Forget WFH. How about working from a tent? WorldatWork CEO sees even more disruption to come

ORLANDO — Young workers are putting the squeeze on HR and benefits professionals like never before, disrupting workplace culture, pay structures and corporate life.

Generation Z, in particular, is going to turn the vise on the benefits community, and do so differently than even millennials, and that’s going to mean HR executives must up their game and increase “work-life integration,” said Scott Cawood, CEO of HR and compensation association WorldatWork.

The future of work will see greater pay transparency, upgraded compensation plans and more remote work flexibility and integration — even to the point of letting employees work from a tent in the Alaskan wilderness or the beaches of Maui, Cawood said.

“We’re seeing a tremendous movement of pets at work; we’re seeing a lot of work from wherever you want, whenever you want,” he said during an interview on Monday at the WorldatWork Total Rewards Conference. "We have people working out of tents because they love camping."

"I don’t think work-life balance fits anymore, and I think we’re phasing that language out. It is work-life integration."

Younger employees have entered the workforce en masse following the 2008 recession, and not all of them are living in their parents’ house. And if they are, many actually are squirreling away some savings and have a lot of money to spend, Cawood said. Yet they are much more frugal in terms of wanting and expecting value.

Camping-bloomberg.jpg
A Snow Peak Inc. tent stands illuminated at night in the company's camp field in Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture, Japan, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016. Snow Peak, which makes titanium stoves and other camping equipment, says Japan's expanding outdoor-venturing population will drive earnings growth for the company, whose shares have jumped almost sevenfold since their Tokyo trading debut in December 2014. Photographer: Yuriko Nakao/Bloomberg

“Those kinds of things are hitting very quickly, and organizations that are not open to some of these new ways of work are going to be at a disadvantage,” Cawood said. “Younger workers are going to have bigger expectations for the value that benefits provides, and short term and long term, they’ve got a different view of what value means in and out of the workplace.”

Benefits professionals need to raise their game to include compensation models that reward teams and collaboration, he said, and some companies may want to invest in benefits that make it easier to allow workers to work while being on vacation, say, during that camping trip.

So, HR departments, maybe forget the gift cards from Starbucks. How about a gift card from REI to buy solar-powered tents?

“If you ask the average company, are you open to that? It’s a weird question, because they say it doesn’t kind of make sense,” he said. “But it makes complete sense to some younger folks who are in the workplace, because they love camping, they love work, why wouldn’t I join that together? It’s just the integration of work and life.”

“It’s an integration that I’ve not seen of this caliber before. I don’t think work-life balance fits anymore, and I think we’re phasing that language out. It is work-life integration. So you do other things during the day, and you work at night and that should be OK.”

In the area of pay equity and compensation, Cawood said corporate leaders are focusing on “how do we move underrepresented groups into different places, whether that’s the CEO role or the C-suite.”

Fairness is the driving factors for many employees, Cawood said.

“It’s really important especially for compensation and benefits to remember that in the mindspace of millennials, fairness and equality means more to this generation than any other generation prior. It’s more on their priority list. They’re going to mandate it; they’re going to look for it. That means you better be clear how you’re going to pay people, and be transparent about the process,” he said. “There should be less unwritten rules. That transparency is really critical.”

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Recent WorldatWork research shows that some organizations are starting to reverse themselves and go backward in terms of how much they disclose on pay practices, and be less transparent on pay and compensation, he noted.

“I think that’s a cultural miss. It’s not going to serve them well and as we think about transparency, the more we can do is only going to be more helpful with Generation Z coming forward and the millennials who are already here,” he said.

Diversity and inclusion also are emerging as major workplace trends among employers, he said, noting that some 40 states in 2018 enacted some kind of law on pay equity.

Scott Cawood

While younger employees are getting the greatest attention, the merging of five generations working together in the workplace is a great opportunity for human resources directors, he said.

“It is kind of an exciting opportunity if we look at it from that perspective. It’s in essence the ecosystem of who you are actually selling to, your customers. All the ages should be represented in most organizations so it’s a nice way to make some impact.”

On benefits packages, change is also in the air, he said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of stuff in the benefits space that organizations have to do and that we have to do, and I think you’ll see more coming from us in the fourth quarter and beginning in 2020,” he said. “It just hasn’t been our priority,” as the association focuses on total rewards and comp.

“There’s not one individual, whether they are a contract worker or full-time employee, that doesn’t want to feel valued. You’re going to have to supply the value one way or the other, in order to get the best work out of them, and benefits oftentimes is the signal, the big message to do that,” Cawood said. “So I think you’ll see us spend a lot more time helping organizations think through what they need to offer and give. It’s not just about doggie daycare, but in some ways that could be a piece of the equation that we have to at least be open to looking at.”

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