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The future of work? Healthy and productive first

3-minute read

September 26, 2022

It’s the third September since the pandemic, and many companies are again in a position where they have to navigate uncertainty and manage through the current economic downturn and challenging business environment. Some are embracing a return to the office, while others continue to encourage remote work. Multiple factors are at play in these decisions, but regardless of where companies stand, what remains true is that people are fundamentally rethinking their relationship with work.

At all levels, and in most jobs, people are redefining what the future of work is. They are experiencing profound shifts in their values and priorities, amid increased information overload, exhaustion and burnout levels. In these highly volatile times, I think we need to question assumptions about how, where, and when we work. Instead of tying work to location, let’s focus on what enables workers to be healthy, happy and productive anywhere.

Factors shaping the success of the future of work

For the past two years, our workforce research has consistently shown that tectonic workforce shifts are happening and are unstoppable. Here are some of our major findings:

An inclusive work environment.
 Creating an inclusive environment where every person feels like they belong every day can unlock up to 5x more human potential. (“Better to Belong”)

Modern leadership.
 CEOs who focus on meeting their people’s holistic needs are 1.2x more likely than their peers to project revenue hypergrowth of 10% or more. (“3 ways to power sustainable change”)

 When people feel connected to each other, their leaders and their work, their companies stand to gain a 7.4% revenue growth boost per year. (“From always connected to omni-connected”)

Work models attuned to people’s needs.
 Only 35% of people are satisfied with how their companies have responded with new work models. (Accenture Future of Work Research 2022)

Obstacles to the success of the future of work

Our workforce research also shows that there is room for improvement when the following obstacles are addressed:

1 in 6
 Only one in six people feels highly connected to their organization and the people they work with. (“From always connected to omni-connected”)

1 in 4
 Only one in four people reports that leaders are responsive to their needs, communicate regularly and feels that team members are treated equally. (“From always connected to omni-connected”)

1 in 5
Lack of psychological safety.
 Only one in five people feels comfortable sharing problems or raising conflicts with colleagues. (“From always connected to omni-connected”)

Status Quo.
 74% of CEOs are not thinking differently about the future of work. (Accenture Future of Work Research 2022)

3 actions to improve the future of work

We are at a critical point—the path businesses take today will shape where they go tomorrow. Where to start? Here are three actions that help create a workplace that works for everyone.

1. Forsake nostalgia, embrace change

We all have moments when we think with nostalgia about something that was or worked before the pandemic, but which now no longer exists. There is comfort in that, so we are tempted to revert to “what we know works.” Yet, the foundational bases of work have been shaken to their core. Yesterday’s approaches are going to be less and less effective today. That’s because people have leap-frogged years of change in terms of behaviors and mindsets. They have accepted and adopted technology that, in other conditions, would have taken years to achieve widespread use. As leaders, we have two options: to look back with nostalgia or to adapt and meet our people where they are, answering their needs and priorities right now.

2. Create equity in differentiation

No one was left untouched by the events of the pandemic. Many people began to step back—as I did—and reevaluate the position of work in their lives. Many had no choice and did so out of necessity. That led to the “great reshuffle,” where people switched jobs in record numbers. Now “quiet quitting” is in the news, a phenomenon where people are checking out their passion, engagement and innovation at the door of their enterprise. Unfortunately, women and minorities have been impacted the most. So far, the loss of this segment of the workforce has cost the US alone more than $2 trillion. Possibly, for the first time in many decades, organizations are being forced to look even more closely at the connection between economic disparity and economic growth. We need to “reshuffle” again and focus on inclusion, diversity and equity, while creating work models that offer flexibility to all workers while creating work models that offer flexibility to all workers.

3. Switch perspectives with your employees

Many leaders are baby boomers, who grew up in a world where work and life were separated. Boundaries were clear. They checked out their personal lives at the door of the enterprise and expected their employees to do the same. So, it’s hard for many of these leaders to relate to their current employees. The newer generation of workers bring their whole selves to work and want to feel connected to their colleagues and the purpose of their organization. It may seem exhausting for leaders to switch perspectives, but that’s how one discovers shared values and purpose with one’s people. Finding a way to meet employees where they are means giving up the status quo that has been in place for decades. And when leaders make this change, that’s when their people bring their innovation, productivity and passion to work.

Forge the future

Leaders have two main overlapping challenges: running the business they have today and building the business they need tomorrow. Figuring out how to tackle these two competing priorities may bring anyone to a standstill. But our research results consistently show that fundamental human needs like wellness, purpose and inclusion are now taking precedence over pre-pandemic workflows that devalued well-being for the sake of high productivity. Interestingly, our future of work research shows that productivity and well-being are not contradictory but complementary. All people need to thrive is a reimagined enterprise, one that fits their purpose and their needs, regardless of their physical location.

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Eric Pliner

Managing Director – Leadership & Culture, Global Lead