Workers: Optimists about the Future of Work

The BCG Henderson Institute and Harvard Business School presented Future Positive: How Companies Can Tap Into Employee Optimism to Navigate Tomorrow’s Workplace, a research project detailing a global forecast based on the perceptions of 6,500 business leaders and 11,000 middle-skill workers about the future of work. During times in which public debate about the future of work seems to be dominated by widespread fear of change, the BCG and HBS research has concluded that, in general, workers see opportunities in change and are optimistic about their future job prospects.

Of the 11 countries analyzed in the report, Spanish workers, after the French, give the greatest responsibility to the government in their preparation for the future. Even so, they still consider that they themselves are primarily responsible for their own training.

When facing the issue of transforming their organizations to adapt to the future of work, the findings reveal that business leaders underestimate the optimism of a workforce that claims to be happy in their jobs and eager to do the necessary future adjustments. To successfully face this challenge, business leaders have to put aside their preconceived notions and bridge the gap between their perceptions and the reality of their workers positivity.

“The workers who shape and will shape work environments in the coming years are diverse. What the findings of this report show is that business leaders are overlooking a key partner in their efforts to prepare for the future: their own workforce,” says Joseph Fuller, a professor at Harvard Business School and co-chair of the project Managing the Future of Work. “Rather than fearing the future of work, employees around the world are absolutely willing to accept change and take action. It is the responsibility of business leaders to recognize this opportunity and be proactive in supporting their employees and generating concrete action plans.”

“It might be surprising, but generally across all of the countries studied, employees do not consider technology to be the culprit of an uncertain future, but rather as an opportunity.” The workers who have participated in our research are optimistic and look to the future with confidence. They also believe that technology can be part of the solution,” says Judith Wallenstein, partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and director of the BCG Henderson Institute in Europe. “Business leaders need to take advantage of their employees willingness to help create new organizations based on progress and learning that is fit for the future.

Researchers asked middle-skill workers and business leaders to describe their point of view on the trends and forces that can influence their work in the coming years. These topics included: new technologies, teleworking, government responsibility, and regulatory changes.

The report includes concrete recommendations for companies, highlighting a series of innovative businesses that have already begun the preparation of their workers and the adaptation of their companies for the future. Some examples of initiatives that these companies have undertaken include: the use of artificial intelligence tools to determine if a candidate has the cognitive ability to be a high-performance worker, the commitment to train workers to learn new skills through disruptive standards, and the use of technology to provide a completely service-oriented business model.

Data from the Report

Managers have a misconception about the outlook of their employees on the future of work:

  • 39% of business leaders believe that the lack of employees with new skills is already having an impact on their organizations. In addition, they frequently cite (29%) that their workers fear of change as the reason preventing them from preparing for the future.
  • Almost half of the workers worldwide (46%) consider themselves personally responsible for preparing for changes and 45% believe that changes in the working environment will result in better wages. 75% say that they will probably or definitely need to prepare to adapt to the future trends in work.

Middle-skill workers (without university training) are happy in their current positions:

  • 52% of workers without university training are happy in their current jobs.
  • Swedish workers are the happiest with their current employment situation (66%), ahead of Americans (64%).
  • Additionally, 45% of workers around the world indicate that their employment situation has improved over the last 5 years.

While business leaders try to find out which trends will be key to the future of companies, the most common significant issues have been:

  • Development and training of the workforce (30%)
  • Sudden changes in customer needs (27%)
  • Expectations of employees in relation to labor flexibility (27%)

Business leaders point to several reasons as to why their organizations are not preparing for the future:

  • Half of business leaders (50%) believe that their organizations have other strategic priorities.
  • 39% believe that the impact of change in their organization is still far away.
  • More than a third (34%) of business leaders claim that their organization lacks visibility about future trends and their specific impacts.

Workers believe that changes and technology will have a positive effect:

  • Almost half of the workers (45%) believe that changes in the workplace will result in better wages.
  • In general, 61% of workers are optimistic about the impact that technology will have on their work in the future.

Workers and business leaders agree that they do not perceive the impact of technology as a priority issue.


Future Positive: How Companies Can Tap Into Employee Optimism to Navigate Tomorrow’s Workplace

Full report


In order to understand the readiness of companies and workers to adapt to the broad array of forces affecting the workplace – beyond technology- Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work and Boston Consulting Group’s Henderson Institute conducted two global surveys. The first canvassed 11,000 middle-skills workers from 11 countries to learn how those with education levels less than a four-year bachelor’s degree perceive the effect of 15 forces of change (see Table I) on their future prospects. The second polled 6,500 C-suite and senior leaders in 8 countries to understand how to prepare companies and their workforces were to tackle the 17 tectonic shifts (see Table 2) underway.

Millennials and the Political Role of the EU

The European elections, the formation of Europe and how young people perceive and face these matters, is the main subject of a study endorsed by Vinces, an independent consultant specializing in Public Affairs, presented just a few days ago in Madrid. The preparation of the report “The European Elections from a Millennial Perspective” has required analyzing the Millenial generational profile, one very much conditioned by the socioeconomic context in which they have grown up in which has no doubt impacted their political approach.

Among the main characteristics outlined in the conclusions of the study is the eminent digital immersion of the millennial generation, which makes the Internet their favorite tool to obtain information and act politically. They are, in addition, “the generation with the highest levels of education in history, among other things, because many millennials chose to remain as students due to the impossibility of finding jobs during the financial crisis”.

