Working In The Past – The CEO Who Didn’t Recognize That The Job Market Had Changed

“We did not change anything” – he tells me. “We are back to work as it was pre-pandemic. The core of the organization provides services and our headquarters work as usual. And no, we have no problem hiring and retaining employees.”

This last sentence especially made it clear to me that no one really tells this CEO what is going on in his organization. This is a known problem: the higher you are in the hierarchy, the more likely the “bad news” is removed from the presentations and reports you receive. But this a topic for another time. Because our issue today begins with the fact that there is no such thing as moving forward facing backwards and no one is exempt from the impact of the trends that are changing the face of the world around us. In no industry. The world has changed, and these changes have implications. Not only on your employees, but also on your clients. No one is exempt from the changes and a CEO who doesn’t realize this will discover that he has become irrelevant.

We’re slowly starting to understand the trends that change peoples’ expectations, including your employees, in the “new normal.” The fourth industrial revolution was already a force before the Covid pandemic, and we could notice the changes that global digitalization and optimization brought into every corner of our life and work. The pandemic accelerated many of these processes and showed us just how deep digitalization and automation can impact our world when we must work remotely.

But that’s not the whole story.

Because the crisis introduced several more changes related not only to technology, but to people. With the understanding that we are, so to say, all human, a form of post-traumatic personal growth trend is emerging, and it has brought about new expectations and desires. These include the need for deeper connections, openness to new opportunities, feelings of greater personal power, deeper spirituality, and better appreciation of life, all of which have further implications on organizations.

The latest  2022 Accenture Fjord Trends Report has interesting insights for organizations to consider regarding interpersonal connections across the whole spectrum: as employers for employees but also as businesses with clients, business partners and consumers. This article focuses on three key trends from this report that affect the world of work: 

Come as you are

More and more people ask themselves “Who am I? What matters to me and why?” These questions become especially acute when people interact with organizations and want to join a company as their real selves and live real lives. This signals a tremendously important humanistic trend that further blurs the border between personal and professional life, but in a whole new way. Unlike in the past, nowadays the fact that an employee has life beyond work indicates strength, not a weakness.

This change directly impacts the traditional vision of employment. Companies no longer just compete for people; they compete with everything else that people want to do in their lives. And this becomes a much harder competition, since more and more people discover that they can be self-reliant and can make their living as an “I” instead of as a “we.” It is now much easier to change one’s income or supplement from other sources thanks to the new platforms that make it easier for people to receive new channels and tools for independent employment. Research done by Zapier in the USA shows that one in three Americans have additional sources of income, and one third of them acquired this extra source of income during the pandemic.

Many organizations these days cope with the implications of having a distributed workforce that for so long was spread and distant. These implications include changes in team dynamics, challenges for innovation and collaboration. As a result, tension between the employees and their wills and desires, and employers and their view on how work needs to be done, is growing every day. Organizations really need to understand this difference in the wishes of people at both employee and consumer levels. The CEO of the company that I mentioned earlier in this article – the one who thinks that his organization can go “back to normal” will soon discover that long gone are the times when you can tell your client “wait at home from 8am to 1pm for the technician to arrive”. At some point a competitor, who was fast enough to grasp that there is a principal difference in expectations of people, will change the business model and win over the clients.

This principle is relevant to employees, too. How do we create an organization, employment conditions, corporate culture that will reinforce the importance of “we” in the world of “I” and convince employees to see the value in being part of a group of people? And no, company cars or gyms are no longer as attractive, because people are looking for something beyond the office walls. The solution is in understanding that employees no longer want to hinge their future onto their employers. Paradoxically, those employers who will help their employees develop their independence will discover they will stick around.

The Next Frontier

Remember “Star Trek” TV series and their definition of space as the “next frontier”? Currently, for us, the next frontier looks like a further blending between the physical and digital worlds. We are facing a world where the developing culture of digitalization offers both people and businesses a whole new space for connecting, creating, consuming and earning. In 2022, this frontier received a new name “Metaverse” and it is now expanding from the world of video games to the rest of the world: our work, and our day-to-day lives.

