Upwork’s Latest ‘Future Workforce’ Report Shows Differences in Freelance, Remote Hiring by Millennials/Gen Z and Baby Boomer Managers

contingent workforce

The freelancer website Upwork on Tuesday released its third annual “Future Workforce" report, which examines hiring behaviors of more than 1,000 hiring managers based in the U.S.

A bit of a twist on last year’s report, this year’s version zooms “specifically into how younger generations’ (hiring managers) are shaping the future of work.”

The study, done with underlying research from the independent firm Inavero, is far-ranging, but our coverage will focus on some areas relevant to our procurement audience:  Millennial/GenZ and Baby Boomer managers' attitudes toward changing work models — specifically, remote work and external workforce.

While the report includes data for Gen X (“America’s neglected ‘middle child’ ” — sorry, Gen Xers), we focus only on the extreme contrast between the attitudes of managers who are  Millennial/Gen Z (ages 23-38 and younger for Gen Z) and Baby Boomers (ages 55-73).

It’s clear that the Millennial/Gen Z managers have a much more positive attitude toward remote work compared to their Baby Boomer counterparts (which perhaps is not surprising).

But managers in these two age groups also differ on their organizations’ level of preparedness to support remote work and on the extent to which absence of the right technology tools and proper team structures stymies more remote work in their organizations.

The largest point difference (24%) between the two groups was the extent to which “missing technology” inhibited the use of the remote workforce. The difference between the two groups also extended to expectations of the increase in the use of remote working over the next three years.

Focusing on the use of external workers, similar differences in attitudes and expectations between the two groups also arise in the data. For example, more than twice as many Millennial/Gen Z managers say their departments have increased their use of freelancers over the past three years (a difference of 27 percentage points).

More than twice as many Millennial/Gen Z managers as Baby Boomer managers report using freelancers, not only for one-offs, but over a longer-term string of engagements. Similarly, over 2.5 times as many Millennial/Gen Z managers as Baby Boomer managers expected they would increase their use of freelancers in 2019.

A stark contrast in organizational preparedness is evident in other data, which show that:

  • 42% of Millennial/Gen Z managers say they are investing in technology to support a remote/distributed workforce, versus 24% of Baby Boomer managers.
  • 41% of Millennial/Gen Z managers say they are making significant progress in developing a more agile, flexible talent program, versus 24% of Baby Boomer managers.

All of these differences between the two generational groups are significant and should have concrete implications.

The number of Millennials (those born after 1981 through 1996) in the workforce already outnumbered Baby Boomers (56 million to 40 million) in 2017. Millennials will not only be increasing in number in the workforce, so too their levels of authority. Currently, the data sample underlying the Upwork study showed 48% of Millennial/GenZ managers are already in director-level roles and above.

The last of the Millennials, born in 1996, are 23 years old this year and are digital natives entering a world of work that is transforming at an unprecedented pace. Assuming the principle of “be the change you want to see in the world,” much will be changing in the world of work in the coming years.

For more insights into the changing workforce, see these recent Spend Matters reports:

Are Organizations Using More of the Independent Workforce?

Sourcing and Engaging the Independent/Freelance Workforce — An Emerging Ecosystem? (Part 1)

Sourcing and Engaging the Independent/Freelance Workforce — An Emerging Ecosystem? (Part 2)

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Voices (2)

  1. GenerationXpert:

    Your logic is flawed by ignoring Generation X. It’s clear there is a trend as you skew younger, but consider more than half of leadership roles globally are held by Gen Xers, and they have more spending power than any generation, it’s foolish to not use that data.

    1. Andrew Karpie:

      Yes, including Gen X data would strengthen the argument that younger generations may be pulling organizatiions in the directions of more remote workers and more independent (non-employee) workers. The data has their frequencies right in the middle of the two other age cohorts. By excluding the Gen X data, I wasn’t suggesting they should be dismissed or had no effect on the change (they are already having that effect). But to make the point of the generational attitudinal differences more saliently and keep this short article simple, I decided to use the Millenials and tghe Boomers. Thanks for your comment; I may add a clarification/note.

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