What’s the digital disconnect between employees and leadership?

Data from Citrix’s Work 2035 report suggests a sharp disconnect between how business leaders and employees view their roles in the future—and the safety of those roles as technology progresses.

ARTICLE | 5m read
December 30, 2020

No matter the sector or industry, today’s essential project is to address this digital disconnect. But how? Before creating strategies, it helps to understand where the visions of business leaders and employees diverge the most. Drawing on hundreds of interviews conducted during the course of producing Work 2035, these claims contain the seeds of your strategy to bring the views of leadership and employees closer together—and help ensure you’re working toward a future all of you can believe in.

AI will boost productivity

Business leaders believe that technology and AI will give a major boost to productivity, but employees are far less certain. While 89 percent of business leaders anticipate AI-powered digital workspaces increasing worker productivity by 2035, just 55 percent of employees share the sentiment.

And while almost three-quarters of business leaders (73 percent) believe that technology and AI will make workers at least twice as productive by 2035, only 39 percent of employees agree. To bridge that kind of digital disconnect, leaders will need to do a better job of communicating the advantages of technology to their employees.

of business leaders who believe technology and AI will make workers at least twice as productive by 2035.

The permanent workforce may be replaced by contingent workers

For years, labor experts and governments have warned that the gig economy may erode the idea of full-time employment—and on this topic, business leaders and employees couldn’t be farther apart.

Just 19 percent of business leaders believe that permanent employment will be rare by 2035, whereas a full 60 percent of employees think that these positions will be rare. What’s more, business leaders predict that just one-fifth of their workforce will be made up of contractors and on-demand workers and freelancers (i.e., nonpermanent employees) by 2035.

The disconnect only widens from there. Almost two-thirds of employees (64 percent) believe that by 2035, most high-value specialist workers will be freelancers. On the flipside, only 39 percent of business leaders share that belief.

Leaders will need to listen to their employees’ replacement anxieties—and move forward with strategies that calm, rather than fan, them.

Workers may choose to be augmented by technology

Business leaders are much more likely than employees to believe that human-machine synergies will be the norm in tomorrow’s workplace. Over two-thirds of business leaders believe that wearable tech will be used by 2035—but fewer than half of employees envision this. Additionally, 77 percent of business leaders believe that under-the-skin chips will increase worker productivity. Only 43 percent of employees share this view.

Paradoxically however, employees are more willing than leaders to embrace this technology. More than half of workers, or 57 percent vs. 31 percent of business leaders—would be willing to have chips implanted in their bodies if they felt confident it was safe and would enhance their performance.

In the end, employees show a willingness to embrace the future, provided they understand the roles and the risks. But leaders need to start painting a convincing portrait today of a future in which technology benefits employees, helping summon new reserves of creativity and ingenuity that only humans possess.

of employees who would be willing to have chips implanted in their bodies if they felt confident it was safe and would enhance their performance.

New roles will emerge

As much as employees might like to believe that their current roles will evolve—or that new roles will emerge—they mostly fear being replaced. Most business leaders (70 percent) believe that new roles like AI trainers, advanced data scientists, and privacy managers will be created for people by 2035, but only a minority of employees (33 percent) agree.

Similarly, while over three-quarters of leaders believe that organizations will create functions like AI management departments and cybercrime response units, fewer than half of employees anticipate them by 2035.

On this point, a digital disconnect can be tackled proactively when business leaders invest in re-skilling and upskilling employees. And they can get ahead of digital privacy concerns by being transparent today about what they’d hope to use employee data for, and the limits on that use.

of business leaders who believe that new technology-specific roles will be created for people by 2035.

Leadership may be replaced by AI

Employees were far more likely than leaders to believe that leadership will be partially or completely replaced by technology. Only 7 percent of leaders—vs. 33 percent of employees—predict that the leadership team will be replaced by tech in 2035, whereas most business leaders (74 percent) predict only a partially augmented C-suite.

By demonstrating empathy and vision—the kind of traits that elude an AI—leaders can demonstrate to employees their continued relevance and indispensability. But they also shouldn’t get complacent; human-technology synergies are bound to make certain executive functions “offload-able” to AI.

of employees who predict that leadership will be replaced by tech by 2035.

A path forward

The Work 2035 report articulates a deep divide between the futures envisioned by business leaders and employees. While leaders anticipate a productive partnership with technology, employees fear a world where an AI is their direct competitor.

Leaders must communicate a compelling vision in which technology adds value to employees’ work. They must redesign their workplaces around technology that improves productivity. And they must address the significant upskilling and augmentation that will be required to elevate their workforces.

Ultimately, to thrive in the future, leaders must empower their workforce to adapt and innovate. Recent world events have shown that the future of work can change almost overnight. But by acknowledging the concerns of their employees today, businesses can prepare for whatever tomorrow brings.