Top 5 Trends for 2020: Generational Integration

How many 2020 top trend prediction posts have you read already? Four? Eight? A dozen? I know… ‘tis the season for speculation. I do hope this list adds a fresh perspective. 

As a keynote speaker, every year I am privileged to interact with thousands of employees across multiple industries around the country. I get to hear people’s personal work stories and hear their hopes and fears. 

The following list of predictions for 2020 is based on those conversations, as well as my obsession with consuming any piece of content that contains the word “Millennial” or “multigenerational” (thank you, Google Alerts!) and scrolling too often through the top stories on LinkedIn.

Here it goes…

Alternative programs will challenge the traditional “college-to-career” pathway

I began my career as a college campus speaker, so I always try to keep my finger on the pulse of campus happenings. Since the Great Recession, Gen Zers and younger Millennials have vocally questioned the value of a four-year college degree. They’ve seen graduates in their 30s and 40s saddled with enormous debt in an economy that, until recently, failed to provide adequate wage growth. Young Americans are asking, “Why does our education system have to be this way?” 

Companies are pondering this question, too. Many large enterprises no longer require a college degree. These include Google, Apple, Ernst and Young, and IBM. Moreover, we’re seeing a resurgence in corporate apprenticeship programs where young people can learn white collar jobs under the guidance of an experienced mentor. I believe alternatives to a four-year college will continue to grow in 2020.

Boomer employment will continue to boom

For the first time in American history, there are five distinct generations in the workforce. This is not just because young people are entering the labor force; it’s because older people, including the massive baby boomer generation (aged 55 to 73) are continuing to work later in their lives. What’s more, there are more Americans working over the age of 85 than ever before.

Last year, I visited a law firm that had a mandatory partner retirement age of 65. I asked an HR manager about this policy and she said, “Of course, we offer an extension to employees who would like to stay on longer.”

I asked approximately what percentage of partners asked for the extension.

She replied with a sly smile, “approximately 100%.”

With better health, low retirement balances, and less labor-intensive jobs, older Americans are remaining in the workforce. Glassdoor predicts that “baby boomers will be the fastest-growing age category in the US and UK.” This will impact the economy in two ways. 

One, we will see industries arise around the aging workforce. Many businesses are already using job boards, books, and coaches that specifically target workers over 65. 

Two, certain industries will scramble to replace these aging workers when they do ultimately retire. According to population numbers, Generation Z is much smaller than the Boomer generation. The workforce of the 50s and 60s saw a large influx of young, educated workers. The 2020s will not see a surge like this. Yes, Gen Z will be young and educated, but there will be comparatively fewer of them. In the next decade, older workers will retire and there will be fewer workers entering the workforce. The economy will have to adjust

Companies will champion mental health awareness and accommodation

Over the past five years, universities and colleges have allocated more resources toward mental health. Young people are more comfortable talking about mental health as reported in the AP article, “As Stigma Ebbs, College Students Seek Mental Health Help.” 

I’ve written about how workplaces have started focusing on mental health, and I believe this trend will continue and grow into 2020. And I feel strongly that this is a good thing.

In fact, every major workplace conference I’ve been to has addressed mental health. And we’re seeing the federal government implement new policies like the 988 three-number suicide prevention hotline.

Here are a few ways businesses will address mental health in the workplace in 2020: 

  1. Benefit packages will specifically include mental health support.
  2. Employees will expect to be able to raise issues of mental health with managers and coworkers.
  3. Offices will be designed with mental health in mind, including more natural sunlight, plants, and meditation spaces.

We will get more answers regarding automation’s effect on the economy

Most people worry about whether automation will make their jobs obsolete. While history suggests that technology creates jobs in the aggregate, it doesn’t mean individual employees and industries are immune. As automation advances, reskilling the workforce is a major concern. 

We must also ask how automation will improve job performance. Personally, I’m fascinated by “nudges” and behavioral integration. Humu is a company I’m watching closely. Their company goal is to “make work better” through behavioral science. For example, if I want to remember to acknowledge and encourage my team, I can program my Apple Watch to remind me to do so. That’s called a “nudge.”

From HR chatbots to workflow platforms like Slack and Asana, employees will be increasingly expected to integrate technology into their workflows. 

It’s no secret we are on the cusp of major breakthroughs in automation and AI. I’m not going to make specific predictions about how technology will impact work, but 2020 will no doubt be a watershed year in giving us a clearer picture for the rest of the decade.

Climate change will impact work in direct and indirect ways

As many of you know, 16-year old Greta Thunberg was named Time’s Person of the Year for 2019. She’s an activist who has urged worldwide governments to improve their climate policies and better protect the earth. As a member of Gen Z, she represents a growing concern among young people with the fate of our planet.

Personally, I’m astounded by the effect weather has on my industry—professional speaking and events. It seems that at every conference, through every season of the year, I now hear about travel delays of attendees caused by fires, “bomb cyclones,” hurricanes, and other extreme weather events.

But what struck me most in 2019 was the empathy that emerged because of these major weather events. For instance, I was in Florida during the California fires. Whenever I met someone from the West Coast, I had to ask the question, “How are you doing?” I heard about people’s families, homes, and lifestyles. For perhaps the first time, a conversation about the weather felt truly human.

So, while the political side of climate change might divide people, I’ve seen how climate change can also bring us together, not just in the fight to protect our planet, but also in the smaller, human moments of shared experience. My hope is that we can channel that connection to find solutions that save Planet Earth.

I began this post with Gen Z and their entrepreneurial approach to our education system. I’ve ended it with Gen Z and their concern for our planet. 2020 will undoubtedly have its rocky moments. But I’m encouraged by the upcoming generation, and I’m optimistic about what they will bring to both our workplaces and our world.

What are your predictions for 2020? I’d love to know!

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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