Change can certainly seem intimidating, but new research suggests that employees around the world are far more excited to embrace the future of work than their employers realize. In fact, the research shows employers are the ones who feel anxious about the future.
Harvard Business School's Project on Managing the Future of Work and the Boston Consulting Group's Henderson Institute jointly surveyed 11,000 workers from 11 countries—Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and 6,500 business leaders from eight of those countries. The researchers focused on lower-income and middle-skills workers with at most two years of postsecondary education, most of whom earn less than the average household income of their respective countries, as the "people most vulnerable to changing dynamics."
The results of that survey showed a "gap in perceptions" between the business leaders and their subordinates, as the researchers write in the Harvard Business Review. While leaders fret over the evolving nature of work—with one CEO even consulting his priest on the subject—workers "focused more on the opportunities and benefits that the future holds for them" and are "much more eager to embrace change and learn new skills than their employers gave them credit for."
The researchers then pinpointed specific "forces of disruption," multiple of which reference workplace flexibility. For example, one of "changing employee expectations" is the "increased popularity of flexible, self-directed forms of work that allow better work-life balance," while one of the "transitioning work models" is the "rise of remote work."
These findings align with our own research into the future of work, which provided more evidence of flexibility's mass appeal. In our research, we found that employees without access to flexibility were twice as likely to report being dissatisfied at work and that half of employees said they would leave their job to find a more flexible alternative.
In response to their survey results, HBS and Henderson Institute researchers offered recommendations for employers heading for the future of work. One of those recommendations is to involve employees in the transition. "As companies transform themselves, they often find it a challenge to attract and retain the type of talent they need," the researchers write. "To succeed, they … must engage employees in the process of change, rather than merely inform them that change is coming."