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The Future Of Work

Brexit, Politics and the Mood of the Nation 

What is the future of work?

This is one of the most important questions both organisations and employees can ask right now. There is no doubt that the world of work has completely changed, it will keep evolving while we figure out what the new normal is.

 This could lead to great things!

Mental health and wellbeing, that is all we ever hear about nowadays.

Perhaps it’s about time too, this is a conversation we have swept under the rug or tried to avoid in both in personal and professional environments. 

As a society, we seem to have put in place reactive practices to deal with our mental health and wellbeing, while doing the opposite for physical health. The consequences of that now are not just in your face, but far reaching into all levels of society. 

This has contributed to the stigma around mental health but change is coming, a profound one, and there is no way we can stop it. This change that is coming does come with a caveat, a caveat organisations need to be mindful of.

The future world of work will not be taking any prisoners, this article is all about why that will be

The first thing we need to understand is that we as a nation, have been operating with a broken workforce. According to Delloite, this has cost employers £45B a year and has been rising £16B a year since 2016. According to the MHFA England, 57% of all days take off were due to mental health and wellbeing issues.

 All this data is pre-pandemic!

This has come about through an era where pay and workload has become a national joke. It has affected everyone and has been the most damaging to the worst off in our communities.

We have done this while praising billionaires and their organisations as businesses heroes, whilst they have been busy trying to convert their workforce into battery operated robot’s for company profits, while paying peanuts!

This has played its part in the rich poor divide that is getting bigger by the day in the UK, and worldwide. In the UK there can be 100 people to every low paid dead end job, which has not helped this situation. Some employers have been exploiting this desperation in their workplace practices.

Over the last ten years many organisations have abused that fact, especially the biggest such as Amazon, Just Eat, Uber and Sports Direct to name a few. We have seen it on the news many times. We have a massive workforce and not enough decently paid jobs here in the UK. Being a part of the EU did not help.

 In fact when you look at cities like London, where I am from. The social situation in poor and working class communities are the worst I have known in my 40yrs as a Londoner. This has been the same for most major cities in the UK, impacting the majority of the working class here in the UK. This has all happened while we have been a part of the EU.

 The economic benefits of the EU that we hear so much about on the news and media. These “economic benefits” never seems to trickle down to everyday working class people like it does for corporations and their beneficiaries, especially over the last decade!

Poverty, homelessness, alcohol and substance abuse, gang violence, mental health issues and the inability of our public services to cope with the fall out of that, have been sky rocketing over the last ten years. All while being in the EU!

That is fact not even the strongest supporters of the EU can deny, because we can see it all around us. As they say, the proof is in the pudding!

It will take at least a decade for us to know if we did the right thing with Brexit, but there have been positives!

What we do know is that a natural distrust of politicians is healthy, less politicians make it easier to get answers for the people. That can only be good for us as a sovereign nation 

The buck now stops with our PM, not some bureaucrat in Brussels who has never lived here or walked the streets of our cities.

That’s how it should always be, as accountability and trust is a hard to come by thing in the world of politics today. We can see that by the recent events with Matt Hancock, and that’s only because he got caught!

A recent story I came across about the impact Brexit has had in the UK is the shortage of lorry drivers. Supermarkets tried to scaremonger us by saying shelves would not be fully stacked, if they cannot employ driver’s from the EU.

The government response to this was actually brilliant, they told the supermarkets to make their jobs more attractive to the UK market!

In other words, pay a decent living wage so an employee can work full time and not still be on the breadline. Have an employee package that treats a person with some dignity and not a battery operated robot or cog in a big machine to better company profits!

 I loved that response from the government and it should come as a wakeup call for employers in the UK, perhaps a death knell to some.

Above all of that, it is a much needed and long overdue Godsend to the working class in the UK!

The Next Generation – New Thinking and Perspectives

The future starts firmly and foremost with the incumbent and incoming workforce, an aspect organisations must consider.

Millennials (Gen Y) at the oldest end are entering their 40’s, the youngest around the 25yrs mark. Gen Z’s are the new and incoming workforce, the oldest of which are now aged around 24yrs old and entering the world of work after University.

The younger millennials and the Gen Z’s come from a very different world and mind frame to the rest of us. This is a generation that holds things like, mental health, wellbeing, gender equality, sustainability, green tech, environment and good work life balance as a top priority

This is a generation that sees a job as something you to do enhance your life, not to have a life. Long may they reign! 

Just like my 23yr old daughter said to me, “Dad, I would rather work for pennies with people that care about me, where I am happy, rather than for a load of money for people who think I am their property!”

 Poignant I am sure you will agree!

