Why You Shouldn’t Underestimate Your Workers

The future of work is creeping up on us more and more quickly, a reality that has likely kept many HR and C-suite leaders up at night, as they struggle to find the best ways for their workforces to cope with the changing nature of work. But, according to a new report, workers themselves don’t share that trepidation, but rather look at coming changes as opportunities–a perception gap that HR professionals may want to keep on their radars.

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The new study published in Harvard Business Review surveyed more than 11,000 workers and 6,500 business leaders in 11 countries, including the U.S., about the future of work. Researchers identified 17 “forces of disruption” that are shaping the future of work–from accelerating technological advancements to changing demands for skills and evolving employee expectations. They found that workers, when compared with leaders, more clearly recognized how many of those different forces are impacting their workplaces, and also were more likely than leaders to differentiate those having the strongest impact.

See also: What happens to gender pay gaps when they’re disclosed?

Workers also were inclined to see opportunity in the future of work. For instance, workers responded that about two-thirds of the 17 factors would have a positive impact on their workplace, including advances in AI–contrary to popular opinions about workers fearing job replacement by advancing technologies. They predicted that both automation and technology can enhance flexibility and worker autonomy, and enable workers to avoid dull or even dangerous tasks.

Researchers, however, found that leaders who saw their workforce as not being prepared for the future of work largely believed workers “feared significant change”–an answer that far outranked the idea that managers and leaders need to provide more support and training to help workers get up to speed.

“While the executives were pessimistic about their employees’ ability to acquire the capabilities needed to thrive in an era of rapid change,” researchers write, “the employees were not. The employees were actually focused on the benefits that change would bring and far more eager to learn new skills than their leaders gave them credit for.”

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To contend with these disparities, the researchers identified a number of recommendations:

  • Foster a learning culture;
  • actively engage employees in the transition;
  • reconsider your typical talent pools, including by placing extra emphasis on growing internal talent;
  • be willing to team up with other companies to deepen the talent pool; and
  • identify and swiftly respond to shifts in a way that empowers employees to take an active role in the transformation.
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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].