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Workforce shift is one of the five trends identified by the Communications Trend Radar 2024. Significant social, technological, and economic changes are transforming the workforce available to organizations. This second management trend – driven in part by demographic shifts, labor shortages, migration, and automation – poses challenges for knowledge management and communication within organizations.

Drivers of the workforce shift

Today’s workforce is undergoing profound changes that are reshaping the way we work and interact with the world. One of the most prominent debates centers on the impact of automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI) on the total number of jobs, wages, and demand for specific professions.

Changes in the working population from 2022 to 2060
Changes in the working population from 2022 to 2060

Another example is demographic change: The phenomenon of population aging is dramatically altering global demographics. By the end of this decade, one in six people in the world will be aged 60 years or over.

In addition, as life expectancy increases, many people are extending their careers and ultimately changing the composition and dynamics of the workforce.

Longer-term trends also point to an increasingly diverse workforce in terms of ethnicity, gender, age, religion, culture, nationality, and language in companies of all sizes − not just multinationals. This will reshape both the employee base and the potential recruitment pool in many industries.

While work-related changes have always existed, the current shifts are more interconnected, overlapping, and mutually reinforcing.

Workforce Shift

Workforce shift refers to the fundamental transformation of the workforce in organizations due to distinct sociological, economic, and technological changes. 

Relevance of workforce shift for corporate communications

«It seems that communicators are good in talking about societal, economic, and technological changes on behalf of their organizations—but they find it hard to reflect on the consequences for their own profession and act accordingly. »

European Communication Monitor 2023
  • A shifting workforce is changing the way communication teams collaborate and the skills and competencies they need: More generations and ethnicities are working together than ever before. Each individual brings different skills, social, political, and economic experiences and expectations, which can lead to conflict over different work behaviors and values.
  • In addition, the rapid pace of technological advances, including automation and datafication, is reshaping professional roles and collaboration: Some roles may become obsolete, while others may emerge, requiring specialized skills not previously needed.

Recommendations for communication leaders and professionals

  1. Use internal communication and employer branding for the changing workforce as a driver of business success. This also includes raising awareness and motivating top and middle managers to reflect on their leadership communication.
  2. Reflect on knowledge management practices and be prepared for increasingly diverse teams: Find ways to transfer and preserve critical institutional knowledge as experienced communication practitioners retire or move on. Adapting workflows to cater to a diverse workforce with varying backgrounds and experiences can be beneficial – and a competitive advantage.
  3. Invest in an environment of psychological safety: An environment of psychological safety allows employees to voice concerns, disagree openly, and suggest improvements or changes.
  4. Future-proof the people dimension of your communication department: Lead initiatives to revise existing communication business models and tackle the impact of workforce changes on job roles, competencies, team culture, and knowledge management. 
  5. Assess the consequences of the workforce shift for the overall communication ecosystem of the company: Communication agencies and service providers will also suffer from the shrinking labor supply-this can result in a scarcity of services needed by communication units in businesses.
Birgit Hiller, Continental

»Like many other companies, we are already feeling the effects of demographic change at Continental. To make sure that we do not lose the valuable know-how our employees have acquired over the years, we have launched a structured and moderator-supported knowledge transfer program. After all, knowledge is always found between people – not on hard drives.

We have also created a pool of expertise from retired employees, who can provide support in the event of reduced capacity or as part of projects.«

Birgit Hiller, Continental

About the study

For the fourth year running, a research team from the University of Potsdam (Prof. Dr. Stefan Stieglitz and Sünje Clausen,MSc) and Leipzig University (Prof. Dr. Ansgar Zerfaß and Dr Michelle Wloka) conducted an applied research project to identify trends likely to influence communication practices in the near future. They analyzed hundreds of scientific articles, conference contributions, reports and online publications. These were systematically collected, weighted according to their importance for corporate communication and condensed into five trends. The Communications Trend Radar is funded by the Academic Society for Management & Communication.

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