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Future of Work and Skills Survey

Building tomorrow’s workforce: Six no-regrets plays to make today

The challenges that leaders face today are more significant and complex than they’ve been in generations. Global crises such as climate change and destabilising inequity demand action. 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. 

For organisations to thrive, they need to access their people’s full potential and develop and execute new, dynamic strategies. In our Future of Work and Skills Survey, conducted in September 2021, the nearly 4,000 business and human resources (HR) leaders who responded 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% agreed strongly that they are taking action today.

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. The top three inhibitors to progress on these and other challenges were cost, lack of leadership capability and organisational culture. These stumbling blocks highlight the importance of shoring up both the financial and the human capital elements of the tech equation.

Future of Work and Skills Survey

Leadership and organisational culture are, of course, linked. For leaders to make progress on their digital agenda and address urgent challenges, they will have to change their own behaviours and their people’s. Leaders will need to lean into data and develop their ability to use it to make more deliberate decisions. 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.

These are the actions in our survey that leaders were most likely to say are important but that they aren’t currently taking

Identifying the risks of replacing human work with technology

Identifying the skills workers will need in the future due to technology


Communicating clearly about the effect of automation and AI on future skills needs

The three most significant inhibitors to progress

These are the factors that leaders in our survey were most likely to say get in the way of them taking action:

Cost pressures

Leadership capability

Organisational culture

The six no-regrets moves leaders should make to prepare for the future of work

Anticipate and plan for the future

  • By a 30 percentage point margin, leaders who said they use both scenario-based planning and dynamic planning were more likely than those who use neither approach to perform at or above financial and other targets.
  • Only 30% strongly agreed they use either type of planning.
  • There is still an advantage for firms that do one but not both. Dynamic planning is about 10 percentage points more effective in driving positive financial and other outcomes than scenario-based planning.

Build trust in the organisation

  • Only 30% of respondents strongly agreed they’re doing what’s necessary to build high levels of trust between workers and their direct supervisors.
  • Of 11 risk areas related to building trust in the organisation, the biggest was: ‘Communicating a clearly defined purpose and set of values for the organisation.’
  • Only 33% strongly agreed they do this.

Optimise workforce productivity and performance

  • Only 25% of respondents strongly agreed that they can measure productivity and performance at an individual level.
  • Slightly more, 28%, strongly agreed that they can measure productivity and performance at the team level.
  • Only 26% strongly agreed that the workload is manageable for their people.
  • About 75% of leaders do not strongly agree that workload is manageable

Takeaways: Focus on management as much as measurement

Optimising productivity is about focusing on what you can control, and it’s integral to overcoming challenges related to digitisation and automation. Our survey confirms what has been widely reported elsewhere: remote or hybrid work boosted productivity in most workplaces. In our survey, 57% of respondents said their organisation performed better against workforce performance and productivity targets over the past 12 months. Only 4% said their company performed significantly worse.

Given these findings, now is the time for leaders to build an environment that supports sustainable productivity rather than fret about monitoring employees. Being productive for a day or week is meaningless if that productivity comes at the expense of well-being. Giving workers flexibility to manage their work and home lives as they see fit and take time to rest, and supporting their diverse circumstances and needs, will help them to be healthy, mentally and physically. And this will make it more likely that they’ll perform well in the long term.

Enable the skills of the future

  • Only 26% of respondents strongly agreed they can identify the skills the organisation will need in the future due to technological change.
  • Identifying the skills needed in the future was the second-biggest challenge cited by respondents, across all six no-regrets areas. (See ‘The three most significant workforce challenges cited by leaders,’ above.)
  • Only 23% strongly agreed they use workforce analytics to monitor and predict skills gaps. The same percentage strongly agreed that they analyse business data to determine near-term skills needed in the organisation.

Prepare for and deploy technology with humans in mind

  • Only 21% of respondents strongly agreed they can identify the potential risks caused by decisions to replace human work with technology.
  • Being able to identify risks in replacing human work with technology was the biggest challenge cited by respondents across all six no-regrets areas.
  • Only 25% strongly agreed they communicate clearly and consistently with employees and other stakeholders about the impact of automation and AI.

Build ability to rapidly access and deploy talent

  • Only 28% of respondents strongly agreed they can rapidly adjust the workforce in response to changes in the market.
  • Only 23% strongly agreed they can easily access contingent workers.
  • Twenty-eight percent of HR leaders strongly agreed the HR function is effective at developing and delivering the workforce strategy, compared with only 15% of non-HR leaders.

One size does not fit all

It makes sense that certain sectors that are either chronically under-resourced, such as government and the public sector, or that are fully in the throes of disruption, such as EU&R, have the least confidence in their abilities and the level of action they have been able to take in these six important areas. It’s also logical, then, that tech-oriented industries such as TMT, which tend to have a professional, in-demand workforce, are more confident of their firms’ abilities and preparedness for the future. Countries and regions that are more optimistic will see that the sentiment is contagious. And a more optimistic workforce will feel free to do their best work and be their best selves.

About the survey

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.

Contact us

Ülker Day

Ülker Day

People and Organisation, Director, PwC Turkey

Tel: +90 212 326 6369

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