The coronavirus pandemic has caused the biggest worker reshuffle in modern history and in the process radically shifted the balance of power from capital to labour, a new report argues.
The Bain/Dynata survey titled The Working Future: More Human, Not Less looked at 20,000 workers in 10 countries — the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Nigeria — representing around 65 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).
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The survey, which looked at the shift in work between February 2020 and February 2021, stresses that the previously held relationship between workers and companies was forged in a world quite different from the one we live in today.
“A year of in-depth research has helped us define the broader implications of the future of work and the steps firms need to take now to get ahead in the shifting war for talent,” the report concludes.
Workers in the US have grown increasingly confident about their job prospects. Organising, unionising and protesting worker conditions has become quite a phenomenon in recent months. Employees are emboldened to take on large corporations such as coffee maker Starbucks and cereal manufacturer Kellogg.
Data underscores the shifting balance of power. Some 4.2 million Americans quit their jobs in October and 4.4 million quit in September. The phenomenon has been dubbed by economists (many of whom are left scratching their heads) as the Great Resignation.
Punch the clock: What now?
What’s driving the Great Resignation? The factors vary from fear of contracting COVID-19 and childcare challenges to baby boomers taking early retirement and workers tapping their entrepreneurial spirits to start businesses of their own.
Workers have found themselves in a great bargaining position – and that leverage is evident in average hourly earnings, which increased 4.8 percent in November from the same period a year ago, according to the US Department of Labor.
“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,” the Bain/Dynata survey says.
Millions of Americans used the job market disruption and unprecedented upending of daily life caused by the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to reevaluate what they want from life and how their jobs can make those goals happen.
The Bain/Dynata report also found that motivations for work have shifted greatly. Fewer workers these days are blinded by dollar signs. According to the survey, while 56 percent of respondents named compensation in their top three priorities, only 22 percent of workers ranked good salary and benefits as the thing that matters most to them in a job.
Strides made in living standards, at least in developed countries, mean that workers are upping their expectations about what a job should provide. The dreary picture of an unhappy worker punching the clock, reporting to duty nine to five without any heart or soul in his/her daily tasks, may no longer fly as an acceptable way of living.
Work-life balance: The war for talent
Some 58 percent of the 10,000 workers surveyed by Bain/Dynata said that the pandemic has forced them to rethink their balance of work and life.
Workers have become more reluctant to stay at jobs they deem unsuitable to their new goals and ambitions. This has left companies struggling to fill positions and operate at full capacity.
And the problem is unlikely to go away any time soon. Data shows that US workers are not afraid to tell their bosses “I quit”.
Moreover, younger generations, especially in advanced economies, are under increasing pressure and mounting psychological strain that spills over into their work lives. The search for work-life balance will only get fiercer, says the report.
Bain/Dynata says humanising workers may help companies stay in the fight for talent. That means investing in employees, offering them learning and training programmes, making it easier for them to move laterally in their careers and cultivating a winner mentality within the organisation.
It also means respect. The way managers, executives and business leaders see work and employees must evolve, Bain/Dynata argues. Companies must stop managing workers like machines and instead shift to supporting them to build personal capacity and create a career that better matches their idea of a fulfilling life – not that dreary, soulless black-and-white picture.
Yes, employees have a job to do, but managers also have the new responsibility of helping workers utilise their skills and talents.
An organisation or company that wants to win will at its core have to adopt an environment of belonging and opportunity for workers. A shared vision and common values upheld and promoted by the company’s leadership will be key for morale and retaining the people who make the wheels go round.