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DEI Has Some Way To Go

The discontent among workers were emerging even before the pandemic wreaked havoc across the world, except that COVID-19 made things worse – but also better. The pandemic made remote working and flexi-work part of normal business practice, raised awareness of the importance of work-life balance, burnout and mental wellbeing, and heightened the discussion on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

When the pandemic swept across countries around the world, a December 2021 Bloomberg article reported that from April to September that year, a record 24 million US workers had quit their jobs, and many were staying out of the workforce. The trend was also observed in Germany, Japan, and other wealthy nations. Surveys carried out during that time reflected the increase in feelings of burnout and a deterioration in mental health. Closer to home, in China, the world’s most populous nation, the “lie flat” movement had spread quickly among workers in the tech sector, who were pushing back against the “996” work culture (working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week). The movement had a ripple effect among the millions of workers who demanded a better balance in life.

The “great resignation” was an expression of workers’ feelings of discontent, which had been building up due to a combination of factors including stagnating growth, inflation, and economic transformation. The pandemic provided an impetus for change, not just in flexible work arrangements but also in DEI practices.

DEI discussions are not new, but they are very broad-based and complex. Some aspects of DEI have achieved more progress than others. For example, having a more diverse board is good for business as it prevents the proverbial “echo chamber”, and brings to the table new perspectives and ideas. At the workplace, the inclusion of different groups of individuals working together spurs wider and deeper discussion, which can lead to innovation. At a time when there are four generations of workers performing their tasks side by side – Babyboomers (1946 to 1964), Gen X (1965 to 1980), Gen Y/Millennials (1981 to 1996) and Gen Z (1997 to 2012) – each shaped by its unique circumstances, companies need to relook their DEI approach in order to attract and retain talent, and bring out the best in every one of them.

Younger workers expect more from their employers than their parents ever did, and companies have come to realise that remuneration is not the be-all and end-all it once was. Younger workers want to work in a company whose values align with theirs, do meaningful work, have a nurturing work environment with mentors to help them advance in their careers – as well as personal time to attend to matters outside work, that is, they want and expect a work-life balance.


According to the findings of PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes And Fears Survey 2023, which drew responses from almost 54,000 workers across 46 countries and territories, many companies fail to tolerate debate and dissenting ideas. The figures show that only 35% of respondents say their manager tolerates small-scale failures, and just 33% say their manager encourages dissent and debate. This seems to go against the spirit of DEI, where different viewpoints are encouraged, as they can potentially spawn creative ideas.

About half the respondents strongly or moderately agree that they bring new, innovative ideas to their team (52%), actively seek feedback (50%), provide it to co-workers (49%), or step up to take on extra responsibilities (50%). The management can deepen the company culture of inclusivity so that workers are encouraged to commit fully to their roles.

About half of the respondents find their jobs fulfilling or they can truly be themselves. Notably, those who say they are likely to change jobs in the next 12 months are also less likely to say they find their work fulfilling or they can be themselves at work. There could be more discussion on what else to do, to make work meaningful for the workers.

About 20% of workers share that their workload was frequently unmanageable in the last 12 months, with half of them citing a lack of resources as the primary driver. This suggests a lack of work-life balance, and the potential for burnout.

At a time when transformation is of great importance, the management needs to engage and inspire their workers, says the report, such as by helping to create a more equitable future by giving every worker equal opportunities to upskill and reskill. Yet, more than half the workers (30% strongly or moderately agree; 21% slightly agree) feel that they have missed out on opportunities because they “do not know the right people”. Some 46% (27% strongly or moderately agree; 19% slightly agree) feel that employers focus too much on their job history and not enough on their skills. Moving beyond a qualifications-based approach would help workers as it would remove barriers to their ability to apply their skills and contribute to the company. The management may also want to craft a narrative around the company vision for the future of the organisation, and encourage questions and involvement from workers, to help create ownership and inclusion. The full report is available at the PwC website.

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