the future of work study by Lee Hecht Harrison (LHH) and The Adecco Group

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More than hype, the great resignation phenomenon may be considered as a warning sign for companies to reconnect better with their workforce.

Globally, workers want to maintain a hybrid working model where more than half of their time is spent working remotely (53%); with the rest of the time in the office (47%), and workers feel as productive or more productive than before with remote work arrangements (82%).

More than half of young leaders (54%) reported they have suffered burnout, and three in 10 stated their mental and physical health has declined in the last 12 months.

Nearly two in five employees are already changing or considering new careers, while 41% are considering moving to jobs with more flexible working options. And a quarter of the workforce is considering moving to another country or region.

Pardon the overwhelming information, but these are some important data to take note of from HR companies Lee Hecht Harrison (LHH) and The Adecco Group's Resetting Normal: Defining the New Era of Work study, which unearthed insights into how attitudes have changed, and the implications for companies to successfully adapt in this period of transition following the pandemic, and progress in the future of work.

The results are generated from 14,800 respondents across 25 countries like Argentina, Belgium, and China.

Hybrid work

Without question, the idea of working-from-anywhere is here to stay. Based on the study, however, there are polarised experiences for workers, and some areas have got worse. The challenge for leaders is to therefore capitalise on the opportunities brought by the new normal, and build structures and resources to ensure this new way of working is future-proof. Companies must focus on wellbeing, reconnecting leaders and workers, and acknowledge that ‘one size will not fit all’ when addressing employee needs in remote work.

As shown earlier, more than half of the workers want to maintain a hybrid working model. Both workers and leaders agree on the benefits of hybrid working in the new normal, with eight in 10 agreeing that employees, as well as businesses will benefit from having increased flexibility around the time spent at the office and remote working.

If the figures were analysed with the demographics of workers with children and workers without, then the former (51%) wants to be in the office more than the latter (42%). In the demographics of age, younger generations want to be in the office more. Gen Z workers, for example, want to spend 56% of their working time at the office.

"Generally, the more junior the respondent, the more likely they are inclined to want to spend time at the office. This suggests that they need the onboarding, structure, and to have experienced people around to support them in person, while senior workers already have the autonomy and knowledge that experience has brought them," an explanation in the study.

In terms of geographical split, people in most countries—with the exception of China—want to spend at least 40% of their time working remotely, with Japan (64%), the UK (63%), and Canada (62%) being most in favour of remote working.

Beyond offering flexibility at work, the majority believe that hybrid working patterns offer opportunities for creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce, one that will benefit those with disabilities (75%), working parents (73%), and people from diverse backgrounds (69%).

With that, it is noteworthy that globally, 71% of people have created effective remote working environments for themselves, and exactly the same proportion say that working remotely more often than they did before the pandemic will be important to them in future. In other words, there is a clear affirmation that hybrid working was not a temporary effect of the pandemic, but an expectation for workers in the new normal.

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Work week

If there is one thing unaffected by the pandemic, it is work productivity. More than eight in 10 people surveyed (82%) say their productivity has stayed the same or improved during the last 12 months. Thus, nearly three quarters (72%) want employers to revisit the length of the working week, and the number of hours people are expected to work—with over half (57%) believing their job can be done in under 40 hours.

Likewise, such flexibility is highly valued across geographies, gender, age, and life stage, especially by those with children and caring responsibilities. Gen Z, meanwhile, feels less strongly about retaining flexibility.

These findings are supported by the overwhelming numbers of staff (75%), who think it is important to retain flexibility as part of the return to normal. As such, there are calls from both workers and leaders for work to be measured by outcomes and results rather than hours spent working. 

However, companies and leaders are yet to adapt to the demand for outcome-based approaches rather than hours-based—only 36% of non-managers feel their managers are assessing their performance based on results rather than the number of hours worked.

All of this translates into one thing: people want to work smarter, not longer. Hence, maintaining flexibility and autonomy over their own schedules is key for workers going forward. To do so, companies must build a culture of trust, and re-invent planning and collaboration for a new era of flexible work; and also move towards providing support, guidance, and training to assist managers to transition from evaluating work and workers on an hours input basis, to a results output criteria.

"Listening to employee feedback and striking the right balance will be key to successful hybrid working," the study added.


Wellbeing

More than three in 10 (32%) workers reported that their mental health has worsened over the last 12 months. Splitting them up into gender and age:

  • Women (34%);
  • Men (29%);
  • Gen Z (32%);
  • Millennials (30%);
  • Gen X (32%), and
  • Baby Boomers (34%).

