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The future of work: Trends and opportunities for professionals

14 Dec
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The world of work is transforming quickly. Automation and “thinking machines'' are largely replacing human tasks, changing the qualities and skill sets companies prioritize when hiring. But what will the future of work look like?

Instead of sitting back and waiting for events to unfold, professionals can prepare for the future by understanding how work will shift. While nobody can predict the future with absolute certainty, looking at workplace trends can help professionals get ready for what’s next.

Read on to learn the trends that will reshape the nature of work.

Disruptive technological advancements and automation

The adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation tools is increasing year over year. In 2017, approximately 20% of businesses used AI in their operations.1 This number skyrocketed to 50% in 2022 and is expected to reach 70% by 2030.2

AI and automation in the workplace help professionals accomplish recurring tasks faster and more accurately than they could with manual effort. Technology also frees up time that can be used on other essential workplace activities.

While these benefits suggest a bright future in the world of work, AI and automation could also mean massive job displacements. According to a survey by investment bank Goldman Sachs, AI could replace about 300 million full-time jobs.3 The good news is that professionals who upgrade their skills to stay relevant in the workforce can take advantage of some of the 97 million new jobs created by AI.4

Remote and flexible work as the new norm

When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, businesses were forced to experiment with the work-from-home setup. Today, what was expected to be a temporary pandemic response is becoming the new normal in many workplaces.

A McKinsey survey reveals that 58% of employees in the United States have the option to work remotely at least one day a week, and about 35% can work from home five days per week.5 These remote work trends are notable because they comprise employees from different sectors of the economy, including those in blue-collar jobs.

These trends are expected to spike even further because job seekers value the flexibility of choosing where and when they work. Research says that a flexible working arrangement is one of the top three motivators for job seekers.5 Nearly 63% would choose a flexible job with a better work-life balance over better pay.6

The flexibility of remote work has resulted in work-life balance trends, such as digital nomadism.7 Digital nomads live a location-independent lifestyle. They travel the world and typically work remotely from coworking spaces.

Widespread popularity of the gig economy

According to Forbes, the gig economy grew by 33% in 2020 and is growing faster than the U.S. economy as a whole.8 One estimate predicts that more than half of the American workforce will have engaged in gig work by 2027.9 And with 66% of hiring managers planning to outsource more jobs to gig workers over the next few years, the industry is expected to bloom.10

The gig economy entails freelance jobs, short-term contracts, and independent projects. Most gig workers also have a salaried, full-time job, engaging in gig work to earn extra income.11 Gig work is also appealing because it allows people to adapt their work schedules to their personal lives.12

Increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

There is growing awareness by employers of the need to be accepting of all people and ensure that employees have equal access to career development opportunities. Following DEI principles is no longer a preference but a requirement for organizations.

A Glassdoor survey shows that over 75% of job seekers and employees consider DEI when evaluating job offers.13 After all, everyone wants to work in an environment where they feel accepted, valued, and respected regardless of their ethnicity, religion, gender, or skin color.

DEI is good not only for employees but for business as well. Research has shown that companies with more diverse executive teams tend to be more profitable.14 That’s because a diverse team typically performs better and is more innovative.15

Lifelong learning for staying relevant in the workforce

Technological advancements and changing market demands redefine relevant and obsolete skills in the workforce. Skills that are valuable today will become outdated as industries undergo transformative shifts.16

That’s where continuous learning comes in. It enables professionals to re-skill to adapt to an organization's changing needs. Workforce re-skilling will ensure professionals can effectively use emerging technology in the future of work.

Lifelong learning will also enable people to upskill, equipping them with the extra knowledge they need to take the next step in their careers. For instance, earning a graduate degree, such as a master of business administration (MBA), equips individuals with specialized knowledge to manage and run a business.

Workplace well-being and mental health as a priority for both employees and employers

Approximately 81% of workers will consider the availability of wellness support in the workplace when hunting for a job in the future.17 Well-being and mental health are pivotal in employee productivity, engagement, and organizational success.

According to Gallup, when professionals get holistic wellness support in the workplace, they take fewer sick days, experience low burnout rates, and deliver higher performance. They are also more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, reducing turnover.18

Meeting and exceeding evolving employee expectations

In the swiftly transforming professional landscape, the expectations of employees are evolving, shaping the very essence of work culture

In this era of the future of work, characterized by a dynamic and competitive talent landscape, businesses must attune themselves to the nuanced desires of their workforce. Today's employees aspire for more than just a job; they seek an enriching environment that aligns seamlessly with their personal and professional goals.

