Who sets the rules in the labor market? The shortage of skilled workers is changing the signs, companies are fighting for employees. But does this new employee power apply to everyone?

They try it out for three months, maybe half a year – and if the new job doesn’t suit them, they just quit again. In many sectors, employers no longer give their employees a probationary period, reports Nela Richardson, chief economist at the US labor market service provider ADP, at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

It’s the other way around: probationary period for the new job – for the boss. The high level of willingness to give notice and the worsening shortage of skilled workers are forcing employers to rethink. But what does this mean specifically for companies – and does this new power of employees apply to everyone?

“Companies must radically change the way they work and live. You have to woo people,” says Stefan Schaible from the board of management consultants Roland Berger. “Any employer who has not yet understood that they have to invest in their staff will have massive difficulties.”

According to data from the management consultancy Accenture, employment will peak at almost 46 million people in Germany this year or next. According to this, more people leave the workforce than enter it. “The talent pool stops growing if we don’t take measures like immigration,” says Christina Raab, Accenture’s head of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It will be a constant challenge over the next decade to get enough and sufficiently qualified employees.

The result: “You ask yourself the question: How can I be an attractive employer? How can I offer flexible working models? But how can I also create flat hierarchies, bring more decisions and creative freedom to the individual employee?”

The rethinking, according to Raab, must begin in the application process. “Look for skills – not degrees or certificates,” Accenture advises clients. Especially with German employers, job advertisements still contained a lot of qualification criteria that sorted out promising applicants far too early. “They filter very strongly,” criticizes Raab. “We believe that a few criteria such as a willingness to learn and flexibility that are less of a deterrent to applicants are sufficient. And then you invest in education and training.”

According to a recent study by Accenture and Harvard University, not even every second company offered training and further education to counter the shortage of skilled workers. However, management consultants expect companies to invest a lot more money in the further training of their employees and in learning completely new skills in the future. The Federal Government now also wants to vigorously promote further training. Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil (SPD) even wants to make Germany a “Republic of Further Education” and finance employees for a one-year training period with millions from the Federal Employment Agency.

Schaible is convinced that companies can no longer get by with standard working time models. “Companies have to think much more about the biographical wishes of their employees,” he advises. This means allowing time off and working as digital nomads – i.e. from abroad for a German company – but also longer working beyond retirement age. “Measure results, not time,” advises Accenture. “We need to see working life more flexibly: Not necessarily as a five-day week between the ages of 20 and 60, but much more flexible staggering throughout life and into old age,” says Raab. “We should get out of these templates that have to work the same for everyone in the course of life.”

According to the Roland Berger boss, anyone looking for a new job often makes their decision based on conviction rather than financial motives. “The key factors are how diverse a company is and how international you can work. Does the company really stand for sustainability issues or is it just lip service?” Raab has observed that young people are looking for meaning in their work more often than before. “You actively ask: Where is my value proposition? Then they work incredibly creatively and with a great deal of commitment to solving these issues.” The feedback culture must also change: younger colleagues demanded more direct feedback. “They are used to likes and bring this different use of media, this different socialization, to the workplace.”

But even though companies have to do more and more to look after their employees, Chief Economist Richardson has doubts about the power of employees. “The myth of the more powerful worker dissipates when you look at real wages,” she points out. Adjusted for inflation, the wages of typical workers have recently fallen in almost all countries. “That doesn’t sound to me like a worker who is in charge.” In many countries, there is not enough money for the subsistence level at the lower end of the salary scale. In the cities where the work is, for example, housing is too expensive. Their conclusion: “The worker is never in the driver’s seat – but he has become a vocal passenger in the back seat, telling the company where to go and when to get out.”