The rise of automation, a data privacy crisis, and global economic instability make imagining the future of work extremely difficult.
We know that automation and A.I. are standardizing repetitive tasks and lowering labor costs; it’s also leaving many loyal employees out of work because of it.
To gather perspective on the workplace of the future, I sought advice from Cecile Alper-Leroux, VP of human capital management (HCM) innovation at Ultimate Software. Every year, Alper-Leroux analyzes HR and business trends to predict the “major socio-economic, geo-political and demographic forces at play that will radically affect our workforces and workplaces.”
For 2020, she has identified three issues that “require immediate and intentional action” if organizations want to thrive in the future of work.
1. Overlooked talent in people with disabilities and older workers.
“The United States has a jobs surplus of more than one million open positions, and there are record-high labor shortages across 12 of the 15 largest world economies,” says Alper-Leroux. “At the same time, we have two large demographic groups that are underutilized in our workforce: people with disabilities and people over age 55.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and NPR, people are living longer and retiring later, and workers 65 years of age and older are America’s fastest-growing cohort. According to the United Nations, the U.S. Census Bureau and the ADA National Network, 1.5 billion people, including 40 million Americans and 30 percent of Americans over age 65, live with a disability.
“While employers have struggled to fill open roles, people in these groups face higher rates of unemployment around the world,” says Alper-Leroux. “In 2020, organizations must make a concerted effort to reach into these untapped talent pools and create accessible, inclusive environments where these employees can thrive.”
Welcoming these populations into the workforce demands that executives reconsider diversity, inclusion, and accessibility:
“We need to invest in accessible technologies and physical work facilities. In fact, leaders should consider making ‘adjustments’ for underrepresented groups rather than ‘accommodations,’ which imply a hardship for companies,” she says.
Alper-Leroux says organizations should also be prepared to work with older workers to develop more flexible work arrangements, potentially on a non-traditional, cyclical basis, rather than traditional 9-5, 40-hour workweeks.
2. A complicated balance: employee trust and data privacy.
Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) are good first steps, but the global data privacy crisis is only beginning.
“Many people feel they have lost control over how their personal information is being used, and those concerns are now making their way into the workplace,” says Alper-Leroux. “Because technology companies have shifted consumer expectations around transparency, employees are now adopting those same expectations at work.”
To maintain employee trust, executives must balance transparent data use and data privacy, and it’s up to HR to help ensure there are systems in place that walk this line well, says Alper-Leroux.
There are three data questions organizations need to answer for employees: What is being collected, why do you need it, and who controls it? Employees must know employers are gathering information for legitimate reasons and have access to that data.
“By being transparent about employee data and privacy, organizations can strengthen employee trust, a crucial component of business success,” she says. Workforces with high trust in leadership are twice as likely to outperform in revenue growth and customer loyalty.
3. Build adaptability into the workforce.
Executives talk about making organizations more adaptable, but to Alper-Leroux, it’s not about the organization:
“To survive rapid technological shifts, we must build adaptability and resilience directly into our workforces. Many organizations have paid lip service to shifting recruitment toward critical professional skills like self-awareness and empathy, but the reality is too many business leaders and recruiters are still prioritizing technical skills that may be obsolete in a few years.”
CEOs are focused on growth, and the key to that growth is giving employees opportunities to expand their skill sets.
“Employees consistently say that growth opportunities are one of the biggest factors in whether they will stay with their employers,” Alper-Leroux says. “HR teams will need to lead the way in providing more of these exploratory learning opportunities for employees, and executives will need to work with HR to find ways to effectively measure the impact of these adaptive skills.”
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