This type of thinking seems to be unanimous with these two generations, employers who can see that and adapt to it will be the winners. However, this is not exclusive to millennials and Gen Z’s.

A recent survey done by Aviva found that 47% of current employees, were less career-focused because of the pandemic!

This could be the result of the pandemic putting their lives into perspective. Whatever it is, employers need to be mindful or risk losing almost half their existing workforce. This can happen in many different ways.

It can happen via staff resigning, low productivity, low performance or through absenteeism and presenteeism. All of which can be a can of worms, currently for employers. This is due to the fact that so many of these wellbeing and existential questions, have come about due to the experience of the pandemic.

The issues that have arisen through the pandemic forms new types of issues for HR and organisations. There is no blueprint fo it, it has not been written in any books. No manager alive has faced these issues in the staff base ever before.

Due to their newness, they cannot be dealt with via same old frameworks prior to the pandemic, they need a whole new approach.

So what are the considerations that employers need to look at with the new normal and new expectations? Let’s take a look at what are the most important factors right now.

Blended Working, Blended Hours and the Gender Divide

From speaking and training numerous organisations post pandemic, ranging from local businesses to multinationals worth billions. I have gathered that around 50% of people like working from home and 50% hate it!

While working with individuals from these organisations, ranging from CEO’s to office juniors. I realised that it truly is different strokes for different folks. It all depended on factors such as job role, personality type, age and current life circumstances which takes into account things such as children, home environment, their current mental wellness and gender.

That is not an exhaustive list either!

What I did concluded is that blended working was the “happy place” for everyone. It is definitely the future of work in the new normal, that benefits both employers and employees. Blended working is something we would do better with, by making it a permanent thing!

Blended working is one of the most important changes to come out of lockdown, it helps in finding a good balance between work and life. We all like to work in our pyjamas now and again, getting more sleep, saving time and money with travel and food costs. Getting more time for ourselves and for our family life.

On the flip side of that, we all like the routine of getting up, getting dressed and going through the motions and interactions that are to be had going into the office. A lot of us need that social aspect and human connection.

This is why I describe blended working as the “happy place” for everyone, it’s a positive thing for a mentally well and productive workforce.

Now, some organisations have realised they can function just as well with remote working and have done away with their offices. I believe this has been a knee jerk reaction to what organisations see as a huge cost saving measure, where they reduced a massive overhead. Which includes rent and all associated rates and expenses to having a business premises.

My advice to those organisations is to be extremely cautious about this approach, it could have devastating consequences to their existing workforce and backfire in their faces, this article looks into why.

 Work Life Balance and the Gender Issue

Now blended working must also come with blended working hours. There must be freedom for people to start earlier or later and finish earlier or later, as long as it does not impact the team or the organisation in a detrimental way.

This will help an employee with routine tasks such as taking the kids to school or dealing with a loved one they care for. This kind of strategy with blended hours can take an immense amount of pressure off an employee, struggling to deal with work and personal commitments.

Blended hours can have a small effect on the employer but a big effect on the employee!

For an employee it can have a huge positive impact on wellbeing and work life balance, thus making them a more happier and more productive member of staff. Employers should not underestimate the benefits of small tweaks like this in the working day. It can mean the difference of an employee staying with an organisation for ten years, rather than a year.

Employees need to feel that an organisation understands their personal circumstances.

Blended hours give an employers the perfect opportunity to show that they do. Staff retention should also be a high priority for organisations post pandemic, in order to foolproof themselves for the future of work.

The future of work is all about finding a “win-win” or “happy place” for both employers and employees, at every given give opportunity!

A survey by Aviva found more men wanted to return to the office then women, who had a preference for working from home. More women had primary care roles with their children. There must be strong focus on female employees or we risk adding to the gender divide in the workplace, once again leaving women with the short straw.

Employers must do all they can, to not let that happen post pandemic!

These types of insights will once again create workplaces where employees stay for life. This may seem like a utopia to some, currently it certainly is due to workplace practices described earlier in this article by certain employers.

 Nonetheless, is it really a utopia?

Let’s not forget most of our parents stayed in their jobs for life, maybe it’s time to look at the reasons why. We need to take what we can from those days, reinvent and adapt it to make it apply to today’s new normal and the future of work

We are not going to get better opportunity then now to do so!

Blended Wellbeing, EAP’s and Health and Safety for Remote Working

The Mental Health Continuum

Whenever I train organisations on my Mental Health First Aid courses and we get to workplace wellbeing part of the learning. I make it clear that when it comes to people management, the time of separating work life and personal life has ended.

Traditionally we were expected to come into work, hang our jackets up and be a “professional” or “worker”, no matter what was going on in other aspects of our lives.

