Working life is undergoing major changes, due to globalization, digitalization, and changes in the age structure of the population, to name just a few. And these changes are set to continue.
The forces of change place many kinds of pressure on working life, but from the employer’s point of view one huge challenge is ensuring that they have the professionals they need now and in the future. According to a report published in 2019 by the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, finding the right employees in certain fields and geographic areas is already proving to be a major problem, and there are no indications that the situation will improve in the decades to come.
Flexibility in the face of change and self-guidance are important working life skills
For future employees, working life will also be seriously demanding. Career paths are becoming more fragmented and different roles are merging into each other. Working in specialized positions requires a more entrepreneurial spirit and self-direction than in the past. Instead of perfectly mastering one particular task, employees increasingly need to be able to master different sets of tasks and to be able to expand their skills beyond the task boundaries, if necessary. They must be open to constantly learning new things according to the requirements of the working environment.
Career expectations have changed
For the younger generation, it is fairly self-evident that their career paths will involve switching between different companies and tasks. Nowadays, the idea of a long career with the same company can even arouse feelings of anxiety for many. There are a great many options open to employees, and having chosen a particular path one might well find themselves thinking about what experiences and opportunities they have closed the door on. Professionals of the future may be bolder in changing direction and exploring the opportunities in working life that suit them best.
How do the expectations of employers and employees meet – or do they?
In the future, one of the most important questions will be how the expectations of employers and employees can be reconciled. It is not only employers who make demands in this regard; workers also have their own expectations and hopes. It is difficult for large and somewhat rigid organizations or medium-sized enterprises that have become set in their ways to meet the needs of entrepreneurial, straightforward and fast-moving employees.
Employees of the future are unlikely to be attracted to hierarchical organizational structures or inflexible processes. A stable career and livelihood could still be of interest to many people, but it is hard to see how companies could be able to offer such opportunities in a period of constant change. Permanent jobs no longer seem like a realistic expectation to many employees now that changes in the world and in working life are hard to predict and organizational changes have almost become the norm in companies. Employers must therefore be more creative in how they can attract professionals in the future.
The employee experience is a key part of the employer image
Naturally, companies with a good employer image are the ones that most professionals will be interested in. And when it comes to employer image, one of the key factors is the employee experience. Businesses no longer operate in their own little bubble–they are part of an interconnected world in which social media allows for the rapid and transparent sharing of information. It is now easier than ever to get information on what it’s like to work for different companies. It doesn’t help a company to place job advertisements full of fine rhetoric about the marvelous working culture and engaging tasks if social networks tell a very different story. Companies whose employees are happy with their work and with their employer also attract further new talent.
So, what makes a good employee experience? Here are just a few of the necessary elements.
A close-knit culture
The nature of a company’s culture is highly important to the employee experience. After all, who wouldn’t want to work in a company with nice colleagues and a good atmosphere? What many employees want from a company is an open and participatory culture where they are genuinely listened to and can have a meaningful say in things. The experience that their opinion counts is a key element in creating a positive employee experience.
A company’s working culture also involves having the right working methods and tools for the job. Inconvenient and inflexible processes quickly become demoralizing for employees. Being able to work smoothly and easily adds to job satisfaction, which also contributes to enhancing an employee’s work performance. A company with an innovative and experimental culture will attract professionals who are keen on developing their skills.
Opportunities for continuous learning and development
From the individual’s point of view, an essential consideration for future working life is being able to develop their skills and expertise. Professionals of the future want to develop and strengthen their skills continuously, and greatly appreciate employers who enable them to learn continuously.
Work that matters
The question of what makes work meaningful is very much a subjective matter. For some it may mean the social significance of the company's activities, whereas for others it may be their daily interactions with colleagues that make their work meaningful, for example. Most often, however, employees want the job to give them the opportunity for self-fulfillment while at the same time enabling them to do good. Employers would do well to make the meaningfulness of the employee’s work a common goal. The experience of meaningfulness in work is reinforced by the employee’s understanding of the value and importance of their work to the work community, to customers and to other stakeholders (Deloitte 2019).
In the future, working life will demand more and more flexibility from both employees and employers. Work of the conventional kind that takes place within office hours no longer serves employers’ needs in the same way as before now that work is increasingly global and project-based. On the other hand, employees expect their jobs to be flexible in terms of working time and location. Flexible job opportunities give employees the freedom to manage their own work. This also contributes to a better work-life balance.
There is a lot of talk about employee experience, and many companies are already working on developing it. It is obvious that a good employee experience will be one of the most important competitive advantages for companies in the future. I encourage employers to question their own practices and to genuinely reflect on their company’s culture from the point of view of employee experience. What employees want from work and from their employers changes as the world itself changes, which means that ways of working must also evolve.
Deloitte Insights (2019). 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends.
Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriö (2019). Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriön näkemys Suomen työmarkkinoista: Työmarkkinoiden nykytila, kehitysnäkymät ja tavoitetila. Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriön julkaisuja 2019:4.