping everyone as happy as can be. It’s important to move forward in a balanced and understanding way, that benefits both sides of the coin without sacrificing business.

How did we get here?

The term white-collar, coined by Upton Sinclair in the 1930’s, referred to workers who didn’t perform manual labour and typically wore white shirts. The term itself is now outdated, as people who work in office jobs wear lots of other colours and clothing items. However, we still understand what it refers to.

Prior to the pandemic, an office job with a daily commute was a lived reality for many. With restrictions, people were forced to isolate and rely a lot more on technology to stay in constant communication, especially at work. People had spent decades working at a desk and suddenly learned about the possibilities of remote working and the freedoms it provided. To relinquish all that knowledge for the same reality we lived in sounds ludicrous.

It’s clear we are witnessing a big change in the jobs market landscape, but it would be reductive to blame it all on Covid. It simply accelerated the process. People want to continue working from home, even if just partially, after we emerge from the pandemic. We can’t blame that on the virus. It’s a change of mentality. We have been exposed to different circumstances and have a new outlook on life.

Younger generations with a fresher perspective

The Generation Z, who succeeds Millennials, is slowly entering the workforce. With them, a wide range of fresh perspectives and ideas on what the working life looks like. If Generation X was known for their sense of loyalty, this fresh batch of workers have a completely different vision of their lives, highly influenced by digitally driven childhoods and adolescences. They grew up surrounded by technology and learning from a very young age how to master them. Where Millennials only discovered the internet in their teenage years, Gen Zers could master it before their pre-pubescent years.

This new generation is now entering the job markets, and they have all this technological knowledge. There’s a better understanding of how the digital-driven world operates and a mastering of the resources to solve problems. Not only that, but there’s a bigger focus on mental health, and prioritising it when faced with work-related issues like stress, tremendous pressure, or burnout. Employers will have to compromise on more than they did with older workers, otherwise there is no hook to keep them working for them. Company culture has become a really important factor when young talents apply for a job. Generation Z ‘job-hop’ more than any other. Organisations must be able to entice employees as much as they are interested in hiring them.

What does the future look like for office jobs?

So, is the ‘office job’ dead? Not completely. The roles still exist, and the work still needs to be done. It would also be irresponsible to ‘wipe away’ two very impactful years in our lives without some change coming into effect. If we think about it, the term white-collar, coined by Upton Sinclair in the 1930s, referred to workers who didn’t perform manual labour and typically wore white shirts. The term itself is now outdated, for obvious reasons, yet we still understand what it refers to. The same could be said about an ‘office job’. We still know what it means, but the circumstances around it are completely different.

Our perceptions have changed, and new working arrangements are emerging. Companies are responding to the world and adapting, but this change transcends the location where we work from. It’s about a generational reset, a shift in priorities and the exploration of different ways we can exist and work. Times are changing, but so are we.



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