Employers’ Role in Helping People Adapt to the Changing Nature of Work

Topics: Future of Learning

Guest post by Kimberly Daniels

Strong workplace relationships, not only among co-workers but also between organizational leaders or supervisors and workers, can help determine success for the organization and for workers as they collaborate towards achieving the organization’s mission.

Conversations around the future of learning and readiness tend to focus on the knowledge, skills and dispositions that today’s students need to cultivate to meet the anticipated expectations of employers in the future. Additionally, these conversations typically emphasize opportunities for K-12 and postsecondary educators to integrate new approaches to readiness into existing teaching practices. While these conversations are critical and should continue, they tend to engage only two of the three stakeholder groups that need to be involved in shaping new approaches to readiness.

Employers also need to play a key role in helping people adapt to the changing landscape. One way they can do so is by cultivating supportive work environments characterized by human-centered connectedness, holistic purpose, continuous learning and adaptability, ecosystem wellbeing and inclusion.

Employers can cultivate human-centered connectedness by fostering a shared sense of community that inspires people to care about their work and the results because they genuinely care about, and genuinely are cared about by, others. Strong workplace relationships, not only among co-workers but also between organizational leaders or supervisors and workers, can help determine success for the organization and for workers as they collaborate towards achieving the organization’s mission.

Additionally, employers can strive to implement a holistic purpose that integrates each department, unit or function and the staff in relation to the policies and processes that support the vision, goals and strategies. As markets change and shift, an organizational environment that embodies holism can help staff align their roles, strengths and skills with those of others, maximizing an “all-hands-on-deck” problem-solving approach to organizational positioning and repositioning.

Get additional insight on how employers can be involved in shaping new approaches to readiness in our three strategy guides focused on regional responses to the changing landscape.

As changes in the external environment make changes within organizations necessary, employers can also help enable continuous learning and adaptability through integrated work relationships and organizational infrastructure supported by the practice of emergent learning, or learning that emerges in response to change. Workers given the opportunity for further and continuous learning through on-the-job and/or just-in-time training or through professional or assessment-based certification programs can upskill and reskill as needed. Such supports can enable both organizations and workers to develop the resiliency to adapt consistently to change, especially as work becomes increasingly project-based and taskified.

Likewise, employers can also help promote ecosystem wellbeing — the health and wellbeing of the entire organization, including the workers. Wellbeing for workers starts with, though is not limited to, mutual accountability, inclusion and trust. As work becomes increasingly quantified and as individual and team performance are increasingly assessed and measured, regular feedback can, if well-managed, stimulate an environment in which constant improvement and learning becomes not just the norm but also the culture by which the organization is characterized.

In addition to making regular and constructive top-down feedback to workers a common practice, employers can make the mutual practice of providing regular down-up feedback to supervisors and leaders commonplace, along with measures that protect workers against retaliation or punishment. Down-up feedback can help reassure workers that those to whom they report are themselves held accountable for their own knowledge, skills and dispositions — including their communication styles and emotional states and how they respond to the people who report to them. For example, adopting and using a 360-degree feedback system can reinforce worker engagement towards the organization’s success and wellbeing, with workers empowered to identify what is working well or not so well in their reporting relationships. Moreover, including workers in assessment practices, such as culture surveys, that give them a voice in evaluating the organization’s overall performance can encourage and strengthen a collaborative focus on improvement.

Lastly, by focusing on inclusion, employers create a learning environment for developing what could be an organizational strength. Organizations increasingly employ workers who represent diverse cultures and ways of thinking, doing things and relating and who possess different competencies and capabilities. Accepting and appreciating worker differences while making available to them broader organizational experiences through which they can develop professionally and personally can aid in sparking inclusive communities that enable both workers and the organization to thrive.

When mutual accountability and inclusion are included as core organizational values, they can help foster trust. Together, those organizational qualities can encourage ecosystem wellbeing and organizational learning and can further support human-centered connectedness. Such connectedness could help buffer both individuals and organizations as the rise of smart machines and more granular employment structures change the employment and competitive landscapes.

Learn how career readiness may be redefined to better prepare students for an uncertain future, based on a series of in-depth interviews with employees at cutting-edge organizations, as well as site visits to workspaces and strategic foresight research into current trends, in The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out.