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The Great Workforce Shift – rethink and reset

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The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a catalyst for the most significant upheavals in the workforce in generations.

Employees have been forced to confront new challenges and adapt to new ways of working, while employers have had to reassess their priorities and perspectives.

“For many, staying home for the past year and a half has led to personal reflections about life choices, lifestyle, well-being, and priorities. Working in a profession that doesn’t align with career aspirations started seeming more optional for some employees. With so many people reflecting on their careers, many started researching their next career steps.” [1]

The pandemic has resulted in a change in the way that employers view their employees. Prior to the pandemic, many employers saw their employees as expendable resources.

However, the pandemic has forced employers to reassess this perspective, and they are now seeing them as valuable assets that need to be protected.

The most obvious change that has taken place is the increase in remote working. This has had a profound impact on the way that employees work, and has also forced employers to rethink their approach to managing their workforce.

The impact on demographic groups

Millennials in particular seemed captivated by the idea that WFA (Work from Anywhere) would allow them to become “digital nomads,” traveling the world while still employed.

Before the pandemic-related restrictions, some companies, such as Remote Year, were aiming to facilitate that lifestyle, and some countries, such as Estonia and Barbados, have created a new class of employment visas for such workers.

As one patent examiner said,

“Participation in [WFA] is outstanding for work/life balance. I live in my favorite part of the country…I have more time to relax.” [2]

Another significant change is the increase in flexibility that many employers are now offering their employees.

This includes things like flexible working hours and the ability to take time off when needed. This is a direct result of the pandemic, as employers have had to find ways to accommodate the needs of their employees.

“Employers must realize that COVID-19 and the racial reckoning in the U.S. have permanently transformed people’s perspectives on work and life. From safety protocols and flex schedules to salary protections and diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) initiatives, current and future generations of employees will have considerably higher expectations of the organizations they choose to join.” [3]

Monster CEO Scott Gutz, SF ’08.

The workforce shift and what it means for employees…

The great workforce shift is the gradual but steady change in the composition of the workforce from one that is predominantly manual and industrial to one that is increasingly cognitive and service-based.

This shift has been underway for several decades, but it has accelerated in recent years as automation and artificial intelligence have increasingly taken over routine tasks.

Even before the crisis, a smaller group of companies had taken this trend a step further, eliminating offices altogether and dispersing everyone, from entry-level associates to the CEO.

GitLab embraces this model at scale: Its remote workers span sales, engineering, marketing, personnel management, and executive roles in more than 60 countries. [4]

The result of this workforce shift is that the traditional dividing line between “white-collar” and “blue-collar” workers is becoming increasingly blurred.

Many manual jobs are now being done by machines, while many service jobs require higher levels of skills and training. This has implications for both employees and employers.

For employees, it means that they need to be adaptable and willing to learn new skills.

The days of being able to do the same job for life are gone; today’s workers need to be able to evolve with the times.

Alongside this trend in the job market, the growing number of DE&I initiatives offers talent new opportunities to apply their skillsets in different contexts.

Fast-growing industries are continuously looking for individuals with unique skill sets and experience.

For example, employers with rising STEM roles like digital designers, product managers, software developers, and automation management are all seeking versatile individuals who can learn the relevant, necessary skills and knowledge without obtaining a relevant STEM degree. [5]

What does it mean for employers…

The great workforce shift is the term used to describe the ongoing change in the composition of the workforce.

It’s a structural change that sees an increase in the proportion of women, older workers, and ethnic minorities in the workplace. And it has profound implications for everyone.

However, the workforce shift presents multiple challenges for employers…

One of the biggest challenges is the need to adapt to changing demographics.

For example, older workers have different needs and preferences than younger workers. And women often face different obstacles and challenges in the workplace than men.

Business leaders “need to build strong companies and good jobs in a globally competitive economy where technology is advancing, with the social diversity we find in our world.” 

— Thomas Kochan

The workforce shift is thus a complex challenge for employers. But…

It’s also an opportunity to build a more diverse and inclusive workforce that can better meet the needs of a changing world.

How to make the most of the workforce shift?

Employees are becoming more and more comfortable with working remotely, and employers are starting to see the benefits of this arrangement.

But what does this shift mean for you?

How can you make the most of it?

Here are a few things to keep in mind…

Looking ahead, employers need to be prepared for a number of challenges and opportunities posed by the workforce shift. Here are some key considerations:

The most important thing is to stay flexible.

The workforce is changing, and that means the way we work is changing too. What worked yesterday might not work today, and what works today might not work tomorrow.

The key is to be flexible and adaptable.

This means being open to different types of work arrangements, such as telecommuting, flexible hours, and job sharing.

It also means being willing to provide training and development opportunities that cater to the needs of a diverse workforce.

A large swath of the workforce is attempting to draw a line in the sand, a difficult task in such chaotic and unpredictable times.

Businesses can strive to meet their employees in the middle, adapting operational practices specific to their industries that improve the employment aspect of successful life-work integration.

Doing so reflects not just a dedication to improving the bottom line, a cornerstone for any business seeking to survive long term, but a commitment to being an employer conscious of the integral role of a positive work environment and job satisfaction.

Trying to improve retention through increasing compensation won’t be enough. Companies must respond with authenticity with regard to transparency, fairness, and equity, delivering opportunities for fulfilling work in a healthy culture. [6]

Employee retention will be a challenge.

