The Future of Work – more human than you may have thought!

Recently a fantastic article was posted in HRM (Australia) called The Future of Work: You might be thinking about the future of work all wrong. It was a thought provoking and insightful article and well worth the read. I agree with many of the key messages, which I’ll summarise below, and I would like to add some of our own research and my personal views on this, given we work in this space every day at Steople.

One of the first key messages in the article is that total jobs will not be lost, leading to mass unemployment, however there will be mass redeployment because tasks will be automated rather than entire jobs lost.  Research by McKinsey in 2017 shows that of 820 jobs in the US, only 5% could be fully automated. Interestingly, 60% of the 820 jobs involved tasks in which 30% could be automated. To cope with these changes, we need to spend time and money learning transferable  skills and capabilities to enable us the flexibility to adapt to the future of work.

A related point is that employees will need a plan for their career path and employers will need to proactively provide more opportunities. This is not necessarily about climbing the ladder and will more often be about horizontal opportunities where they can develop skills. A review of more recent research has shown that the top skills needed for future jobs (many of which do not exist today) will include: creativity and innovation; analytical thinking and complex judgement; technology design; emotional intelligence; empathy and listening; and leadership and influence. Organisations will need to invest in learning and development programs in the coming years that deliberately and specifically build these types of capabilities.

As many people have experienced already, the pandemic has increased incidences of isolation, loneliness and burnout (amongst other mental health and wellbeing issues). The HRM article states that for every dollar spent on wellbeing by organisations, there is a $2.40 return on the bottom line. At Steople, we’ve seen a massive increase in the demand for our wellbeing services over the last 18 months.  Whilst we have been offering various preventative wellbeing services for over 10 years now, the demand for this service has sky-rocketed globally. The best employers are listening to their employees and are investing in helping them to cope with health and wellbeing issues relating to the global pandemic.  Some of them are doing this just because it is the right thing to do. Others also know that they will receive a significant return on investment over the long-term.

In 2019, Dr Sean Gallagher from Swinburne Centre for New Workforces argued that “the more digital our workplaces become, the more human we need to be”.  Building on this theme, Nemat Shafik, Director of London School of Economics and Political Science, in 2018, stated that “in the past jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in the future, they’ll be about the heart”. Both of these comments, from extremely well-respected individuals, strongly suggest that the future of work will be (or at least will need to be) more human.  Since these comments were made (in 2018 and 2019), we’ve all experienced the changes associated with COVID-19. This only increases the need for more human connectedness, however it is likely to be in different ways to the past. Prior to the global pandemic, we had a lot more incidental and unplanned conversations with people and social interactions just happened.  Now we need to learn to be more deliberate about how, when and where we connect with others.  We need to learn to proactively set up time for fun, time for non-work conversations, and time for social interactions.

In relation to leadership, Dr Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who has attained a cult-like following over recent years for her work in the area of vulnerability, argued that we need to create more human leaders. To do this we need to be courageous.  It requires leaders who are willing to take risks, embrace their vulnerabilities and show up as imperfect, real people. I agree with Brene Brown and add that this is exactly the type of leadership that we need now, and in the future, to create great work cultures and effective workforces in the future. No longer can we separate out work from home.  On Zoom or Teams calls we can now see into people’s homes.  We can see their rooms, their cats and dogs, their children….and I like this new norm.  We get to see real people.  This is already becoming more crucial to work cultures across the planet and will only increase in the future.

Read the full HRM Article here