Davos Agenda

How working patterns are changing around the world

This image shows someone sitting on a sofa working on a laptop, illustrating changing working patterns

Working patterns have changed dramatically in a generation Image: Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Sander van't Noordende
CEO, Randstad
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Working patterns have changed dramatically over the last few years.
  • Now, workers want the whole package from their employers – secure, flexible, inclusive and financially stable employment.
  • Every company should have the ultimate ambition of creating a happy, inclusive and inspiring workplace where people feel they belong.

Around the world, workers are faced with a series of unexpected challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic, swiftly followed by an economic downturn and soaring inflation has created an uncertain and volatile work environment. Many of the fundamentals of the workplace have been rewritten, but employees have shown huge resilience in the face of these challenges.

For 20 years, we have been capturing the voice of the global workforce in our Workmonitor report. It’s one of the longest-running and largest studies of its kind, asking the views of over 30,000 employees in more than 30 markets across Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas.

We track what employees want from the businesses they work for, as well as how willing they are to ask for it. Over the last two decades, we’ve seen the fallout from the global financial crisis; the death of cubicle-based working, as open-plan offices became the norm; and, the rise of an on-the-go, always-on workforce enabled by laptops and smartphones. The impact of this workplace disruption and wider macroeconomic challenges on working patterns are coming through loud and clear.

This year’s findings show that workers want the whole package from their employers – secure, flexible, inclusive and financially stable employment in a place they feel they belong. The onus is on employers to meet these expectations if they wish to attract and retain the best talent amid ongoing shortages.

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Flexible but stable

In our 2022 report, there was a significant shift towards values – the pandemic caused many to revisit what they wanted from their jobs. Talent was attracted to organizations that mirrored their own priorities and offered greater work-life balance. Much of this is driven by Gen Z and Millennials who seek more satisfaction from work than a pay cheque alone provides.

As we go into 2023, financial turmoil has added a new dimension to work priorities and expectations. There has been no letup in the desire for values-driven flexible employers, but workers are also seeking stability and security.

With economic uncertainty bearing over them, more than a third of workers are worried about losing their jobs, while nearly two-thirds said they wouldn’t accept a job if it didn’t provide security. Both of these figures are up from last year. Workers still hold their values dear though – two-fifths of people wouldn’t accept a job if it didn’t align with their social and environmental priorities.

With this in mind, support is becoming a new differentiator in the ongoing scramble for talent. People increasingly expect their employers to help them through the cost of living crisis, whether that’s in the form of increased salaries, subsidies or monthly pay boosts. And many employers are indeed doing this – just under half of people said their company was helping them deal with increased living costs.

Working more, for longer

That hasn’t stopped workers from feeling the bite though – nearly a quarter have taken on or are looking to take on additional work to help with the rising cost of living. And, over a fifth are looking at increased hours to cover their financial shortfall.

Alongside those seeking additional work or hours, the global economic outlook also means many older workers are rethinking their retirement plans. This trend towards ‘unretirement’ is one of the most marked swings in sentiment we have seen this year.

Retirement plans are changing Image: Randstad Workmonitor 2023

For some, this means working longer. Last year, 61% thought they’d retire before 65, now only half think this. While, 7 in 10 workers say their finances prevent them from retiring as early as they’d like. For others, it might mean coming out of retirement altogether.

This has clear implications for the workplace of the future, with many employers already contending with an aging workforce. It is also a sharp reversal of the talent shortages triggered in part by people taking early retirement as a result of the pandemic.

Building the workplace of the future

From population dynamics to digitalisation, we are all aware that the workplace and working patterns are changing. Competition for talent remains fierce, with many of the in-demand digital skills required for the workplace of the future also in short supply.

The employer-employee dynamic has certainly shifted over the time we have conducted our study. Workers are more in control than they were in the early days. They hold their employers to higher standards and they expect more in return for the hours they put in.

20 years of the randstad workmonitor
How workers expectations of their working patterns has changed over the years Image: randstad workmonitor 2023

In recent years, it has become increasingly evident that workers are prepared to quit their jobs over issues such as work-life balance, values and a sense of belonging. Over half of the people in our study would resign if they felt like they didn’t belong or have a sense of purpose.

The economic challenges we’re facing have put a new tilt on some of these trends. The ‘Great Resignation’ and the ‘Great Rotation’ may be slowly losing steam, but companies must step up to these expectations if they want to build engaged, loyal and fulfilled workforces.

Every company should have the ultimate ambition of creating a happy, inclusive and inspiring workplace where people feel they belong. This means listening to workers’ views and respecting their values.

This must be done alongside providing workers with safe, secure, flexible and financially stable employment. Businesses that support their employees through the tougher economic conditions will reap the rewards in retention when times are easier.

Not only will this help prevent future talent shortages, but it will also create a more content and productive workforce – which is to everyone’s benefit.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Davos AgendaFuture of WorkFuture of Work
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