The voice of the european workforce

Understanding human reactions to skillfully meet change

The last year has continuously tested our human ability to adapt but our resiliency has stood the test of time. The ‘Voice of the European Workforce 2020’ report confirms that although automation and technology are shaping the future of the European workforce, organisations must also remain focused on human factors such as listening to employee perspectives and maximising their individual potentials at work. The report examines how the lives of European workers changed in 2020 and makes recommendations for the way forward.

What has change brought?

The numbers reveal that:

  • 78% of workers have had at least one big change in their working lives
  • 40% consider leadership’s trust essential to cope with change
  • 34% expect more flexibility in deciding when/how to work

Key findings

Let’s take a look at some key findings from the report:

1. Human factors are essential for effective adaptation

Although the future of workforces was perceived as bleak and threatened by rapid technological developments and disruption, the three biggest factors that played a role in supporting people in coping with change were trust, professional networks and the ability to adapt over time. These were more effective in helping people cope with change than technical tools like IT or internal training and resources. Although technology enables business, human factors are equally if not more essential for companies to pave a new path forward and make the most of technology and disruption.

2. Companies must have a human-centric view of the future of work

Due to widespread remote working around Europe, space and time limits have been dissolved, causing employees to lose their balance between work and life. Individuals must be in a position to create their own rules and negotiate their own limits. It is the responsibility of the organisation to foster a supportive environment that considers people’s limits and need and to safeguard their well-being. The report highlights that 32% of employees were concerned about having to work more hours for the same pay when they work remotely.

3. Knowledge is the key to future working models

Knowledge today is essential for creating additional value and is considered the backbone of the remote and hybrid work models that continue to define this decade. Sharing, transferring and adding knowledge is expected to become part of every employee’s daily life. Naming knowledge transfer as a business priority will improve organisations’ knowledge flows and increase the value of information, which will also justify investments in knowledge-management and repository systems.

4. Assumptions about age can be misleading

The pandemic has shown that different generations of employees perceive change differently. Although, these differences are not necessarily aligned with prior assumptions. The report shows no disparities among employees of different ages in terms of adapting to new technology. However, it does show that younger workers have had a harder time adapting to increased leadership responsibilities and autonomy. This is especially true in companies with strict age hierarchies. Therefore, talent programmes (e.g. for leadership development or learning) that are grounded in an ‘age approach’ can have a misleading effect and may fail to equip employees to properly deal with a changing work environment. The report demonstrates that in terms of the share of respondents reporting difficulties adapting to more leadership responsibility, 43% of under 30s stated that older workers are generally higher up in the hierarchy and issue orders which are executed by the younger workers. However, only 31% of workers between ages 30-39 expressed this sentiment. 27% of under 30s stated that colleagues of different ages often work together and each contribute and build on each others ideas whereas only 23% of age 30-39 workers stated the same.


The report finds that there are identifiable ‘human types’ when looking and employee concerns about the future of work.

1) Surfer

These workers are aware that their job role has changed and that they may be required to display different capabilities. They have already experienced adjustments first-hand during the pandemic and they are aware that they will be able to adapt. These workers have benefitted from increased autonomy and flexibility but hold on to the worry that their working environment may suffer. This group is mainly made up of professionals working on fixed contracts for medium and large sized companies.

2) Grounded

The lives of these workers have not been changed much by the pandemic and they do not expect there to be a long-lasting effect on their jobs or the skills required. Due to this, they have a more optimistic view about the future of their working life. This group tends to be older and have more open-ended contracts in big companies, therefore it is likely that they are looking at an overall shorter timeframe.

3) Juggler

These workers are the most unsettled of the three; they have lost access to the working life they previously knew prior to the pandemic and they are expecting massive changes, including the skills they need to acquire in order to be able to regain access to their work. Additionally, they are not hopeful that finding work will be easy. This group tends to be made up of younger workers in sales and customer service, and includes skilled traders and employees working with fixed-term contracts in small and medium-sized organisations.

The report also presents three areas that organisations must consider when organising the return to work in a new environment. Check out the full report to learn more!

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