Closing the gap: Strategies for managing a divided workforce

US insights from PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2023

The picture that PwC’s Global Hopes and Fears Survey 2023 paints is one that’s become all too familiar in our work with clients — a divided workforce. US employees are split between those with advanced degrees or technical skills and those without, and these differences are affecting workplace experience and even career prospects.

Workers in America are more likely than their global counterparts to say they take on extra responsibilities at work, but they’re not so inclined to ask for raises and promotions or change companies. They’re seemingly more aligned with their employers’ values but less likely to publicly advocate for those organizations. And they’re more ambivalent about the role AI is going to play in their jobs.

A tale of two workforces

There is a chasm in the US workforce. Compared to many of their colleagues, power players — employees with advanced knowledge or skills and those in senior executive positions — report being more likely to ask for a raise or promotion, take on more responsibilities, seek and offer feedback, have flexibility and autonomy, and be more satisfied overall.

Power players often act from a position of strength. They’re significantly more likely to report financial security, are more satisfied with their jobs and feel empowered to ask for more money or promotions. Capability is confidence.

On the flip side, those without advanced skills or training and those below senior leadership are more likely to report financial insecurity and include more roles that require fixed hours and an in-person presence, such as retail and manual labor.

As calls grow to tighten operational efficiency and upskill workforces on the latest technologies, how do you manage both parts of your workforce? More importantly, how do you prevent inequality between the two groups from growing and affecting morale, productivity and your bottom line?

What you can do right now

  • Take stock of the skills your workforce already has — and the ones you think you’ll need in the future.
  • Tie your employee experience directly into upskilling and capability building. Provide incentives for completion that resonate with all your employees.
  • Look into ways automation can reduce manual activities and free capacity to address higher-value tasks.
  • Understand the preferences of your workforce to confirm you’re investing your efforts and resources in higher-value programs. You may save money in the long run.
Your most valuable employees are ready to grow their careers

Purpose alignment

A similar polarization can be seen in how employees view themselves within the workforce. Sixty percent of US respondents moderately or strongly agree that they take on extra responsibility at work (compared to 50% of global respondents) and have similar views on equity and transparency to their counterparts. But they’re also less willing to say they’d publicly advocate for their company through social media, community activities or even sharing successes. Why is this the case?

Part of that can be healthy work-life integration. Not everyone wants to connect their personal and business lives, and many people don’t define themselves by their jobs. In addition, many employees just aren’t as connected to their companies as they used to be. With decreased loyalty on both sides, workers have become more transactional and more likely to jump ship or transition to contingent roles — and less likely to entertain counteroffers to stay.

Moreover, some businesses also find that not all employees want to personally buy into the company brand. Many younger employees in the aerospace and defense sector, for example, may be passionate about space exploration but not keen on the “defense” applications of their work. These scenarios can vary greatly by industry and demographic, so it’s important to make sure that you are clear and transparent with your company values.

What you can do right now

  • Think about how you can engage your employees and connect in ways that matter to them. Greater alignment on purpose can increase motivation and help build more desired and productive working behaviors.
  • Build a work environment that puts your employee experience front and center. People find purpose in their jobs when they’re offered meaningful work, an inclusive culture, holistic support and an adaptive ecosystem where they can grow.
  • Establish a system for continuously capturing employee feedback and incorporating it into experience programs.
Valuable skills are a major indicator of a job satisfaction, but seniority still matters most

Impressions of AI among US workers

These demographic divisions can have a major impact on the implementation of new technologies in the workplace — particularly AI — and how they can affect careers. Though they see more benefits to greater AI implementation than drawbacks, employees in the United States remain divided on whether they think AI will help them at their jobs. Thirty percent told us they think that AI won’t impact them, but we believe that number should be much lower. And certain parts of the workforce agree.

First, division aligns with skill set. More experienced managers and senior executives recognize the need for maintaining and growing skills in time with new technology. Only 21% said AI won’t impact their job in the next five years. Meanwhile, the responses for non-managers were much higher — 36%.

Second, there’s a strong generational divide. Nearly half of baby boomers (44%) think their jobs are immune to AI’s impacts, while Gen Z and millennials hold a more realistic view of how new technologies will affect their positions. This can be attributed in part to tech adoption rates, but also where different age groups are along their career paths. Workers just getting established in their careers are often more concerned with keeping up with the latest knowledge and skills than employees who are winding down and considering retirement.

All this can be challenging to build a corporate strategy around, but the strategic benefits of implementing responsible AI solutions are worth the investment — especially when nearly 40% of CEOs don’t think their companies will be economically viable in ten years in their current states.

What you can do right now

  • Nurture employee interest in AI at every level. Overall views on AI are still more positive than negative, and getting your workforce invested early will help make them more likely to eagerly take part in upskilling initiatives, and even continue their education and growth on their own.
  • Convene sessions with your leadership team to quickly upskill on AI and coming trends, implications for key customers, potential AI use cases and development of your company’s overall approach to AI.
  • Convey how AI could impact how the company does business and the ways people will do their jobs.
  • Develop responsible use guidance for your use of AI and talk about it in depth with your teams to formalize coherence with your company’s values, mission and ethical guidelines, and reduce risk.
  • Test, learn and expand by quickly identifying AI pilots. Involve your workforce in the process of determining how and where they can apply that learning in their roles. Continue to emphasize the importance of human reviews as your team matures its AI use cases.
Older generations and lower job tiers underestimate how much AI will impact their jobs

About this survey

PwC’s 2023 Global Hopes and Fears Survey drew responses from nearly 54,000 workers in 46 countries and territories, including over 5,000 employees in the United States across 29 different industries. It was fielded in April, 2023.

Contact us

Anthony Abbatiello

Workforce Transformation Leader, Partner, PwC US


Julia Lamm

Principal, Workforce Transformation, New York, PwC US


Christopher Hannegan

Principal, Transformation, PwC US


Adam Gerstein

Principal, Workforce Transformation, Employee Experience Transformation Leader, PwC US


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