Business leaders identify five workforce priorities to address

From unmanageable workloads to rigid career paths, there’s more on the agenda than ever | December 2018

Here’s what to look for

In recent years, we’ve seen an increased focus on people programs for a strong workforce—those that make sense no matter what the future holds. In our most recent global study, for example, 67% of human resources (HR) and business leaders are taking steps to ensure the physical and emotional well-being of their people. Sixty-one percent are identifying what skills people will need for the jobs of the future.

At the same time, it’s good to ask: what areas could you be neglecting that may not be so front and center? What could you be overlooking?

It’s a question we’ve been considering in our research on the actions companies are taking now. We asked more than 1,200 business and HR leaders from 79 countries to rank the business capabilities they believe are most crucial for building a strong workforce and simply tell us which they are taking action on today. While it’s clear that leaders understand which capabilities are important to their future success, they’re not necessarily working on them.

For example, in North America, 79% of business and HR leaders say tackling unmanageable workloads is important to delivering great performance, but only 45% say they are taking action on this today.

In fact, we’re seeing a number of areas where what’s important to workforce performance and experience may not be aligned with what’s currently on the agenda. Here are five hot spots for North American companies right now: areas their leaders say are important for a stronger, more productive workforce, but that many aren’t acting on. And each has the potential to flare into a full-blown risk.

Rising workforce risks

Rising workforce risks

1. Unmanageable workloads are taking their toll

Americans feel they are ‘always on’. Work demands continue to increase as companies aim to do more with fewer resources, while at the same time, the line between people’s personal and work lives is becoming increasingly blurry. This leaves people less productive and more likely to burn out. Help people rejuvenate by making it possible for them to step away. Build in more periods of recovery with frequent, scheduled, mandatory vacation. Make time for regular check-ins and balance workloads across teams. Minimize the chance for interruptions that drive fatigue by providing flexible working hours and purposeful workspace design. Changing things at work so that people can disconnect when they need to is important for better work performance.

Unmanageable workloads are taking their toll

2. Bias persists in hiring and rewards

Diversity and demands for equality are reshaping the workforce. Yet too few companies are employing data analytics to help debias hiring and rewards. Data analytics can help enhance objectivity, overcome bias, and broaden perspectives. More companies have used analytics, for example, to spot a gender or racial pay gap or build a baseline for developing fair pay principles. Beyond those basics, data analytics could help you see how unchecked assumptions in your rewards programs aren’t giving people what they need or use. For example, tracking and analyzing the compensation and benefits decisions made by employees in real-time can show you which aspects of a total reward package are valued by each employee group. It can help you stop paying for benefits that some employees don’t even care about.

Bias in hiring and rewards

3. Demand for tech-savvy HR is rising

The availability of key skills is a top five threat to business growth, according to our annual Global CEO Survey. HR professionals could oversee a workforce strategy for the future, but they need the skills to define and implement new standards beyond what they do today. Our workforce survey found that only a third of business leaders are confident in HR to navigate the tech landscape in ways that can help the C-suite stay on top of jobs and talent in a world of AI. In another study on digital readiness, we found that HR leaders have the lowest Digital IQ across the senior leadership team, meaning that others in leadership don’t yet have the confidence in them to plan, source, or support a digital-first workforce plan. Give those who want it specific paths for skill development and provide a clear message on how emerging technologies will change their roles, in addition to the roles they support.

HR leaders are behind on tech

4. The notion of a career is changing

North American companies say it’s important to move away from an ‘up-or-out’ career model (71%), but few are doing this (41%). Linear career paths are giving way to people’s desires for greater choice. Help your people by providing regular opportunities for internal mobility, where employees can move horizontally into different roles or take on a learn-as-you-go position. Some workers want even greater flexibility. PwC, for example, now offers a flexible talent network for professionals who prefer gig work. This option gives individuals opportunities to support client engagement teams during specific periods of the year, yet gives them the flexibility to pursue other things in their lives too. The next logical question is this: How should compensation models change to accommodate such a fluid mix of roles and talent? Value-based compensation is one idea. When compensation is based on outcomes, it can drive more of a partnership and tie each new assignment to value. Participants in the US Health ecosystem already do this. They link compensation to both health and cost outcomes, rather than activity incentives such as volume of patients, tests, or prescriptions.

People need more flexible career paths

5. Ways of working don’t match new, redesigned workspaces

Many North American companies have redesigned the workspace and even encouraged people to come back to the workplace, but they’re not always seeing better teamwork, collaboration, and innovation—at least not yet. New work environments may be designed for what’s next, but the people are not always ready. Building a more collaborative culture may require an organizational rethink, particularly when it comes to incentives and rewards. Rewards send a powerful signal about the behaviors an organization encourages. When it comes to ways of work, objectives for new, agile team structures should align with how people are rewarded. When rewards for individual performance predominate, people are motivated to compete, not collaborate.

Work environments aren’t designed for teamwork, collaboration and innovation

Just because you’re investing in certain workforce capabilities doesn’t necessarily mean those investments will get you to your future goals. The great opportunity right now is to develop a clear agenda that drives toward your goals, but also considers what’s at risk.

Bhushan Sethi, Joint Global Leader, People and Organization, PwC

Closing your gaps

If you aren’t thinking expansively, we have a comprehensive set of capabilities we think are vital for the future of work. Use our list or modify it for your own circumstances.

Then, with your leadership team, start by looking at three areas:

  1. What’s important? What capabilities are important for preparing for tomorrow’s workforce that you need to act on today?
  2. What’s at risk? You’ll likely find some gaps that should be on your agenda but aren’t. Look for areas related to your talent mix, how you’re preparing for automation, or how you’re building 21st-century skills.

  3. What’s in your new plan? How can you refine your priorities and work them into your short- and medium-term workforce strategy?

There are many uncertainties about what’s shaping the future world of work, and some capabilities will become more or less important. Having a system in place that lets you adjust, helps you address emerging issues that may become risks—and determines whether you’re investing in the right places—can help you stay focused on what matters most.

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Contact us

Carrie Duarte

Workforce of the Future, Deals Leader, PwC US

Bhushan Sethi

Joint Global Leader, People and Organization, PwC US

Matt Siegel

Principal, Workforce Experience Lead, PwC US

Sid Bhatia

Director, Workforce Environment Lead, PwC US

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