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Depending on your organisation’s movements, your worker-employer relationship could be heading towards: work as fashion, war between talent, work is work, and purpose unleashed, all of which have their pros and cons.

According to Deloitte’s 2021 human capital trends, The Worker-Employer Relationship Disrupted: If We’re Not Family, What Are We?, the pandemic has evolved the worker-employer relationship, bringing about four potential futures it could develop into.

They are:

  • Work as fashion;
  • War between talent;
  • Work is work, and
  • Purpose unleashed.

“During a time when much of the world is plotting a course to navigate the post pandemic landscape, we have markets in Southeast 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 Southeast Asia.

Future #1: Work as fashion

‘Work as fashion’ is when employers are in constant motion as they chase worker sentiments, competitor actions, and marketplace dynamics. In this future, the worker-employer relationship is considered ‘reactive’.

Deloitte explained this future to be one where “employers feel compelled to respond in the moment to workers’ expressed preferences, and to competitor moves, without connecting those actions to a sustainable workforce strategy.”

Should it not be the case, employers tend to struggle to attract, retain, motivate workers, as well as keep their workforce engaged, the report mentioned.

In other words, a worker-employer relationship could be headed towards ‘work as fashion’ future when there are:

  • Increased employer reliance on worker surveys and other listening tools;
  • Increased employer activity in measuring themselves against competitor and industry benchmarks, and of adjusting practices to align to benchmarks;
  • Continuous changing and rollout of worker programs and policies;
  • Increased external marketing of worker incentives; and
  • New levels of social activism from employers.

Future #2: War between talent

‘War between talent’ is when workers compete for limited jobs due to an oversupply of talent. The worker-employer relationship, in this case, is ‘impersonal’.

“Employers view workers as interchangeable and easily replaceable, and workers are more concerned with competing with each other for jobs than with the quality of their relationship with their employer,” Deloitte shared.

To put it simply, the report explained, workers are almost treated like a commodity in a supply-chain by employers—assessed only by their ratio of out- and input.

As such, a worker-employer relationship could be headed towards ‘war between talent’ future when:

  • Organisations put limited investment into developing their talent;
  • The amount of gig and fractional work, including ghost work, is growing;
  • Organisations’ artificial intelligence (AI) and automation initiatives focus on using technology to replace workers;
  • Organisations increase their use of offshoring, and
  • The proportion of people funding education out of their personal resources is increasing.

Future #3: Work is work

In this future, workers and employers view organisational responsibility and personal and social fulfilment as largely separate domains. The worker-employer relationship for ‘work is work’ is ‘professional’.

This means that workers will “conscientiously do their jobs” because it’s part of their livelihood and of means to pursue their personal priorities. As such they would expect their employers to provide “fair compensation, paths to advancement, and learning and growth opportunities.”

On ‘work is work’, Deloitte explained: “Each depends on the other to fulfil work-related needs, but both expect that workers will find meaning and purpose largely outside of work.”

Therefore, a worker-employer relationship could be headed towards ‘work is work’ future when:

  • Workers are increasing their use of benefits that enable outside-of-work activities, such as sabbaticals and paid time-off;
  • Workers are putting in less overtime and spending fewer hours at work;
  • More employers are proactively communicating guardrails around what is and is not acceptable work behaviour;
  • Governments are becoming more active in addressing citizen needs and enacting worker protections;
  • Membership in non-profits and other social impact organisations is increasing, and
  • Worker participation declines in employer-sponsored non-work-focused programmes.

Future #4: Purpose unleashed

In a ‘purpose unleashed’ future, purpose is the dominant force driving the relationship between workers and employers.

This means that, as Deloitte explained, purpose is more important than the work itself.

“An organisation’s commitment to purpose becomes critical to its employment brand: It shapes everything from its ability to attract and retain workers to the extent to which workers experience meaning and fulfilment in their employment,” Deloitte said.

According to the report, the worker-employer relationship here is then ‘communal’.

“Both workers and employers see shared purpose as the foundation of their relationship, viewing it as the most important tie that binds them together,” Deloitte added.

As such, a worker-employer relationship could be headed towards ‘purpose unleashed’ future when:

  • Workers, customers, regulators, and interest groups are requesting or mandating new purpose-aligned measures from employers;
  • Purpose is showing up in job descriptions, hiring practices, and performance metrics;
  • Organizations are taking stances, internally and externally, on issues they otherwise may have stayed silent about in response to growing demands from workers and customers;
  • Strengthening both purpose and business is a stated criterion for leadership positions and driving key executive promotion and succession decisions, and
  • Increased depth and transparency of reporting on purpose-driven outcomes.

Find the full report here.


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