Likewise, and according to the report, they are “distrustful” of political promises and tend not to put faith in the current arrangement of political parties, something that, however, is in stark contrast to their great involvement in civil society. Given that the economic crisis of recent years has impacted them severely regarding job opportunities for young people, they have favored delaying certain social conventions such as getting married or buying a house.

As the report points out, millennials “they’ve grown up taking globalization and the free movement of people in the EU for granted, which makes them instinctively internationalists.” In this sense, they are pro-European, although many of them are not aware of the rights and guarantees inherent as EU members and citizens.”  The latter is a contributing factor to the high degree of abstention recorded among this generation in European elections.  Their lack of knowledge of how the European Union works and the implications of voting or abstaining have generally led them to not go to the polls.  As with all groups, there are always outliers, in this case a small group of young people who are immersed in political life or directly question the EU, staying informed about key issues such as the Brexit phenomenon.

The study includes a section where it considers essential that a rapprochement be made from the European institutions towards priorities and aspirations millenials identify as fundamental policies to be developed in the incoming legislature.  This way, it will be possible to ensure that the EU stays in touch with this generation. Four priorities are laid out by Vinces:

The fight against unemployment and the improvement of working conditions. 78% of young Europeans are concerned about youth unemployment.

The fight against climate change. No less than 77% of millennials believe that the European Union is not doing enough in the fight against climate change. This generation demands that real policies be put in place that goes beyond simple gestures.

-Management of the migrant crisis. Young Europeans consider EU policy in this area unsatisfactory, although there is no unanimity among them when it comes to finding solutions.

-Improvement of European security and defense. Although it is a controversial measure, most millennials are in favor of creating an EU security corps.

Not Anything Goes

Imposters who impersonate the identity of other people, politicians who lie continuously without any shame, CEOs, executives and employees who do the unthinkable to maintain their positions at whatever cost and thinking only of their own interests and not of those of their teams and their companies, fake news that spreads like wildfire through social networks whose main objective is to misinform and distort public opinion … We live in an world in which our values are ever more conspicuous by their absence, which is precisely not the best example to follow for future generations. From that dust, in comes this filth.

The truth is that not everything goes to achieve our purposes. It has always been vital to nurture reputation, both in a private and business sense, since it is an indicator that measures the amount of integrity that a professional or an organization has maintained in the past and until now, but it will be of little use if one’s qualifications and competencies are not up to speed.

Recruiting is not exempt from all of the above. Résumés have been littered with little lies practically ever since the modern job market existed. They’ve been embellished either by awarding university degrees or postgraduate programs that were never completed or fulfilled, exaggerating qualifications, boasting bilingual or multilingual capabilities without any sense of modesty, listing achievements assumed as their own when in fact candidates never led them, claiming unrealistic amounts as remuneration, citing imprecise dates referring to candidates’ tenure in the company … and providing little clarity behind the reasoning when explaining professional changes. However, why do people do this? The reasons can be numerous: to impress others, by the desperation to find a job or obtain a better position when they do not meet the requirements demanded of that position, and so on.

At first we may think that inflating our résumés can helps us gain a clear advantage over other candidates. But the truth is that this can actually be what makes us not get the job, and worst of all, “that we put a cross,” something that does not work in our favor at all. It’s always good to be honest and answer the questions of the interviewer with ease and sincerity.

That is why for recruiters it is essential to contrast the information. Starting a professional interview, then reference checking and later analyzing digital fingerprint records helps to minimize the risk of making the wrong decision. Professional life is a long, far track that we must develop with vision, clear objectives, emotional balance, enthusiasm and effort.

This is the path that will lead us to achieve our goals successfully without resorting to lies that we know can’t go very far. Let’s reinvigorate the passion to learn and the appetite for education and culture, as well as a love for excellent work and its contribution to the common good and to society.

Carlos Recarte 
Founding Partner of Recarte & Fontenla.

Does Artificial Intelligence Kill Jobs?

AI, robotics and automation in general have for decades severely affected society in general and the labor market in particular. In the near future, labor itself and the laborer will cease to be one of the more important productive forces that they are today. The time has come to consider what kind of future we want.

Technology destroys some jobs and creates others. So far both trends have been somewhat balanced. Many jobs of the past have disappeared while new ones have been created. The barcode boosted world trade, creating millions of new jobs. Others have disappeared, and to put out one of the innumerable examples there are, banking related jobs are rapidly dwindling.

The pace of job creation is not enough to counteract the destruction generated by automation. To think that we will have millions of technological jobs is delusional. When Facebook bought WhatsApp, this company had 50 employees. Can we create new jobs with such a model? The reality is that the annual hours worked in every country do not stop decreasing.

Technology is good and has helped create a better world, where by and large all indicators of societal well-being showing positive trends. Improvements have been made in overall health, life expectancy, education, crime and violence, global GDP, wealth, equality and democracy, putting forward some of the most relevant examples.

Work has ceased to be what it was. People want to work by the income they report, but very few are remunerated by such. Freeing millions of people from routine or painful jobs is good as long as economic conditions do not worsen. Millions of people live on subsidies and the universal basic income is an alternative that advances with strength.

Meanwhile, inequality is increasing: The owners of automation are getting richer and 1% of the world population has as many resources as the remaining 99%. This is unacceptable, both morally and economically.

If we don’t work in the future, what will we do with our lives? Some will have answers, but many won’t. It is essential to consider the new educational challenges. We cannot train our young people for a world that no longer exists. Being free requires effort and a plan. We cannot delay this any longer.

Antonio Orbe 
Technology Expert