5 trends that will shape the future of work

18 January 2022 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
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The expectations of the workforce have shifted dramatically over the last two years. New research has explored five key trends which employers will need to reckon with in the coming years in response.

The Covid-19 pandemic triggered some lasting trends in the world of work, and served as a catalyst for others. Most obviously, the lockdown months forced many companies previously resistant to remote working to experiment with it to enable the continuation of business – something which has shifted perceptions about such arrangements. At the same time, however, others found themselves in ‘essential’ jobs that required them to personally confront the virus on a daily basis just to keep society running – having previously been told their labour was ‘unskilled’ and therefore not worthy of higher levels of pay.

All of this has caused workers around the world to reflect on what they want their work to look like, what role it plays in their lives, and what it is actually worth to employers. This has been illustrated by research by Bain & Company, which commissioned a Dynata poll across 10 major economies, and found that 58% of all workers feel the pandemic has forced them to “rethink the balance between their work and their personal lives.”

Workers who rank each job attribute as a top priority

Looking at the data, the strategy consulting giant has determined five key trends, which it believes will go on to shape the future of work.

Changing motivations

What people have expected from their jobs has been in a state of flux for generations. Over the past century, when the pay for workers has risen, it has enabled them to consider the other things work can offer them in terms of personal fulfilment. As this has correlated with the decreasing importance of religion across the US and Europe, Bain suggests that “new generations of workers may have turned to their careers to provide a sense of higher purpose.”

While compensation is the most important attribute of a job, it is only in the top priority for one-in-five workers. This is closely followed by how ‘interesting’ work in a job is – a top priority for 15% of people – while learning and growth, and being helpful for society were among other leading priorities. Working for 18 months from outside the office may have encouraged more workers to act on these desires, re-evaluating what their roles mean to them beyond pay, and potentially triggering the ‘Great Resignation’, with many workers looking for jobs that meet more needs than just income.

Definition of “good job” splintering

At the same time, the concept of the average worker has been highlighted as an outdated concept by these changes. What makes a “good job” is something different to different groups of the workforce – who realise they are generally looking for different things. According to Bain, these converge around six main archetypes.

The researchers assert, “Operators find meaning and self-worth primarily outside of their jobs… Givers find meaning in work that directly improves the lives of others… Artisans seek out work that fascinates or inspires them… Explorers value freedom and experiences… Strivers have a strong desire to make something of themselves… And pioneers are on a mission to change the world.”

Automation rehumanises work

Before the pandemic, automation was largely being deployed to improve efficiency and accuracy in repetitive jobs. At the same time, most discussion around automation was around the loss of jobs, rather than the creation of others. While Bain does not dispute that some jobs will continue to decline due to automation, however, it asserts that many new roles will be created which can better meet the previously mentioned needs of workers. And with the workforce now seemingly more willing than before to uproot to meet these needs, the transition may be smoother than previously expected.

The researchers comment, “The big challenge ahead will be determining how to transition workers from declining occupations to jobs of the future. Fortunately, the list of jobs that displaced workers in lower-skill occupations can perform, when given the right training and support, is nearly endless. The Internet has changed the economics of knowledge, giving workers in many occupations access to the information they need to do their jobs with the click of a button.”

Job satisfaction by employment type in US

Remote work to challenge gig work

Many professionals had gone into business for themselves before the pandemic, as they felt they could improve their work-life balance as freelancers. However, the risks of the pandemic – as well as the changes it has wrought – may lessen the popularity of contract work.

Across all income ranges, Bain finds that contingent workers are less satisfied than permanent employees. Many reports have previously noted that the risks of being your own boss during lockdown left freelancers depressed. At the same time, the autonomy many gig workers hoped to obtain by going it alone has now been afforded to permanent staff – who have enjoyed rises in flexibility, and the ability to take control of their jobs while working remotely in lockdown.

Younger generations overwhelmed

The psychological pressures of the last two years have taken a toll across the workforce. In particular, though, they have weighed heavy on younger workers. Bain’s researchers assert that Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Z no longer experience the steady decline in stress that has historically been associated with ageing.

Bain adds, “Younger workers have also been exposed to broader turbulence over the past decade, including greater political polarization, geopolitical tensions, and concerns about climate change, not to mention a pandemic. The lives of younger generations are characterised by a far higher degree of ambiguity and uncertainty.”