The challenges that leaders face today are more significant and complex than they’ve been in generations.
Accelerating the workplace’s digital journey carries tremendous execution risk. And people want and need more support and inspiration from their employers. Burnout has become its own epidemic, now recognised by the World Health Organization as an official disease. Weary, anxious workers are resigning from their jobs in record numbers around the world. Businesses, governments, and society will pay a great price if they are not prepared to adapt and capitalise on new opportunities powered by technology and innovation.
For organisations to thrive, they need to access their people’s full potential to develop and execute new, dynamic strategies. In our 2021 Future of Work and Skills Survey, conducted in September 2021, nearly 4,000 business and human resources (HR) leaders were surveyed globally, including over 300 across the Middle East (UAE, KSA, Qatar, Egypt) who collectively identified six ‘no-regrets moves’ as important to their workforce strategy—and agreed that they are taking action. But when given a choice to agree ‘slightly’, ‘moderately’ or ‘strongly’, only 20% to 30% globally agreed strongly that they are acting today. That range was slightly better for the Middle East, as 30% to 40% of leaders agreed strongly that they are acting today.
Globally, across all six broad no-regrets categories, the three specific actions that leaders in our survey were most likely to say were important but that they were not acting on are all related to digitisation or automation.
Middle East Leaders will need to help to change cultures that will shape their people’s behaviours, they must put actions behind their words on issues such as well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion targets.
Leadership and organisational culture are certainly linked. For leaders to make progress on their digital agenda and address urgent challenges, they will have to change their own behaviour and their people’s. Leaders will need to lean into data and become more aware of how it can be used to support future decision making around investments. They’ll need to help shape their people’s behaviours by modelling changes in how work gets done and by putting actions behind their words on issues such as well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion targets. Leaders will also have to invest in new cloud technologies, automation and data models that fuel outcomes-based decision-making and meaningful returns on investment will also be a differentiating factor for leaders.
Let’s further explore the six no-regrets moves that leaders should make to prepare for the future of work.
Planning is more important—and more difficult—than ever, as organisations face an increasingly uncertain future. Leveraging insights from Big Data and advanced analytics is one reliable approach for leaders to prepare for the future. Further investing and building senior leadership capability in planning in the new world will also be instrumental in adapting dynamic planning by organisations in the Middle East.
42% of respondents cited ‘encouraging re-skilling and continuous learning to help workers remain employable’ as very important. At PwC Middle East, we are also on our upskilling journey, digitally upskilling 7,000 of our people by providing opportunities to build a more diverse and tech-skilled workforce.
Leaders will have to embed this within their organisational DNA and assure workers that upskilling is a part of their growth journey and not only a means to remain relevant. Building leadership capabilities to enable organisational wide upskilling is crucial and this should not be considered as only a Human Resources’ obligation.
Leaders will also need to implement systems and technology that enables them to use workforce analytics to predict and monitor skill gaps. This will help in gaining employees’ trust as well as in identifying and addressing the most crucial skill gaps.
Not only are most organisations unable to design talent practices and processes to nurture employee agility and adaptability, but this was also cited as the least important dimension in our survey (with only 31% stating this is very important). Leaders will need to investigate the root causes for this issue and identify best practices across other leading organisations and tailor their talent practices and processes accordingly.
Replacing human work with technology is the reality that organisations across the globe are facing. Consequent anxiety and fears, from employees affected across levels, pose potential risks to organisations. Leadership will play a significant role in effectively communicating and smoothly navigating through this inevitable transition. 64% of our survey respondents cited that identification of the potential risks is moderately to very important to the future of their organisation.
80% of blockers in providing physical environments and technology that enables all workers to perform at their best, are under the organisation’s control. Leaders need to step up by focusing on improving systems and data and minimising competing investments or priorities.
40% of our respondents believe that giving workers a high degree of autonomy in how they organise their work is very important. Additionally, 40% believe it’s equally as important for their employees' wellbeing to have a manageable workload that allows them to switch off in the evenings and weekends.
Going forward, leaders must embed these elements as part of their organisational culture, in addition to offering flexibility. This will ensure increased work performance and productivity in addition to a more manageable work life balance in the future.
The best way to continue rolling out new technology solutions is with transparency and providing support to your employees. Communication can even be personalised based on workforce segmentation. Different stakeholder personas, needs, and preferences should be considered in messaging.
In our most recent Hopes and Fears survey, 63% of GCC respondents believe that technology presents greater opportunities than risks. Digital should be embedded as part of the culture of the organisation and how it conducts its business. Co-creation of technology solutions is also critical. This means engaging with employees, making them comfortable with being part of the solution, even looking for automation opportunities to implement the best ideas, even from the most junior members.
Globally skills gaps are ever-increasing and only a few countries have managed to effectively align skills and innovation policies. Most countries could not only lose out on the potential opportunity for growth, but also expose large segments of their workforces to job losses.
The economic case for upskilling is compelling. An upskilled human capital delivers improved productivity and innovation. Upskilling also creates a more flexible and adaptable workforce with the necessary skills to survive, and indeed, thrive in a highly digitised and environmentally-conscious world. Most importantly, enhanced access to training and learning opportunities can deliver tremendous social benefits - from improving individual wellbeing and health to reducing crime rates and creating stronger societies.
As organisations accelerate their digital journeys and prepare for the future of work, they’ll need to focus on their people by building trust in the organisation and enhancing leadership’ capabilities. Our survey results show that people want to work for employers that show they care. They also want the organisations they work for to live up to their purpose, values, and culture. Most importantly, building trust will enable leaders to deliver sustained outcomes for their organisations.
Governments should look to promote skill-centric visions for the economy to successfully navigate global megatrends and create more sustainable and inclusive societies, while ensuring good quality jobs for future generations.
In September 2021, PwC commissioned a global survey of 3,937 business executives and HR-focused leaders. The survey polled leaders in 26 countries and regions and 28 industries, with over 300 respondents participating from across the Middle East (UAE, KSA, Qatar, Egypt).