This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
If I had to hazard a guess at this early point in the new year, I would bet the No. 1 issue on the minds of executives and directors in 2022 will be talent. Data shows “The Great Resignation” continues. In recent months, record numbers of workers have changed companies—and often careers—in pursuit of a new life postpandemic.
Covid-19 has exposed the fragility of the employer-employee relationship, triggering deep questions about the work we do, how we do it, and even why. According to Bain & Company data, 58% of workers globally feel the pandemic has forced them to rethink the balance between their work and personal lives.
It takes time to come to grips with any shift of this magnitude and consequence. The exam question, as it were, is, How can we nurture a new model of work that is sustainable, satisfying, and successful? Colleagues at Bain Futures have just published a report, “The Working Future: More Human, Not Less,” seeking answers to this question, and it’s one of the best things I’ve read on the topic. The report is based on a year of research including: a Bain/Dynata survey of 20,000 workers; in-depth interviews with more than 100 people from varying walks of life in the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Nigeria—countries representing around 65% of global GDP combined; and hundreds of conversations with executives at our CEO Forums.
Rehumanizing the way we think about work
One of the report’s most striking insights is how decelerating labor force growth, superabundant capital, and the growing importance of intangible assets like intellectual property and customer networks are shifting the balance of power in business from capital to labor. Its conclusion: Automation and digital systems aren’t leading to a future of work that is less human, but one that is more human. We must, therefore, develop a far deeper understanding of workers.
“Much of the prevailing thinking about the relationship between workers and firms was forged in a very different world than the one we live in today, where workers were viewed simply as factors of production in the machine of enterprise,” the authors write. “Today’s firm requires a new mental model, one that rehumanizes the way we think about work. More than simply inputs, workers are the atomic building blocks of the modern firm. Yet our understanding of workers—their hopes and desires, their untapped potential, their emotional state—is often superficial.”
Five themes reshaping work
Five key takeaways emerge from the group’s extensive research.
- The reasons we work are changing. Gains in living standards over the past 150 years allow us to spend less of our time working, but also raise expectations about what a job should provide. This includes, as I’ve written about in prior articles, a connection to an authentic corporate purpose that not only creates a sense of belonging, but also guides decisions and inspires action.
- Beliefs about what makes a “good job” are diverging. As attitudes toward work fragment, the average worker is no longer a useful approximation. The authors identified six worker archetypes, evident in all countries, each with a different set of priorities: operators, explorers, strivers, givers, artisans, and pioneers.
- Automation is helping to rehumanize work. Distinctly human advantages—including problem solving, interpersonal connection, and creativity—grow in importance as automation eliminates routine work (a topic you can also read more about in my Forbes article “The Revenge of EQ.”)
- Technological change is blurring the boundaries of the firm. Remote and gig work are on the rise, but they challenge firm cohesion and have important implications for leaders managing change, the topic of my article “Change is Changing: Coping With The Death of Traditional Change Management.”
- Younger generations are increasingly overwhelmed. Young people, especially in advanced economies, are under mounting psychological strain that spills over into their work lives.
Three steps every executive should focus on
Armed with these insights, business leaders trying to stay ahead in increasingly competitive markets will focus on three things:
- Talent taker to talent maker. Winning firms will scale investment in learning, think laterally about career journeys, and cultivate a growth mindset in their organizations.
- Workers ≠ machines. Leaders will stop managing workers like machines, instead supporting them as they build their personal capacity and a career that matches their individual idea of a meaningful life. As part of this, leaders will reorganize workflows to help individuals best utilize their uniquely human advantages.
- Out of many, one. Leading firms will build an organization that offers a sense of belonging and opportunity for its many unique workers while remaining united through a shared vision and communal values.
For executives resolving to stay ahead or gain ground in the war for talent in 2022, exploring these themes and the actions they point to is an excellent place to start. You can find the full report here.