Thought Leadership

Poll Results: Unemployment, Job Insecurity and Extremism – Volatile Bedfellows

In a LinkedIn Poll run by the Future Fit Academy during August, we asked respondents the following question – What worries you most about the future world of work?

 

Four options were put forward with the following results:

What worries you most about the future world of work?
Automation / Digital Technologies 23%
Climate and Environmental Change 8%
Growing Inequality 23%
Extremisms and Prejudices 46%

 

The results are both alarming, but also very telling as to the fragile state of people in a world fraught with job insecurity and unemployment. Almost 50% of respondents are most concerned about extremes and prejudices – and there is a direct correlation to these fears being amplified and fueled by job insecurity.  This article focused on unpacking the top response from the poll – Extremisms and Prejudices.

 

A PwC Hopes and Fears survey revealed that half of the workforce report missing out on career opportunities or training due to prejudice and discrimination. 13% report missing out on opportunities as a result of ethnicity, 14% experienced discrimination on the grounds of gender, with women twice as likely to report gender discrimination as men.  In South Africa, 32% of females and 14% of males say they have been overlooked for career advancement based on gender discrimination. Furthermore, 45% of males and 43% of females say they have also missed out on career advancement or access to training on the grounds of race/ethnicity.  On top of this, the survey found there are disparities in access to upskilling opportunities – while 46% of people with postgraduate degrees say their employer gives them many opportunities to improve their digital skills, just 28% of people with school-leaver qualifications say the same. Less than half of South African workers (45%) say their current employer is giving them some opportunities to improve their digital skills outside of normal work hours.

 

In one of the pandemic’s upsides, people were able to transition quickly to remote work while keeping productivity high. And where access exists, workers are keen to reskill as needed, but disparities in access to training remain. Those who most need digital skills are still the least likely to get them and, if this trend continues, we risk widening the digital divide. Leaders need to create more inclusive opportunities for their people to upskill.  This is critical in a changing and evolving world of work. Much debate rages about the future world of work, and how automation, robotics, smart machines and AI are going to take over jobs from people.   This prospect of losing one’s job is an unpleasant scenario to ponder, and for many it is a real and pressing concern.

 

In an article titled Job insecurity cuts to the core of identity and social stability – and can push people towards extremism published by The Conversation, the authors (Eva Selenko and Chris Stride) state that the ‘precarious nature of the job market has a huge impact on how people feel. Job security – or rather insecurity – strikes at the core of our sense of worth and this can indeed have major ramifications for society.’

 

Research has shown that people who feel a diminished sense of worth are more likely to turn against others if it helps rebuild their perceived sense of worth, and may also identify with others who experience the same threat. Feeling “worthless” might make people more susceptible to messages that make them feel more worthy and included. Other people, when feeling worthless or alienated may become more empathetic towards others who also have been excluded or feel worthless. Either way, this explains how job insecurity pushes some people towards political extremes, both right and left.

 

Selenko and Stride conclude:  “This growing evidence of the harmful effects of job insecurity – on individual’s identity and hence well-being, as well as on company performance – shows it is time not only for organisations, but for politicians to wake up to the issue. Policies are needed to counter the growing trend towards temporary work and zero-hours contracts, with added protection required to ensure people do not feel excluded from society and pushed toward extremism.”

 

The debates around the future of work have centered on readying workers by discussing the new skills they may need to acquire, jobs that are expected to grow, and how emerging technologies may change workplace operations and the nature of work. However, according to the Center for American Progress, it is equally important to focus on preparing workplaces for the future by transforming work environments so that all workers have the best chance of success and can participate to their fullest potential.  Read the full report – Centering Equity in the Future-of-Work Conversation Is Critical for Women’s Progress.

