As we return to a new world of work, we have an invaluable opportunity to rethink what we do and how we do it.
With increasing risks for employers trying to drive change with a smaller workforce, reexamining a more humanistic work model through good labor standards can drive positive change. Connecting value for multiple stakeholders is at the heart of redefining for the future of work. Ensuring this requires a shift in thinking away from outdated methods and from employment models that are no longer fit for purpose.
Businesses have been challenged from the ground up by the current situations: economic volatility, blatant inequalities, and social justice movements. This is causing many leading companies to reaffirm their commitment to diversity, equity, and racial justice. Some leading companies are going even further, setting new labor standards that align with their own values and allow them to guide how these values are put into practice.
Core aspects of decent work are embedded in the United Nations Vision Goals for Sustainable Development and are at the heart of Goal #8, which calls for the promotion of inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all women and men, including young people and people with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value. Leading by example is The Mayor's Good Work Standard, which brings together good employment practices and links to resources across London to help employers improve their organizations.
Widening gap in health and wealth.
The pandemic has disproportionately impacted working women and minority groups, and disparities in pay, promotion, and pensions have grown tremendously. The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report shows that the pandemic has set back gender pay equality by a generation and has done nothing to ensure equal pay for equal work.
A few employers are promoting social mobility through outreach programs and targeted hiring practices (e.g., removing college degree requirements from job descriptions). At the board level, there is a willingness to engage in dialogue about social justice and embed employability goals for local communities. Fund managers are also pressuring companies to address job loss for women and take a more inclusive view of work.
Increased prioritization of workplace wellness.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, we are seeing how work models - even when implemented remotely - put tremendous pressure on workers to balance work and life. We are now seeing the consequences of delayed health care and increasing mental health issues. Employers need to be aware of the importance of having a comprehensive employee wellness strategy if they want to ensure they continue to do well. According to a new study by the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization, workers who work more than 55 hours per week have a 35% increased risk of suffering a stroke and a 17% increased risk of dying from heart disease.
Digital capabilities and the expansion of digital care hold promise. Digital mental health companies have seen a collective investment of more than $1.6 billion in 2020, a record year globally, and new unicorn sectors are led by fintech. Rising life expectancy will require additional financial planning and more flexible employment options to support the aging workforce. This presents employers with a real opportunity to drive physical, emotional and financial health.
Rethinking work, workers and workplaces.
A key shift in mindset is healthy living as an expectation of work outcomes. This is critical given that the majority (about 64%) plan for a mixed work model in the future and nearly 10% have no plans to return to the office. Maximizing productivity and flexibility in a mixed work environment requires a review of how work gets done. Leading companies are using non-traditional ways and methods to accelerate the flow of labor to opportunities. This requires greater transparency of labor practices throughout a company's supply chain and a clearer articulation of what constitutes quality work.
Companies have an increased need for on-demand workers (up to 50% of the workforce), driven by a cost-benefit analysis of the ability to bring a range of skills into the organization without the overhead costs of traditional workers, which allows access to a larger talent pool. However, there is significant pressure to bring in contract workers, freelancers, and part-time employees with secure benefit options for a brighter future. It will be critical that as new standards are developed, the flexibility and employability that are at the core of the platform economy are not lost.
Retraining and upskilling for personal growth.
Workers are increasingly looking for opportunities to retrain and upskill on the job, while being given the opportunity to learn. Ensuring future employability through skills is now a critical part of the employment contract that employers must adequately address
The Forum projects that by 2025, work will be equally divided between humans and machines, with machines doing much of the heavy lifting in data processing, administrative tasks, and routine manual tasks for both white- and blue-collar workers. This highlights the importance of upskilling and retraining for new jobs at all levels, and requires a shift in thinking away from jobs and toward the skill sets that workers possess. Focusing on technological and digital skills is only half the battle; individuals must also prepare for more service-oriented and creative occupations which will require greater cognitive adaptability, creative thinking, and empathetic thinking if workers are to realize their human potential in a machine-driven future.
Employers need to actively consider how jobs are changing, which job categories and employees will be most impacted in the short, medium and long term, and create targeted career pathways and upskilling and reskilling for emerging jobs to keep talent employable. However, to turn short-term opportunities into a sustainable employment strategy, work must be done to create a learning culture and talent programs that support skills transfer and career mobility. Major efforts are needed to achieve this. Technology-enabled solutions and innovations, including AI-based systems, will play a major role in successful implementation.