Article: How empowered employees are transforming the future of work

Employee Relations

How empowered employees are transforming the future of work

Workers trying to institutionalise their newfound power are calling forth positive changes, globally. But, will it stick?
How empowered employees are transforming the future of work

In March 2022, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs. The number of job opportunities during the month, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, hit a new high of 11.5 million. Similarly, a record high of 1.2 million job openings were reported by the Office for National Statistics in the UK in January. Global labour shortages have made it difficult for businesses in many industries to fill vacancies.

There is growing evidence that companies are losing ground to workers, who are in a position to bargain with their current and potential bosses and cherry-pick jobs that suit them best. As power shifts to workers in the labour market, employers are attempting to retain the best talent by enhancing salaries, perks, health coverage, and mental health assistance. 

As such, a great reprioritisation of work, rewards, and careers is underway, with candidates increasingly weighing options against how their role aligns with the company's values. Many industries are seeing an increase in strikes and activism, and knowledge workers are resisting return-to-work regulations and walking out.

Some of the disruptions and the changes made to respond to the disruptions have completely redefined our workplaces, says Chaitali Mukherjee, Leader - People & Organisation, PwC India. “The shift is deep, not transient, and there is critical learning which shouldn’t be wasted.” 

The positives 

In a world where 75% of businesses face difficulty in recruiting — an all-time high – employers must ensure employee needs and wants are met. In fact, organisations are upping their mechanisms to listen, learn, and adapt as workers seek greater flexibility, better work-life balance, and a greater variety of options for when and where they want to do their work. By working flexibly, as opposed to working less, employees gain greater focus during work hours. In its four-day work week trial, Microsoft Japan, for example, achieved a 40% increase in productivity and an increase in employee satisfaction. 

Globally, workers are using their collective bargaining power to exert influence in a variety of industries, most of which are related to improving working conditions such as compensation, benefits, and workplace health and safety. Due to a high demand for labour and a limited supply, salaries are soaring. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the average hourly income of all private-sector employees increased by 5.6% from March 2021 to March 2022. 

Amazon has assured its 750,000 US employees that it will not interfere with their collective bargaining rights following a settlement with the American labour authorities. Uber became the first gig economy ride-hailing business to recognise the GMB trade union for its 70,000 private hire drivers in the UK last year. Recently, Microsoft announced that it would follow an “open and constructive approach” to union organisation from its employees, following public unionization movements at other tech companies. Thanks to the empowered employees who are accelerating longstanding changes in work and the workplace and making the future of work more promising.

A fleeting trend?

Workers' empowerment is resulting in short-term reforms, which may or may not last. Systemic changes are required for the transformations to yield long-term benefits. Workers' empowerment cannot be sustained unless entitlements like paid vacation are incorporated into policies. “It's difficult to say whether the trends we're witnessing will be permanent or fleeting as the ways we work and people's demands, expectations, and behaviours continue to change,” says Steve Bennetts, Head of Growth & Strategy – Qualtrics.

Whether this transformation is transient or permanent, the most crucial move any organisation can take right now, according to Steve, is "cultivating a culture of belonging." “By ensuring every person feels welcome, included, and enabled at the company, employers will be well placed to attract, retain, and develop talent in every kind of job market.”

HR futurist Kate Barker believes, that employers right now have the unique opportunity to elevate the nature of the relationship with their employees, from a transactional arrangement to a purpose-driven partnership. “This is the time to focus on building a strong company brand, commit to environmental, social, and governance goals, and build a compelling employee value proposition that is winning in the market.”

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Topics: Employee Relations, #FutureOfWork

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