Rather than fearing the robot, employers and employees are embracing its potential with open arms, new data from MetLife reveals. However, they are worried about losing a sense of human connection within the workplace.
More than half (56 percent) of employers have a positive view of automation technologies that can help companies do human jobs (e.g., Artificial Intelligence, analytics, collaboration tools, robotics), compared with 20 percent who are pessimistic, according to MetLife’s 16th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS).
On the employee side, nearly half (49 percent) are optimistic, while only a quarter (24 percent) are pessimistic. This breaks down along gender and generational lines: men (54 percent) are more optimistic than women (43 percent), and millennials (63 percent) are more optimistic than Xers (47 percent) or boomers (38 percent).
Still, both employers and their workers have trouble reconciling their optimism around automation with their desire for human connection. About half of both groups (46 percent of employees, and 51 percent of employers) worry the workplace is becoming less human.
While automation is the next workplace frontier, the biggest fear is that work is losing its human touch, likely due to unmet needs for personalization and recognition, said Todd Katz, executive vice president of Group Benefits at MetLife. “Employers who are able to balance their—and their employees’—desire for innovation through automation, while creating great work experiences, will be tomorrow’s talent leaders.”
Creating Human Experiences
This year’s study shows that employees increasingly see work as an extension of themselves and that personalized options—for professional development, work schedules and employee benefits—go a long way toward building loyalty and trust.
Up to 87 percent of workers whose employer enables them to manage life in/outside of work are more loyal and satisfied. Nearly three quarters (72 percent) report that having the option to work remotely is important to their work/life balance. And offering a flexible schedule—something 74 percent of employees say is important when considering a new job—builds loyalty. This is more critical now than ever; the percentage of workers interested in contract or freelance work, as opposed to full-time salaried jobs, has increased—partly because of the ‘make your own hours’ lifestyle allowed. More than half (57 percent) of employees say they’re interested in freelance work, compared with 51 percent last year. And it’s not just interest; 24 percent of employees say they plan to leave their full-time jobs for freelance work in the next five years. Choice and flexibility strengthen loyalty.
Customized benefits attract talent. Like last year, employees want their employers to flex when it comes to benefits. The ability to customize benefits to meet their needs (70 percent) remains a high loyalty driver—and is a greater recruiting advantage than the ability to work from home (73 percent vs. 65 percent). Trending upward from 2017, six in ten employees—and 69 percent of millennials—now report that they’re willing to pay more to have benefits choices that meet their needs, up from 52 percent. One of their biggest needs? Financial wellness. Eighty-four percent of employees describe financial wellness programs (e.g., planning, education, workshops, tools) as offerings they want or need. Yet only 18 percent of employers currently offer them. And fewer than half (43 percent) of workers believe their employer understands their personal financial pressures—down from 54 percent last year—showing a missed opportunity for building connection and trust.
While 77 percent of employers say they are committed to their employees’ success, only 65 percent of workers agree. Fewer than two-thirds (63 percent) believe their company teaches them the skills they need to succeed in their current position, and roughly the same percentage (60 percent) feel appreciated most of the time. Workers who do feel appreciated at work are 19 percentage points more likely to say their company is committed to their success. Even small gestures can make a difference.
The ROI of Great Work Experiences
Among employees who feel most ‘connected’ or ‘empowered’ at work, more than 90 percent expect to still be working for their organization in 12 months, compared with 81 percent of all workers. They are also at least 17 percentage points more likely to say they trust their company’s leadership and 11 percentage points more likely to report that employee benefits help them worry less about unexpected health and financial issues.
“With unemployment at a record low and top talent in high demand, employers are looking for new ways to attract and retain workers,” says Katz. “For employees to feel connected and loyal in this era of automation, a positive employee experience is essential. Employees want a say in how, when and where they work—and they’re prepared to reward the organizations that deliver with hard work, performance and loyalty.”