As the labor market tightens, retaining employees will become increasingly difficult for employers.

To stay competitive, organizations need to offer attractive compensation and benefits packages, as well as opportunities for career growth.

A low-road approach focuses on fast returns to shareholders and a view that the workforce is a place to cut costs.

Organizations embracing high-road principles lean into innovation, strong customer services, and fair pricing. Most importantly, they strive to create value for all stakeholders, including their employees.

A high-road company invests in workforce development and engages employees in improving operations, introducing new technologies and work processes, and sharing in the financial success employees help to generate. [7]

Diversity will be a top priority.

The workforce shift presents an opportunity for employers to build a more diverse workforce.

This includes recruiting and retaining employees from underrepresented groups, such as women, racial and ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities.

Interestingly, a survey conducted by McKinsey & Company revealed that while overall sentiment on diversity was 52 percent positive and 31 percent negative, sentiment on inclusion was markedly worse, at only 29 percent positive and 61 percent negative.

This encapsulates the challenge that even the more diverse companies still face in tackling inclusion. Hiring diverse talent isn’t enough—it’s the workplace experience that shapes whether people remain and thrive. [8]

Being Tech Savvy is a necessity.

Technology has and will play an increasingly important role. Employers need to invest in tools and technologies that can help them better manage a diverse workforce.

This includes applicant tracking systems, performance management software, and learning management systems.

From AI to robots to cloud services and software, there’s no lack of technology available to drive innovation and competitive advantage.

Deployed without consideration of the workforce, these technologies can displace workers or create bad jobs.

In light of the social contract, companies should engage workers at each stage of the design and implementation of new technology to ensure it actually delivers its intended benefits.

Employees should be appropriately trained before the technology becomes central to their daily responsibilities, and those whose jobs are affected negatively should be compensated for their loss. [9]

Communication is key.

With more employees working remotely, it’s more important than ever to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Over-communicate if necessary, and make use of video conferencing and other tools to stay connected.

Engaging workers as partners requires new management styles built on collaboration and open dialogue.

Younger generations are dissatisfied with a hierarchical approach to management and will seek out employers who engage them collaboratively…

At the same time, business leaders need to play a key role in rebuilding dialogue with labor leaders in their communities and industries.

Engagement with others outside of the internal organization is the best way to build a more inclusive social contract and empower a future of work that works for everyone. [10]

Change management will be critical.

As the workforce shift continues, employers need to be prepared for a period of significant change. This means having a solid change management plan in place to ensure that new initiatives are successfully implemented.

 Keep your mental health in check.

A survey conducted by American Psychiatric Association in May 2021 showed that nearly two-thirds of people working from home feel isolated or lonely at least sometimes and 17% do all the time.

Working from home can be isolating, so it’s important to make sure you’re taking care of your mental health.

Take breaks, get outside, and stay connected to friends and family.

What does the Future Hold…

The future of the workforce shift is likely to be affected by a number of factors, such as technological advancements, globalization, and or localization, plus the changing demographics of the workforce.

While it is difficult to predict exactly how these trends will play out, it is clear that the workforce shift is set to continue in the coming years.

Technology is one of the major drivers of the workforce shift, as it has made it possible for more people to work remotely and flexibly. This has led to a rise in the number of people working freelance or on a contract basis, as they are no longer tied to one location or employer.

The growth of the sharing economy (such as Airbnb and Uber) has also made it easier for people to find work that suits their lifestyles and schedule.

Globalization is another factor that is affecting the workforce shift. As businesses become more globalized, they are increasingly looking for employees who are able to work remotely and across different time zones.

This has led to a rise in the number of people working internationally, as well as those who are employed by companies based in other countries.

The rise of the gig economy is also having an impact on globalization, as more people are working for themselves or for companies based in other countries.

The changing demographics of the workforce is another trend that is affecting the workforce shift.

As the baby boomer generation starts to retire, there will be an increasing demand for workers in sectors such as healthcare and social care.

At the same time, the number of people in the workforce who are of retirement age is set to increase.

This means that employers will need to find ways to attract and retain older workers, as well as those from other demographic groups.

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[1]. Bryant Howroyd, AppleOne, The Great Shift: The Perspective Change of Employees and Employers

[2]. Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury, Harvard Business Review, November-December 2020, Our Work-from-Anywhere Future

[3]. MIT Sloan Management, 21st December 2021, The Workplace Is Changing for Good

[4]. Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury, Harvard Business Review, November-December 2020, Our Work-from-Anywhere Future

[5]. Brian Spiegel, All STEM Connections, 1st July 2021, Five STEM Careers For Employees With Non-STEM Degrees

[6]. Summit Ghimire, Forbes Magazine, 14th June 2022, Meeting The Needs Of The Reimagined Workforce

[7]. Beth Stackpole, MIT Sloan Magazine, 26th April 2022, How to make ‘work of the future’ work for everyone

[8].  Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle, Kevin Dolan, Vivian Hunt, and Sara Prince, McKinsey & Company, 19th May 2020; Diversity Wins And How Inclusion Matters

[9]. Beth Stackpole, MIT Sloan Magazine, 26th April 2022, How to make ‘work of the future’ work for everyone


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