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Future of work planning an important executive priority: report

Mindy Tan
Published Thu, Jul 22, 2021 · 10:52 AM

FUTURE of work planning is the most urgent executive priority going forward, with worker-employer relationships permanently changed by the pandemic, said Deloitte on Thursday.

The consultancy offered four potential futures, themed "work as fashion", "war between talent", "work is work", and "purpose unleashed", in its 2021 Global Human Capital Trends special report, titled The Worker-Employer Relationship Disrupted: If We're Not Family, What Are We?.

Each scenario is based upon two factors which will have the greatest impact on the evolution of the worker-employer relationship - the supply of talent, and the degree of government action.

The report, which took in research findings from a combination of social media polling, live survey polling, AI-enabled focus groups, and interviews with business and HR executives as well as workers, found that while a majority of surveyed executives (86 per cent) believe that workers will gain greater independence and influence relative to employers in the future, 63 per cent of workers think their relationship with their employers will either become stronger or stay the same.

As workers are reconsidering everything from who they want to work for to the role they expect employers to play in society's most pressing issues, organisations are contemplating how this intersects with their purpose and how to balance shareholder and stakeholder needs, said Deloitte in its report.

"During a time when much of the world is plotting a course to navigate the post-pandemic landscape, we have markets in South-east Asia that are at opposite ends of the spectrum. For example, Thailand is re-entering a lockdown as Singapore remains bullish on its ability to reopen fully. The question then is which of these four potential futures will each country in the region take on, given the complexity of our markets," said Mark Maclean, HR transformation leader, human capital consulting, Deloitte South-east Asia.

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Work as fashion

In the first model, employers are in constant motion as they chase worker sentiments, competitor actions and market dynamics. Deloitte called such a worker-employer relationship "reactive", noting that while this allows organisations to gauge worker feedback in the moment, it can also relegate corporate purpose to the role of "decorative accessory".

"Work as Fashion is being rapidly adopted by many larger organisations as a 'quick fix' to assuage the restlessness and attrition of their top talent. These are short-term measures that have limited-term impact, and serve only to push issues out to a later date," said Mr Maclean.

This model will likely produce short-term satisfaction for both the employer and the worker but may inadvertently lead to questions around inclusion as less dominant voices are overshadowed and under-represented, said Deloitte. To thrive, employers will need to align on a set of unwavering values and develop sustainable workforce strategies that will benefit everyone in the long run, it added.

War between talent

In the second model, workers compete for limited jobs due to an oversupply of talent, resulting in a relationship that is impersonal. As a result, employers view workers as interchangeable and easily replaceable, and workers are more concerned about competing with each other for jobs than with the quality of their relationship with their employer.

This could fuel trends such as globalisation, off-shoring, automation of work, and the use of the alternative workforce, said Deloitte.

But while leaning on these approaches may save on short-term workforce costs, organisations may risk losing out on potential productivity and innovation gains, it warned.

Indeed, 72 per cent of the executives surveyed in the 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report said that the ability of their people to adapt, reskill, and assume new roles was one of the most important factors in their ability to navigate future disruptions.

Additionally, 41 per cent of executives said building workforce capability was one of the most important actions they were taking to transform work.

Work is work

In the third model, organisational responsibility and personal and social fulfilment are viewed as separate domains and the worker-employer relationship is professional.

Re-architecting work to focus on human capabilities and the purpose behind work can help workers build their sense of belonging beyond the day-to-day tasks that characterise the "work is work" scenario. Leaders focused on thriving in this scenario must shift to outcome-based performance management, prioritising well-being, diversity, and reskilling, said Deloitte.

Purpose unleashed

The final model sees purpose as the dominant force driving the relationship between workers and employers.

This model, along with the "work as fashion" model, are becoming most prevalent in the region, noted Deloitte's Mr Maclean.

But while a majority (86 per cent) of executives believe that workers will increasingly value meaningful missions at organisations in the next five years, this approach is not without its risks.

"Unleashed is the antidote to quick fixes and will give organisations the chance to move workers from being employees to being family. By adapting their ways to align employees around the purpose of their organisation, they enable work to be truly flexible, inculcating a culture of clarity and consistency to drive succession through transparent feedback on performance. This requires a greater commitment towards effort and time, and to date, it appears that only smaller, more agile organisations are implementing this," said Mr Maclean.

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