WASHINGTON, DC — In today’s connected world, the overlap of work and life is becoming more aligned than ever and employees are clamoring to employers to keep the workplace “humanized.”

“What really matters most to employees,” asked Todd Katz, executive vice president of Metlife. “Why do they come to work? How do you engagement to optimize productivity?”

Speaking Monday in Washington, D.C., Katz detailed new data points that emerged from MetLife’s newly released 16th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study.

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.

When we talk about this work-life blend, the paradigm has changed a bit from when we discussed work-life balance, he said.

According to the study, 79% of employees said a work-life balance produces a higher feel of engagement, and 81% say having that work-life balance makes workers more productive.

“People need flexibility, they look for it,” he said. An area he noted employers might want to look at the rise of the gig economy. More employees are saying they plan to leave full-time work for gig or freelance in the next five years, up 7% from last year, he said.

If our objective is to retain and engage employees, employers should learn from the gig economy, he said. We should learn what workers say is important to them and why they’re leaving full-time work to do something different.

“To some extent, employers are constantly balancing that customer-shareholder-employee balance,” Katz said. But if you start with the employee, they are going to help make that difference to your customers which in turn will add to your shareholder’s value,’” he added.

However, a new trend the study found Katz cautions employers to be aware of as technology continues to root itself in the workplace, is the fear automation has on the workforce.

Surprisingly, it isn’t automation itself, he said, but the disconnect automation could create in the workforce.

More than half (56%) of employers have a positive view of automation technologies that can help companies do human jobs (e.g., AI, analytics, collaboration tools, robotics), compared with 20% who are pessimistic, according to the study. And on the employee side, nearly half (49%) are optimistic, while only a quarter (24%) are pessimistic.

However, the real disconnect comes around the optimism surrounding automation taking away from that family-like feel.

Both employers and their workers have trouble reconciling their optimism around automation with their desire for human connection, with about half of both groups (46% of employees, and 51% of employers) worrying 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,” Katz said. “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.”

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