The proliferation of digital technologies already has led to fundamental changes in how people work, innovate, engage and produce. Increasingly, we live in an era where more and more roles are becoming automated, not only routine menial tasks but—thanks to digital versions of human intelligence—traditional white-collar jobs. As a result, the jobs of the future will be defined by qualities and skills that technology cannot replicate.
Ironically, these include things like empathy, intuition, teamwork and social skills—the very qualities that growing up glued to devices and screens have stunted in our nation’s younger workers. As George Brooks, Americas Leader, People Advisory Services at EY, put it at a recent roundtable discussion co-sponsored by EY, “Technology is robbing us of empathy. We send out one-way information in social media to be liked, to look good, or to be the first one to share something, but we’re not receiving information back. We have a whole generation that has no concept of a conversation, of getting disappointing feedback. So, there’s a massive lack of empathy.”
At the same time, those young employees have expectations around their roles and their work environments. They seek out companies with a purpose that resonates with them and with work environments that offer them flexibility and the freedom to be who they are—not who the company wants them to be—in the workplace. These expectations are coming at a time when the employment model itself is changing, with employers embracing new sources of labor, including contingent employees (who come and go on an as-needed basis), digital employees (robots) and mobile employees (who work without a designated office space).
What’s more, as the digital revolution streamlines value chains, organizational boundaries are beginning to disappear, with siloes being broken down so that work is being done collaboratively across functions. Collectively, these changes take a toll on employees, who must cope with 24/7 streams of information coming from all directions at once.
These are just some of the megatrends companies must adapt to in order to navigate digital transformation, noted Brooks. “There’s a whole new set of levers to drive business productivity and be an employer of choice today,” he explained, pointing to things like collective purpose, mind clarity, physical environment, technology experience and performance and rewards as talent-management issues that companies need to get their arms around. “Whether you’re trying to create better ‘teaming ability,’ to move into digital or to improve innovation, these are the new levers that will take you to the results you need.”
Already, more and more companies are recognizing that new ways of working call for rethinking both workspaces and work methods. Many are responding by adopting open-plan offices designed to foster collaboration by removing barriers between employees and biophilia-inspired work spaces, incorporating natural light and materials to foster creativity and reduce stress. Others are looking for ways to help employees increase productivity by taking proactive steps to address work-related stress and anxiety.
Ford Motor Company, for example, recently launched mindfulness classes aimed at helping employees cope with overstimulation in the workplace. “We received feedback from our employees that they needed some kind of outlet to help them focus to concentrate,” recounted Michelle Puccio, global HR leader, who said the company responded with mindfulness classes and coaching. “It’s been a tremendous benefit to our employees, and another byproduct has been innovation. The clarity they’re getting from mindfulness actually helped them stimulate innovative new concepts.”
In introducing mindfulness training, Ford joins an impressive roster of companies conducting similar programs, including Google, Target, General Mills and Aetna. The classes and coaching offered are geared toward improving employee productivity, helping employees stay on task and reducing “techno-stress.”