Leadership   //   December 29, 2022

The future of work is not evenly distributed – how employers can prepare

“The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” U.S.-Canadian writer William Gibson, the father of the cyberpunk sub-genre of science fiction, has had his finger on the pulse of breakthrough innovations for decades. However, on the eve of 2023, this perceptive comment is especially apt for the working world, which is going through the most seismic transformation in our history.

The digital revolution, accelerated by the pandemic fallout, presents challenges and opportunities. For instance, technology has enabled remote working. And yet, employees are clocking up more hours when not in the office, and loneliness that harms mental health is becoming a worrying side effect. Plus, the number of meetings has also shot up, and often people mistake being busy for being productive.

No organization can say they have nailed hybrid working. And meetings in the metaverse are still a novelty and impractical, much to Meta’s frustration (and cost).

Moreover, while workers demand more time and location flexibility, where does that leave industries in which it isn’t feasible? It’s all very well for those in desk-based jobs to use tech to improve their work-life balance, yet around 80% of global workers are “deskless.” They need to be physically present to do their jobs. 

People working in agriculture, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, hospitality and travel, education, construction, and transportation and logistics often don’t have the option to work remotely.

Yes, numerous thrilling examples hint at what the future of work might look like, but it’s certainly not evenly distributed. Right now, it’s messy and lumpy. And with a global recession looming, firming up a way of working that truly works for everyone will likely become more complicated in 2023. 

To help navigate the journey ahead, WorkLife selected nine recent statistics to show the direction of travel, identify the most prominent likely obstacles, and offer advice from experts on how employers can overcome them. Below we have included four, and the remaining five will be published separately.

37% of deskless workers could leave their jobs in search of greater flexibility

Approximately one-fifth of the global workforce perform their jobs behind a desk – aka with a computer. Therefore, the remaining 2.7 billion people work without a desk, meaning they have roles that involve interacting directly with people, machines, and infrastructure. 

The pandemic-induced lockdowns opened the minds of those in so-called “knowledge-working” industries. Still, for most of the working population, concepts like hybrid or remote working were not practical in the long term. So while thousands of words were written daily about the benefits of greater time or location flexibility, deskless workers felt forgotten. 

Little surprise, then, that a Boston Consulting Group survey, published in July, found that over one-third of this cohort in seven countries – the U.S., the U.K., Australia, France, Germany, India, and Japan were considering leaving their jobs within the next six months. The top reason, with 50%, was a lack of flexibility or work-life balance.

Debbie Lovich, managing director and senior partner at BCG, said: “Our research tells us it has to do with career opportunities, compensation, flexibility, work-life balance, and also, are they enjoying their day-to-day job?” She added that there is plenty organizations could do to “make work better for this deskless population.”

The BCG report suggested companies should build a “frontline first” culture – with leaders listening to and learning from workers’ views and needs – expand benefits, and enable flexibility where possible.

72% of Gen Zers are likely to leave a job because of a lack of flexible working policies

It’s not just deskless workers who consider a lack of flexible working a deal-breaker. But of all the generations, it is the youngest in the workforce which is demanding greater flexibility. 

According to our data, Gen Z is the generation most likely to have left – or considered leaving – a job because their employer didn’t offer a feasible flexible work policy (72%), compared to 69% of millennials, 53% of Gen X, and 59% of boomers,” said Becky Schnauffer, LinkedIn’s head of global clients in EMEA and LATAM.

But, Schnauffer added, desiring flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean that career starters want to be remote all the time. For example, of the 4,000 Gen Z workers beginning their careers in the U.K., U.S., France, and Germany, 70% wanted access to an office.

She advised: “To attract and retain Gen Z talent, recruiters and businesses need to recognize the realities of each employee’s personal situation. If employers want to get their work models right – working for the development of their employees – their best bet may be to ask their employees what they want.”

65% of remote workers in the U.S. feel less connected to their colleagues than before the pandemic

Recent research from recruitment firm Robert Walters showed that 60% of 2,000 white-collar workers in the U.K. felt disengaged from their workplace. It calculated that this could cost the country’s already shaky economy £340 billion ($386 billion) this year. By comparison, in the U.S., with a sample size of 3,000, it was 53%. 

Similarly, Pew Research Center data from late 2020 revealed 65% of U.S. employees working remotely – communicating with coworkers through telephone, email, or video conferencing – felt less connected to their colleagues than before the coronavirus crisis. Employee disconnection is a significant reason for voluntary staff turnover, with lonely employees costing organizations in the U.S. up to $406 billion a year

Meanwhile, Gallup calculated that 60% of global workers were emotionally detached and 19% were miserable. Many believe technology is what will fix this issue. Nick Hedderman, senior director of Microsoft U.K.’s modern work business group, said: “Technology plays a critical role in creating connection wherever, whenever, and however people work – and communication is crucial to keeping everyone engaged and informed.” 

44% of global workers said they were stressed the previous day – a record high

Gallup’s State of the Workforce 2022 report, which analyzed data from 160 countries or territories, showed in 2021, workers were more stressed than ever. Some 44% of survey respondents experienced a lot of daily stress the previous day – in 2019, before the pandemic, it was 38%. Notably, working women in the U.S. and Canada region were among the most stressed employees globally last year.

Stress leads to burnout, and having burnt-out people, at any level in the organization, is dangerous, warned Brian Kropp, managing director at consulting firm Accenture. “The average employee is working nine hours of unpaid overtime a week, up from six hours before the pandemic,” he said. 

The combination of sloppiness and anxiety triggered by tiredness is likely to cause problems at work. “When you feel stressed and worried, the surface area of your brain literally shrinks,” Kropp said. “It is a natural defense mechanism to absorb less information and pain.”

Employers must be mindful and look after their staff – including leaders. “When we are drowsy, we tell people to use caution when operating a vehicle or dangerous machinery,” noted Kropp. “So when employees are tired, we should not ask them to operate the heavy machinery of our business.”

Organizations, therefore, should prioritize well-being, Kropp argued. “The best caring, human organizations have realized employees can’t run at 100% for 100% of the time,” he said. “We must create time for breaks, rest and recovery.”