In terms of geography, those in Australia are the highest (53%), followed by EMEA (50%), Italy (49%), and China (41%).

On that note, seven in 10 (71%) say having the right support for mental health at work will be important to them in the future. Nearly three-quarters (74%) expect their company to increase the focus on this issue.

However, leaders do not appear to be equipped to support employee wellbeing. More than half of all managers find it hard to identify when staff may be struggling with mental health issues (53%) or overwork and burnout (51%). This is backed up by non-managers, 67% of whom say that their leaders do not meet their expectations for checking on their mental wellbeing.

It goes to show mental health is a global and universal issue, spanning all respondents, regardless of age or gender. It is therefore a key future challenge for companies and leaders. 

Companies must re-evaluate how they can better support good mental health among their employees within the new hybrid working model. For instance, create working environments, cultures, and skill sets that promote and support positive mental health at all levels of the organisation, or establish processes, resources, coaching, and tools to foster openness and to listen to employees’ needs in order to help workers develop resilience.

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Leadership

Globally, the relationship between staff and their leaders have deteriorated, with less than half of non-managers (45%) feeling their relationship is good. This is 17 points lower than in 2020. And only a third (33%) of non-managers feel they are getting due recognition for their contributions within the business.

Furthermore, most workers (74%) say it is important for managers to promote and nurture strong team morale and culture, but less than half (48%) say their managers meet or exceed expectations for creating good team morale and a good working culture. From the group in non-management positions, only 37% feel that their leaders are succeeding at encouraging a good working environment and team culture.

When it comes to supporting employees’ work-life balance, only half (50%) of the workforce say their managers are meeting expectations. The number is reduced to 42% when asking those in non-management positions.

Standing in the shoes of managers, leaders, and C-suite executives, however, they have had a steep learning curve. Nearly half (46%) of managers say they have not found the overall experience of managing other people easy over the past 12 months. Onboarding new team members has been challenging for 55% of all managers, as well as identifying when staff might be struggling with mental wellbeing (53%), burnout (51%), or the pressures of work (48%).

For nearly half of leaders (48%), supporting their teams’ career development has not been easy. They have also struggled with guiding their staff to focus on business goals (45%) and assessing their team’s performance based on outcomes and results rather than hours worked (44%).

With that, regarding their workers, companies, and leaders must be deliberate in how they set up the new working structures, resources, training, and team dynamics, and take accountability for actively framing the new model of work.

"Taking time to invest in building a stronger set of soft skills will be paramount," the study added.

Regarding management-level workers, companies have to equip leaders with upskilling, coaching, resources, and technology that will help them to better listen to and manage their teams, increase and nurture motivation, and set strong team morale and culture. This can help future-proof the company and its employees.

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The great resignation

This phenomenon is on everyone's lips. More than a hype, however, there are warning signs for companies to reconnect with their workforce. This is because nearly two in every five people are changing to or considering new careers, the same number that is moving or is considering moving to jobs with more flexible working options.

Younger generations—along with those in more senior positions—are most likely to be considering a move. In terms of geographical split, those living in the MENA region and in Australia are most inclined to consider a move or have actually moved to a different part of the country. Again, these trends reinforce the expectation from workers that remote and hybrid work should become part of normal working conditions, and not just a temporary perk.

This trend could be attributed to workers' appetite to learn new skills. Two-thirds (66%) of workers believe they need to train and gain new skills to stay employable in the years ahead and over six in 10 (62%) are taking or considering taking a new qualification or gaining new skills.

Not more than four in 10 workers, however, believe their company is assessing their skills and effectively investing in upskilling them. And less than half of them believe the company has a strategy to upskill workers in the digital skills that companies will need in the future. What's more, less than half (48%) are satisfied with career prospects at their current company. 

With that, workers need to see and feel opportunities. The study said "during the last 12 months, people have become more autonomous, agile and proactive, taking it upon themselves to update their skills. They are ready for change, and they are looking at employers for more agency". 

Companies must therefore use this momentum to reassess their talent and put those new skills to use. Not only will it future-proof the organisation, but it can also help people re-discover themselves and reconnect with their purpose.

That said, whatever the circumstances in hybrid work, wellbeing, leadership, or the Great Resignation, the study believes that it is vital employees, employers, and policymakers share the responsibility of shaping a new working model.


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