This is no longer the case, especially when organisations have asked their employees to turn their homes into workplaces!

This is a good thing, as we do not check our mental health in and out at the door, as we transition from work life to personal life. Previously, employers were not obliged to focus on personal circumstances as much when it came to people management. It was more workplace focused unless it was a bereavement, paternity, serious illness or something along those lines

A person’s everyday mental health and wellbeing was not really taken into consideration, this is the biggest mistake that employers have been making!

Mental health and wellbeing is fluid and on a continuum, a person can move around this continuum overtime. A person can go from being mentally well to experiencing mental health issues and everything in-between in any given year

That will undoubtedly have an effect on that person’s wellbeing, behaviour and productivity. A truly robust and people focused organisation, will understand this natural consequence of the mental health continuum. They will set HR frameworks to support a person no matter where they are at any given stage, on the continuum.

Avoiding Burnout and Legal Issues

Due to the lockdown, employers do not have a choice but to take into consideration the impact of working from home and the environment within that home. Once again a truly meaningful and robust wellbeing framework must consider all aspects of persons life.

If it has taken a pandemic for employers to see it this way, then so be it!

Lockdown has given us the perfect platform to develop new strategies for this new normal. HR and businesses will need to move with that shift, if they are to get the best from their people.

Health and safety is a big issue as it always was, but with new challenges!

How are organisations really keeping an eye on their staff and managing them while working from home?

What practices do employers have right now to keep tabs on things like burnout, overworking, mental health and work life balance while having no human contact and working on screens on Zoom or Teams?

This is an important talking point for all organisations. One that needs to be met head on, or an employer may be at risk of it coming back to haunt them!

If an employee burns out due to not being provided training on how to have a good work life balance, how to shut down after work, how to stay active and what to do to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing while working from home by their employer.

 Surely, there will be a liability on the employer! 

When it comes to remote working, employers need to consider all the same things as they would consider within an office environment. This goes as far as having the correct lighting, the correct seating and tables.

Organisations who are fine with staff working on their dining tables and sofas, may be liable for any health issues that come with it in the future!

Employers should be purchasing all the correct equipment for people’s remote working environment. Training on how staff can better look after themselves physically and mentally should be provided. I personally feel employers should purchase tables that position for both sitting down and standing up working, contribute to electric and WIFI bills.

That also is not an exhaustive list!

Tracking systems should be put into place to ensure contracted hours are being met, but more importantly to prevent unsafe working practices, like working over contracted hours and late into the evenings. All of which can lead to legality issues for the employer.

Aviva found that around two in five people said they could never switch off from work!

“One result of this always-on, ever-present culture is that 40% of employees are concerned about work-related burnout,” the insurer said.

50% of people complained that the boundary between work and home had become “increasingly blurred”, disproportionately affecting women, with 46% concerned about burnout – compared to 35% of men.

Another gender issue that needs to be met head on by employers!

If employers do not quite quickly put frameworks into place over the coming months, I suspect it will eventually lead to many legal claims and issues for employers. Employers need to remember that their responsibilities towards employees for remote working, is exactly the same as their responsibilities towards employees in the office environment.

The Problem With Employee Assistance Programs

With this new normal comes new working conditions, so it is imperative to have a second look at EAP’s. I have come across too many organisations that pull solutions off shelves, tick that box then wonder why employee engagement is low!

Does that remind you of your organisation?

When it comes to a person’s mental health and wellbeing, it is very much their own, developed via their filter on the world. It’s as individual as their fingerprint. This is why off the shelf or generic EAP solutions always lack engagement!

 Employees first need to get a basic understanding of what mental health is, how it works and how it can be impacted!

You may think, well people know that already right?

The fact is they don’t, I find 9/10 people are shocked once they complete a MHFA course. They are shocked as to how much they didn’t know, when it comes to their own mental health and wellbeing and how it all works. This is why I always say mental health first aid is the foundation of any effective wellbeing framework to be established.

Otherwise you are asking employees to run before they can walk, hence once again, the lack of engagement in EAP’s.

Departmental Localisation

The first thing employers have to do is localise, what is that you ask?

Departmental Localisation, is a term I coined after my work as the CEO at the London Makeup School and The London Hair Academy, that won me one of the most coveted awards in HR

Departmental Localisation is the strategy I developed and applied that led to me being awarded the Investors in People Manger of the Year Award 2018. I was named by IIP as a global leader in HR and People Management Practices.

Departmental localisation is based around talking to staff. I have found that talking to staff seems to be something that scares some organisations, or they are unsure of how best to do it.

