In these uncertain times, many of us are looking forward to a dose of normality; for things to go back to how they were before COVID-19 – whether that’s a trip to the movies, a worry-free meal out or a holiday abroad. But as the pandemic has worn on, it’s become clear that some things are never going to return to how they were. In particular, the way we work has changed indelibly. 

Thanks to the pandemic, some job roles will disappear and others will emergeWorking from home will become business as usual, at least for some of the time, and workers will rely on cloud-based digital tools far more than in the past. Change will be profound and lasting. Business leaders recognize this, and are trying to adapt. In a recent Accenture survey, 77% of the C-suite executives we spoke to said they’re planning to redesign jobs and roles in their organizations. Seventy-three percent say they’re looking to redesign workplace cultures and ways of work. 

But this is a task that many firms may find easier said than done. This is because of three paradoxes that lie at the heart of the workforce. Revealed by new Accenture research, these paradoxes must be addressed if workforce strategy is to deliver as required. 

1. The people most likely to leave you are best workers

Our research shows that one in two workers are considering a career change. Paradoxically, the very people looking to move on are more often than not high-income top performers – the very people you would think would value their relatively secure jobs in these difficult times. Yet half of this cohort are considering a new job, and a majority are exploring new sources of income (55%) and entertaining the idea of taking a part-time role (59%). 

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workers are considering a career change. Paradoxically, the very people looking to move on are more often than not high-income top performers. 

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This should concern business leaders for a variety of reasons. For a start, there’s the brand damage that will result when many of your most valued workers take to the jobs market – investors, shareholders and other stakeholders may think something is amiss. Second, your best employees are often the ones you’ve invested the most in and who have the hardest-to-find skills. Rebuilding this lost talent will be difficult and expensive and will hamper efforts to recover from the current crisis. 

2. Skills building isn’t happening where it’s most needed 

Especially if companies are losing their best workers, they need to be building skills in the right areas to replace this talent. Yet our research shows that high-income workers are more likely to be learning a new skill or pursuing online education than middle- or low-income workers (56% vs. 43% and 45% respectively).  

Even leaving aside the need to train lower-level workers to help fill any losses at the top, the digital transformation of the workplace driven by COVID means that all roles are changing, and all workers need to be taught new skills, particularly as automation replaces many routine tasks. 

Self-starters will continuously learn to ensure they have the skills to remain marketable. What business leaders need to do is ensure they’re giving all workers access to the right skills, training and opportunities to thrive in the jobs market. This is responsible skilling, and it will ultimately help employers as it will build employee loyalty and help stop churn. 

3. People appreciate working from home, but aren’t committed to it 

The final paradox is that while people have appreciated working from home, they don’t want to do it the whole time. Specifically, while the majority (57%) of workers continue to feel more professionally satisfied working from home than from an office, they don’t want it to be their new norm 100% of the time. 

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The majority of workers feel more professionally satisfied working from home, but

they don’t want it to be their new norm 100% of the time. 

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Interestingly, we found that couples with children are keenest to get back to the office. And it’s not because they’re unable to be productive at home with all the familiar distractions—our study shows that adults with children actually report greater ability to focus on tasks at hand compared to counterparts without children. 

Knowing your workers' minds has never been more important

Our three paradoxes all add up to the same thing: if businesses are unclear about what it takes to attract and retain people, then they risk losing out on talent as the workplace of the future falls into place. 

Addressing this challenge comes down to two things: strong leadership, and innovative approaches to data-driven decision making. Businesses that build their workforce strategies in these two pillars will be best place to adapt fast while keeping workers on side. In my next two blogs in this series I will focus on these pillars in turn, starting with the critical role that must be played by business leaders. 

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Yaarit Silverstone

Senior Managing Director, Talent & Organization/Human Potential, Global Strategy Lead & North America Lead

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