 

The forces changing the world of work, and the disruptors and impact of these disruptors are felt throughout the work environment, in every corner of the world.  In 2015, World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim in his speech to the German Institute for Economic Research stated: “It has never been so painfully clear that the world is deeply interconnected. Major issues that evolve in a developing country now swiftly move to affect developed countries – and vice versa — more than ever before: Climate change, pandemics, refugees, terrorism, and economic downturns all move seamlessly around the world. We must do much more to address the deep pockets of poverty and rising inequality in countries at every income level. This includes investing and supporting middle-income countries that face the challenge of fragility, especially when the spill-over effects from fragility can threaten both its neighbours and countries on the other side of the earth. If we leave these problems unresolved, the risk of growing conflict and extremism in these contexts will become very real, as we have seen in the Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America.”

 

In an article posted on JD Supra, an online repository of legal opinion, the contributing authors state that employers and Government should take particular care to safeguard against a possible rise in discrimination-related litigation and temporary short-term uncertainty about workforce stability and the results thereof.

 

As part of a session held by the American University in Cairo’s Gerhart Center Webinar Series titled “Decent Jobs and the Future of Work after COVID-19,” Director of the Future of Work(ers) Program in the Ford Foundation, Sarita Gupta spoke about the challenges workers face in the current global economy, the growing inequalities, and the impact of digital technology on jobs.

 

In an article published by the Cairo Review of Global Affairs – The Future of Work: Between Technology and Inequality – Sarita Gupta stresses that the narrative of future world should be on the future of “workers” NOT “work” – the future is fundamentally about people. Businesses should focus on the future of workers, and how we can collectively secure a path of shared prosperity and economic security for all workers. She states that too often when the future of work is being discussed the focus on technology is about increased efficiency and productivity to deliver values for consumers and shareholders. This, Gupta contends, is dismissive of those who carry out the work and will surely lead to more inequality.

 

Very often, the people who lose jobs to emerging technologies are those who are least equipped to seize newly created jobs. Gupta also believes that financial inclusion is a global problem due to the immense concentration of wealth among the “super rich”. This particularly includes eight men who “own us much wealth as half of the world’s population”.

 

The concentration of wealth in our global economy will determine how innovative technology is deployed and in whose interest they operate,” said Gupta. While new technology has great potential to create new wealth, there is no economic law that says the wealth will be well-employed. Gupta stressed that the problem is not if new technology will eliminate or create jobs, it is rather about who is driving the change, why they are driving it, whether there will be accountability for how change will happen, and who will be advantaged and disadvantaged by said change. “The fundamental question we have to address is about power, and those with power suggest an inevitability of inequality,” she said.

 

Gupta and the Ford Foundation believe that technology is not an unstoppable force that “happens to us” as many will contend, but, that people can shape technology in a way that will improve economic security, opportunities, and dignity for all working people.

 

“When navigating new technologies, we have to ask who benefits? Does the application of new technology, or shifts in work, speed up the concentration of wealth into the hands of a select few, or does it allow communities to get fair shares of the wealth they are producing?” she asks.

 

It is through global partnerships that promote ideas such as those expressed by The Ford Foundation, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 8) which is ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’ to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”, and the ILO’s Commission on the Future of Work that promotes employment creation, social protection, rights at work, and social dialogue – and bringing everyone to the same decision-making table – that a better future can be achieved.

 

References

Centering Equity in the Future of Work

https://www.americanprogress.org/article/centering-equity-future-work-conversation-critical-womens-progress/

Job insecurity cuts to the core of identity and social stability – and can push people towards extremism. February, 2017. https://theconversation.com/job-insecurity-cuts-to-the-core-of-identity-and-social-stability-and-can-push-people-towards-extremism-72915

Remarks by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim: Development in a Time of Global Interdependence. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/speech/2016/04/05/remarks-world-bank-group-president-jim-yong-kim-development-global-interdependence

The Future of Work: Workplace Trends for 2021 and Beyond. https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/the-future-of-work-workplace-trends-for-5452866/

The Future of Work: Between Technology and Inequality. https://www.thecairoreview.com/midan/the-future-of-work-between-technology-and-inequality/

Hopes and Fears 2021 – The views of 32,500 workers. https://www.pwc.com/hopes-fears