While employers and employees are embracing greater use of technology and automation with open arms, new data from MetLife reveals they are also worried about losing a sense of human connection within the workplace.
According to new survey data shared by the firm, more than half (56%) of employers have a positive view of automation technologies that can help companies do human jobs, compared with 20% who are pessimistic. This is according to MetLife’s 16th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS).
“On the employee side, nearly half (49%) are optimistic, while only a quarter (24%) are pessimistic,” MetLife reports. “This breaks down along gender and generational lines: men (54%) are more optimistic than women (43%), and millennials (63%) are more optimistic than Xers (47%) or boomers (38%).
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% of employees, and 51% 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,” says Todd Katz, executive vice president, 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.”
The research suggests employers can win trust and loyalty from their employee base during this period of transition by offering relevant and timely professional development, as well as flexible work schedules and responsive employee benefits. Many stats are shared to back up this point, for example that 87% of workers whose employer enables them to flexibly manage time in/outside of work are more loyal and satisfied. Nearly three quarters (72%) report that having the option to work remotely is important to their work/life balance.
Other findings show 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%) of employees say they’re interested in freelance work, compared with 51% last year,” MetLife reports. “And it’s not just interest; 24% of employees say they plan to leave their full-time jobs for freelance work in the next five years. Choice and flexibility strengthen loyalty.”
Trending upward from 2017, six in 10 employees—and 69% of Millennials—now report that they’re willing to pay more to have benefits choices that meet their needs, up from 52%. One of their biggest needs is “financial wellness.” Fully 84% of employees describe financial wellness programs (e.g., planning, education, workshops, tools) as offerings they want or need. Yet only 18% of employers currently offer them, according to MetLife.
Among employees who feel most “connected” or “empowered” at work, more than 90% expect to still be working for their organization in 12 months, compared with 81% 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,” Katz concludes. “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.”