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A research report from Harvard Business School published on the 23rd of May 2019 explores the future outlook of the work environment and how middle-skills workers’ views on the forces shaping this future compare to the views of business leaders.

Researchers surveyed 6,500 leaders of business and 11,000 middle-skills workers, defined as those not holding a four-year degree. The findings showed that workers are generally optimistic about the future and ready to embrace change, while business leaders see the outlook as more challenging.

Ragnar Horn is a member of the Harvard Business School Global Leaders Circle and a financial supporter of the institution. The short video attachment introduces the Global Leaders Circle.

Researchers identified a need for business leaders to tap into new partnerships with their workforces to be able to address the challenges that will arise soon, as the business world shifts on its axis.

Report Findings

There were two key findings outlined in the summary of the report. The first was that the average business will need to work harder to prepare workforces and the companies they run for the turbulence and change that has already begun to unfold. Strategies for the future management of work need to be refined and shaped, while employers need to be more proactive and discerning in their choices.

Secondly, the report showed that business leaders are overlooking the potential of a significant force for positive change in the workplace: the optimism of the workforce to prepare for the future. Middle-skills workers were largely positive in their own willingness and ability to change and adapt.

Some statistics on worker responses to the HBS survey can be viewed in the infographic attachment to this post.

Business Leader Expectations

Business leaders identified three forces as likely to have a significant impact on the shape of their business over the coming five years.

46% of those surveyed expected to be strongly impacted by the expectations of employees to be able to access more flexible work patters to create a more harmonious work-life balance. 44% of business leaders identified the need to increase skill levels across the workforce as likely to have a significant impact. 44% also believed that they would have difficulties in finding the right employees to fit into newly evolving roles.

While business leaders saw forces relating to technology as things likely to have an impact in five to 10 years, these were bottom of the priority list in the short term. Only 29% thought they would be impacted by technologies that substitute the labour force, while 34% believed supplemental technologies would have an impact.

Business Leader Challenges

The surveyed business leaders also identified three key reasons why their organisation was prevented from preparing immediately for the forces of change.

50% responded that there were other strategic priorities within the organisation at present. 39% answered that the impact of change expected by the organisation was still too far ahead to need to prepare now. 34% blamed a lack of visibility within the organisation on what future trends would be and how they were likely to impact the business.

However, despite these challenges and a lack of clarity, between 79% and 90% of business leaders were confident that their organisations were either well prepared or somewhat prepared to meet the complex challenges presented by all the identified forces of change.

Employee optimism has been identified by the HBS report as an untapped resource that business leaders need to harness and embrace if they are to be truly ready for change. The PDF attachment has some top tips for boosting employee positivity in the workplace.