On the verge of this new frontier, it is already clear that is will change our culture, our behavior, and our concept of “place.” Nowadays, although we use screens to receive information and services, we do not really feel that we “went somewhere.” When we watch a movie that was screened in New York or in Ukraine, we do not really feel that we’ve been there.  Likewise, shopping online does not feel like “going shopping.” In the metaverse we will be able to go, virtually, to the place that will provide us with the experience of “going” somewhere – to a place that will feel a little different from the real physical place where we would be located while virtually shopping. Imagine a 3D layer on top of the physical layer we live in – a layer, in which you will be able to travel, feel, and maybe even sense that you are in a different place, with different people. Something like sitting in a living room with friends, over a coffee, but not everyone present is physically present. If you struggle with this image – it’s alright, because in 1990 it was also hard to imagine that we would purchase things on Amazon or watching movies on Youtube.

In the coming years, this new metaverse layer will provide unlimited opportunities for people and for work. Creators will be able to create assets and content, mediators will be able to connect between the physical and digital world, participants will learn to learn and to explore, builders will design and organize experiences, and communities will help, connect, and attract new participants. Microsoft calls this a mixed reality – one that will help us move beyond physical walls and work in a virtual environment that will serve as an extension to what we do offline. It’s not the same as “meeting in Zoom” – it is operating in a combined space. And this new combined space also defines the way we perceive where work starts and ends.

In the coming years we will probably see more questions than answers, a lot of experiments, learning and discovering what is possible and interesting to do in this new world. With the right level of exploration, this new environment can also be leveraged to attract talent and create an innovative culture, suitable to new developments in the world. Just like in the physical world, we will need to learn new decision-making approaches. And we will see both early adopters and late majority. But those who decide to remain outside of the metaverse will sooner or later discover that the world has progressed, while they have remained way behind – and not only as an employer.

Handle with Care

At the end of the day, we all are human. This concept implies the fine line between the definitions of “human”, “manpower” and “human resources.” The concept of “handle with care” is deeper than pure empathy or building trust – it is the understanding that as humans, we have intrinsic needs to take care of ourselves and of others, not only to work.

Over the past two years we learned the importance of taking care of our physical and mental health. We saw organizations that understood this and others who chose to ignore this and put an additional burden on their already overwhelmed employees. This emotional overload that increased both at work and outside of it caused many people to reach their point of “no return” and make a change. That’s why today we see the “Great Resignation” movement, made up of those who are clearly saying “we cannot live as we used to before, we want to do something else.”

This is not the language that organizations are accustomed to. But the need to take care of employees has become the baseline requirement to enable employees to work. Moving forward the ability of the organization to understand this will have a direct impact on the willingness of employees to belong to that organization. This need has a tremendous impact on the company culture, management, tools and services. We can already see this materializing in new benefits offering companies new services, tools, and channels for their employees, including physical and mental health care, nutrition, sport, leisure and wellbeing, self-care, career planning, family care, community care and even client care. Now is the time to reevaluate benefits and ensure you are giving your employees what really matters. And that you are helping the caretakers take care of themselves.

These new trends challenges what managers and human resources are used to thinking about. We are not used to speaking the language of feelings at work. We are not used to thinking that people have their private lives or personal needs. Just recently anything unrelated to work was not part of the work narrative. But more and more information from the market indicates that there are new and important factors and developments that are required to attract people to workplaces. This means that in the near future we have to have these conversations even if they are uncomfortable. It also means that we need to harness creativity, processes, services, and budgets to meet the new needs of people in this new world.

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Nirit Cohen

Nirit leads an innovative conversation on the future of work and the strategies required to transform careers, organizations, management as well as broader economic and social systems such as education and civil service.

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