This may be due to the fact that they do not want the flood gates to open, be exposed or have to deal with what is said. Some organisations may just simply not care. Ignorance may be bliss now, but will eventually turn into a nightmare for employers post pandemic.

Talking to staff also stops the ridiculous top down approach to wellbeing some organisations like to implement. This is usually done to ticks boxes, get a certificate on a wall and top management to feel like the job is done.

The new generation of workers can smell this stench from a mile away, so can existing employees. It is a truly regressive approach and I warn against it. This approach in no way covers an employer’s social, moral, corporate or HR responsibilities.

It is nothing but a shot in the dark and its shameful!

To truly understand an organisation, it must be personalised and localised, department by department. This is departmental localisation.

I can already hear managers reading this saying, well we truly don’t have time for that!

My response to those managers is go back read over your job description, or read up on what a manager is supposed to be. Maybe it’s not you, but the manager above you? 

Whatever it is, please understand that it is part of the problem and has no place in the future of work. If you are the type of manager that delegates tasks and gets them done but has no time to speak with those you manage . Then you are delegator, not a manager.

A true manager is as manager of people, well managed people will flourish and when they do the organisation flourishes too!

Once you start to implement departmental localisation. What you will find is that the finance department will feel and see things differently to the IT department. You will find HR feels and sees thing differently to the Sales department, etc.

 Yet it is the same organisation. This is why I described a top down approach to wellbeing or even people management as a matter fact, as ridiculous!

 The reason behind this is that many factors and variables impact the individuals in any given team or department. These factors and variables are local and personal to the culture, productivity, performance and wellbeing of that department

Factors and variables can be things such as age, financial situation, family situation, gender and generational divides, mental health, resilience levels, personality types, experience or lack off and many other factors associated to the people incumbent within that specific department.

Once again, that is not an exhaustive list!

What you will find is that each department has its own unique set of needs and wants. This is why organisations are not are not getting the engagement with their off the shelf or generic solutions in their EAP.

Has the penny dropped yet?

A truly effective EAP can only be built via talking to staff via a departmental localisation strategy. The information gathered provides a deep insight where bottom up and top down needs and wants come together, to find that all important “happy place”! 

When the EAP has been put together like this, it is powerful and applicable to that specific department only. Any other EAP strategy is waste of time and money, it’s is like waving a magic wand and hoping everything will be OK.

It is a true lack of insight into human nature and a total misunderstanding of mental health and wellbeing!

Departmental localisation of course in not exclusive to EAP’s. On my Supervising First Aid for Mental Health Level 3 course, I put departmental localisation into practice with 2 simple questions

  1. Write down 3 things your employer can do to help you with your wellbeing at work (This can be as personal as fixing a creaking chair to more team meetings to iron out daily issues that arise. Make it personal to your job role and your day to day) 
  2. Write down 3 things you can do at work that can improve wellbeing of others around you (This can be as personal as speaking with a person that has not been themselves lately, all the way to changes in company policy when it comes to mental health and wellbeing)

I have applied this within my training courses to both small businesses and large multi nationals worth billions. The results have been astounding!

The data collected is invaluable and what organisations pay huge sums to consultants to gather. Yet it can be gathered by the organisations themselves via departmental localisation. Once the data is gathered and analysed and changes implemented, it can result in a much happier workforce and a more people focused sustainable organisation.

That is the true essence of the future of work!

The Appreciating Value of an Employee

Let’s be clear on this, a person who is open with their employer about their mental health, can be supported to be the best they can be at any given point. They are more valuable to an employer than an employee who hides their mental health condition.

Let’s not forget this type of employee costs an employer in the long term as reported by Delliote. Hence, asking questions on mental health and wellbeing whenever an employer can, should be seen as an important cost saving measure, because it is!

Employers need to keep in mind that an employee can be an appreciating or depreciating asset. It all depends on how you service that employee. To be able to service that employee to be an appreciating asset year on year, employers will need to get to know them!

Wellbeing in Interviews and Appraisals

This is why it is essential that in the interview and appraisal process, mental health and wellbeing questions are implemented. This is not to avoid taking on someone with a mental health condition or avoiding giving someone a promotion due to an ongoing mental health condition. In fact it is the opposite, as it’s easier to manage and support an employee who is open about their current mental health condition than an employee that is hiding it.

When you factor in that 1 in 4 of us will develop a mental health condition at some point in any given year, how can any organisations not ask these questions?

 The future of work is all about the human, where better people management practices are implemented. It is not possible to pick up the nation or the economy back on to its feet, if we don’t do it with the workforce first.

The future of work is about establishing people practices that are mutually beneficial to both the employer and employee, built on deep understanding of our human nature, our human psyche and the needs and wants of an employee in the personal and the professional spectrums!

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