Magazine Article | August 30, 2019

3 Ways Leaders Can Help Employees Prepare For The Future

Source: Life Science Leader

By Lynda Gratton, Ph.D.

Constant innovations in machine learning and robotics have reshaped work, leaving no one untouched. As people live longer, their working lives expand, moving from the traditional three stages (i.e., full-time education, full-time work, and full-time retirement) to something more flexible and multistaged. Further, technological and demographic forces influence family structure as more women work and more partnerships are built on career plus career, rather than career plus caregiver.

What does this mean for leaders? In many ways, your day-to-day life is more protected. Given the complexity of your work and skills developed, machines are more likely to provide positive augmentation rather than replacement. But what about the members of your team and how their lives will inevitably be transformed? A key lesson for leaders is to be aware of these changes and have clarity about the role they play in preparing employees for the future.


Most workers have an idea that technology will change their work in the near term. Yet as employee surveys reveal, many fret they don’t have the skills to do jobs of the future, and few know what these jobs entail. There is no general formula for understanding the impact of technology on jobs. Instead it’s a fine-grained analysis depending on country, sector, job, tasks, and skills. Leaders need to create narratives about the future by including broad pathways for jobs and likely areas of job creation. While not having to be precise in prediction, the narrative must acknowledge that work is changing and give some idea of what this trajectory could be.


When working into our 70s becomes the norm, full-time retirement will morph into a multistage life where learning becomes the norm. Once-off early education will no longer be enough to propel people through their working lives. Employees will want to work at companies with developmental opportunities built in. Many leaders avoid supporting employee learning in a volatile labor market with short job tenure, which is the wrong approach. Employees of the future will increasingly choose companies based on their capacity to create learning opportunities and will stay as long as these opportunities are available. Not only will leaders need to actively support learning agendas, they will need to be involved in learning so as to role model adult learning through their own activities.


As technology and longevity transform jobs and skill requirements, it will also alter the flow of daily life. The “9 to 5” five-day working week with limited holiday entitlement will become a thing of the past as employees seek opportunities with greater flexibility. Some companies have already created opportunities for more flexible work (e.g., job sharing, paternity leave, and sabbaticals). However, people are disinclined to take these opportunities for flexibility, as they fear it will adversely impact their careers. One of the clearest signals to address this is for leaders to model flexible working.

As a leader, you can help alleviate employee concerns by narrating how the future could be, taking positive approaches to learning, and role modeling what it is to look forward.

Lynda Gratton, Ph.D. is a professor of management practice at London Business School, an author, and four-time member of the Thinkers50 global management thinker ranking.