According to Indeed, in collaboration with Forrester to gauge perceptions on workplace well-being and its broader impact:

  • 90% of employees believe “how they feel at work” matters19
  • 96% believe it's possible to be consistently happy at work19
  • 50% feel that their companies are not maximizing efforts to improve employee well-being and happiness at work19
  • 61% of U.S. employees believe that in ten years, workers will not settle for companies that do not prioritize their happiness and well-being19

To bridge the widening managerial skills gap, companies are reevaluating their employee development strategies. The demand for new skills is evident, prompting organizations to invest in programs that empower employees to thrive in the ever-changing work environment. Staying up-to-date with key trends not only attracts top talent but also ensures that employees maintain a sense of purpose and growth within the organization.

Meeting the expectations of a diverse and dynamic workforce requires businesses to become adept at assessing candidates not solely based on technical prowess but also on their alignment with company culture and their commitment to delivering an exceptional employee experience. This shift reflects the realization that fostering a workplace where employees can flourish is central to successfully navigating the future of work.

Prioritizing employee health in the modern workplace

The evolution of the workplace extends beyond professional development to encompass the health and well-being of employees. Recognizing that a healthy workforce is a more engaged and productive one, organizations are placing an increased emphasis on employee health.

This shift in mindset coincides with a growing awareness of the significance of mental health in workplace conversations. Overall, these shifts are proving to be beneficial for those companies that are realizing the importance of employee well-being.

According to a Gallup study conducted in 2022, "Fewer than one in four U.S. employees feel strongly that their organization cares about their wellbeing -- the lowest percentage in nearly a decade."20

The study also showed employees who strongly agreed that their employer cares about their overall well-being were:

  • 69% less likely to actively search for a new job
  • 71% less likely to report experiencing a lot of burnout
  • Five times more likely to "strongly advocate" for their company as a place to work
  • Five times more likely to "strongly agree" they trust the leadership of their organization
  • Three times more likely to be engaged at work
  • 36% more likely to be thriving in their overall lives20

Gallup's research found that teams who are most likely to feel the organization cares about their well-being achieve higher customer engagement, profitability, productivity, lower turnover, and have fewer safety incidents.20

Overall, these results show that companies that can create a conducive work environment that supports their employees' health will likely gain a competitive edge not only in business but also in attracting and retaining top talent in the future.

The prevalence of remote work and hybrid working arrangements has introduced new challenges and opportunities for supporting employee health. While these work trends offer flexibility, they also present potential pitfalls related to working lives and high-demand working periods. Employers are actively implementing strategies to address these challenges, including performance management approaches that prioritize employee well-being.

In navigating the future of work, businesses are exploring novel employment models and adapting to the complexities of hybrid employees to ensure a balance between professional and personal aspects of employees' lives. As organizations strive to fill critical roles and meet the expectations of a diverse workforce, prioritizing employee health emerges as a strategic imperative.

Navigating work trends: A crucial role for business leaders

In the swiftly evolving landscape of work, effective business leaders play a pivotal role. The demands of the future of work require leaders who comprehend the intricacies of hybrid work and remote working while also excelling at managing workplace conflict and fostering a positive company culture.

Leaders navigate the delicate balance between meeting employee expectations and ensuring the competitive talent landscape remains favorable. The increasing use of employee data and the influence of the organization's DEI efforts underscore the need for leaders who understand the nuances of human organization and can guide their teams with empathy and inclusivity.

As businesses engage frontline workers and introduce new employment models, business leaders become instrumental in talent management and employee engagement. Leadership development transforms from a mere program to a strategic imperative for organizations aiming to fill critical roles and remain agile in the face of evolving workplace trends. By prioritizing these aspects, business leaders become architects of a workplace that thrives in the present and adapts seamlessly to the future of work.

Prepare for the future with an online Master of Business Administration from the University of Kansas

Earning an MBA is an opportunity to deepen your knowledge and expand your professional prospects. You gain specialized skills that can open doors to advanced job positions with more responsibilities, allowing you to make a bigger impact in an organization and the world.

A top-ranked online MBA from the University of Kansas equips you with updated, on-demand skills for a fast-paced business environment.21 Don’t wait to take a step forward in your career.

Contact a KU admissions outreach advisor today to learn how you can get ready for the future of work.

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