The pandemic has undoubtedly triggered lasting changes when it comes to work. Many workers were part of a forced experiment in remote working that has shifted perceptions about such arrangements. Others found themselves in jobs that required them to personally confront the virus daily just to keep society running.
But profound changes were starting to surface even before the pandemic. Concerns about the impacts of automation have surged as machine learning and related technologies have matured. The growth of gig work, supported by new digital platforms, has thrown the longevity of the traditional employment model into question.
According to a report launched at The World Government Sumit by Bain & Company, this pattern holds true for the GCC, where there are strong concerns that automation could lead to job losses and an appetite for home, rather than office. For governments this poses some big policy questions, to attract and retain talent in a region where many workers come from outside of the region—up to 90% in the UAE.
How are the motivations for work changing?
Recent technology-enabled disruptions were accentuated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and have had a significant impact on how employees conduct business: gig work, remote work, further automation, and a drastic change in lifestyle meant employees increasingly valued intangible benefits such as flexibility, growth opportunity, and job security. It is worth noting that, while people place increasing emphasis on leisure time and believe a job is more than “just a way of earning money”, the appetite for work is actually on the rise: in 2017, only 28% of American said they would stop working altogether if they had enough money for the rest of their lives – down from 34% in 1995. The hard data still points to fair compensation as the number 1 motivation for work.
What are some of the beliefs about what makes a ‘good job’? How is this changing?
As with motivations, employees have different views on what makes a “good job”. In fact, a key outcome of our study is that there is no such thing as the average worker – by studying over 40,000 workers in 20 countries including the UAE and KSA, we define 6 different archetypes with different characteristics and beliefs:
This leads us to believe that a one-size-fits-all approach to attracting talent will not work – companies and governments need to adapt to these emerging profiles to attract the best talent.
Is automation helping to rehumanize work and how?
Over the past century, technological advancements have led to fears of mass joblessness: in the early 1900s, mechanization was perceived as a threat, in the late 1900s the computer was, and more recently AI, is expected to replace many humans. In reality, what has happened is a shift in the role humans have played in the economy – less physically demanding activities and more emphasis on creativity, problem solving, and interpersonal skills. This has meant that workers in many fields are now required to collaborate more, not less, and are able to do so more effectively with the help of technology. EQ, emotional intelligence, as opposed to IQ, will be increasingly critical in the jobs of the future.
How is technological change blurring the boundaries in firms?
As previously mentioned, technology has enabled non-traditional operating models (gig work, remote work) and the pandemic forced many workers to work from home rather than the office. Most are still reluctant to return to full-time office work: 90% of workers in our region want a hybrid working model with at least 1 day working from home; in fact, over 40% want to be able to work 4 or 5 days from home. This puts into question how we define the workplace. Leading companies are responding by institutionalizing “flexible working environments” where employees can spend up to three days working from home with many opting for a remote Friday. For example, Careem, a UAE-based super-app, has embraced a remote-first approach. Somewhat consequently, the boundary between work and personal life became unclear and employees are struggling to define the limits in a remote-first environment.
How are younger generations coping with work?
A combination of slowing growth, rising inequality, and declining housing affordability have made it more difficult for younger workers to attain financial stability. While stress levels have been higher for younger generations in the past decade, they have remained elevated and are even worsening compared to older generations. This seems to be less of an issue in the UAE and KSA – where a dynamic economy has kept stress levels for the younger generations mostly in check. Many leaders have realized the potential they can unlock by offering their employees a healthy environment and jobs that support their individual purpose. In addition, governments have a big role to play in moderating the relationship between employer and employee and adopting policies increasingly focused on people’s well-being.
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