News and commentary from the world of work
At Work Horizons our job is creating a service that helps people find work that they find rewarding and fulfilling. But we are also interested in the wider world of work and employment; here are some recent thoughts and ideas posted by the Work Horizons team.
I must admit that my partner and I have always done a little work while off on holiday. At times that was during the heat of the day. I would retreat to the cool of the hotel room to finish off some writing for my research project.
At other times we’ve both spent an hour each morning writing, emailing and generally catching up. Then we’ve gone out to enjoy our holiday. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works well for us.
And that’s my point. If the current advice – switch everything off, do nothing for work, and then return to the office fully refreshed, recharged and raring to go – doesn’t work for you, then it’s simply going to cause you greater stress than if you’d previously agreed to check emails once a day, or spend some time writing up a report.
The important thing is to take a break away from the office, and to exercise control and moderation over your various commitments. If you do plan to do this, then share your plans with the boss. No point deciding to do a little work only to be bombarded by the boss and everyone else back at the office – that will undo all the good that a holiday can do, and see you returning to work more washed out and stressed than when you finished work.
I have a friend who calls their behaviour ‘work life blend’. He is very happy working through his holidays but he also uses his work time to make private phone calls or appointments. It seems a little heavy to me, but if it helps to keep him sane then that’s okay.
Just as with all work life balance ideas, it’s a matter of personal taste and preferences. There is no absolute right and wrong for this, but it’s helpful to discuss your plans with the rest of the family before you head off, so they all know what to expect. They may be the ones who gently remind you that one hour of working is okay, but giving up most of the day every day is most definitely not.
One last thought: Even if you aren’t doing actual work, be mindful of how you use your phone or tablet while you are on holiday. It is so easy to get sucked into all the same social media, news and apps that occupy you at home, when you could be spending time, building memories and enjoying the company of your partner, family or friends.
At Work Horizons we help people who are dissatisfied with their career or their current job. If this sounds like you – or someone you’ll be enjoying your holiday with – read more here.
Despite the competitive advantage that organisations gain when they employ people with different attitudes and varying backgrounds, some employers prefer to recruit in their own image. They feel more comfortable with ‘a face that fits’, effectively building a business where everyone thinks and acts the same.
A good place to work?
If you are offered a job at a place like this, on the basis that you are a good match for their culture, it pays to reflect on the downsides:
- A predictable business culture may lead to boredom
- Creativity will be stifled
- There will be fewer challenges for you to get your teeth into
- You may feel the ‘real you’ is being suppressed
On the other hand, there are upsides to this kind of workplace:
- You know what to expect
- You can meet the standards
- There will be no big surprises
- Your new colleagues will readily accept you
How will you play it?
So, if you have been invited for an interview and see a fairly uniform culture with little diversity, how do you play it? Do you let your own personality shine through, or try to reflect the culture as you perceive it from your research and the interviewers?
Whichever way you sell yourself, if you are successful and land the job, your performance at interview has set the expectations for how you will be expected to work.
It is very tempting to see the selection process as a challenge, where the only successful outcome is to get the job. However, if you feel pressure to be the person you think they want to hire, everyone could miss out on the true potential that you offer.
If you don’t like the thought of compliance and of uniformity, do not behave as if you were someone else. Use this as an opportunity to sell your diverse talents, to demonstrate how you will bring new perspectives and, in the right way, challenge the norms. If this means the job goes to someone else, don’t see it as rejection, but as a statement of the conservative culture and staid behaviours in that organisation. However, imagine the possibilities for you and the new company if they like your independence, your thoughts and your talents.
Compatibility, not fit
Rather than talking about a good fit, let’s think about compatibility. In any relationship we have our differences, but it is compatibility that makes for great marriages, friendships and work environments. Everyone is different, but we recommend that you embrace the diversity, set out to enjoy your work and make a significant contribution.
Every week the news is full of business closures and job losses, from the total shutdown of Toys R Us, to major cutbacks at Carpetright and the inevitable ‘rationalisation’ as Sainsburys and Asda merge. Beyond the media spotlight, many more small businesses are having to shed staff, with similar effects on those individuals and their families.
Impact of redundancy
For a few this may be the chance to take early retirement, with a lump sum to buffer the financials over the next few years. For some this is the catalyst for change, the stimulus to review, re-train and find a new direction. For a fair number of people, redundancy is ultimately a good thing.
However, for many people it is a disaster. They lose their home or suffer ill-health or endure the break-up of relationships and, for some, never work again. There is no simple solution but with appropriate help, people can re-focus, make informed attempts to move forward, and ultimately thrive post-redundancy.
Outplacement alternative for small businesses
We recognise that many small companies cannot afford to provide the support they would like for people who they are making redundant. For them, we have put together a Work Horizons outplacement package. Paid for by the company, it provides the employee with a year of Work Horizons membership, with articles, exercises and videos to help them work out their aspirations and constraints, to prepare for and find the right work and then, crucially, to thrive in a new position.
If you know a business owner who is faced with making redundancies, please direct them to www.workhorizons.com/corporate or contact us on 0121 663 1710 to discuss our referral programme.
If you have seen coverage of the Budget speech, you will know the Chancellor is very concerned about productivity. The problem is, when it comes to turning resources and labour into wealth – delivering better goods and services at lower cost – many businesses in the UK are falling behind their international competitors.
It is well understood that the key to business productivity is employee value-add: how focused and effective managers and staff are. At a practical level, they need the right skills, but above all we need people who bring real enthusiasm and energy to their work.
So the real question is, how can we achieve these higher levels of motivation?
Achieving productivity and motivation
This is a complex subject but to take just one facet, it requires people to have a crystal-clear sense of purpose and a belief in their employer and its work. The primary responsibility rests with each of us to know what would give purpose and meaning to our lives, so that we can find and totally commit to the right organisation, delivering true satisfaction for us and major benefits for the employer.
There is a school of thought that dismisses this as woolly or utopian thinking; all we need is to knuckle down and work hard. But in an economy so dependent on innovation and service, that kind of one-dimensional thinking inhibits companies and prevents us from making progress as quickly as we could.
Finding purpose in your career
Truly, deeply and effectively thinking about purpose and meaning is very difficult. It requires introspection, open-mindedness and personal honesty. To achieve these often means we need stimuli: someone asking questions and prompting us. We cannot know all of the jobs, industries and companies that exist, but we can learn how to apply our new perspectives to finding something that will meet our standards.
At Work Horizons we ask questions, prompt ideas and give you tools to be successful but it requires thought and commitment to get there. Find your purpose, be the person to which you aspire and be the employee for whom organisations will fight.
Many people thrive when operating under pressure, it gives them energy and drive.
The problem occurs when the dial on the pressure gauge goes into the metaphorical red-zone of stress. Not only do we all react differently to external and internal imposed stimuli but we may, individually, react differently depending on the context of life at any given time. This means it isn’t possible to know how we will respond to a situation, a timescale or other factors.
A recent survey by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found 37% of absence cases were due to stress and this accounted for 45% of working days lost for ill health. This means that, perhaps not surprisingly, the average time off for stress related issues is longer than for physical ailments.
The Institute of Directors surveyed 1200 UK employees and established the most stressful factors are:
- Bad management
- Low morale
- Unfriendly colleagues
- Long working hours
- Poor work/life balance
Clearly, some of these are interrelated and compounding. Larger organisations may have in-house or on-tap support but SMEs typically don’t even have a policy to help. The absence of a key employee, who may well have been imposed upon, due to their value to the business, can be very impactful.
The HSE website has very helpful information about stress for line managers.
For individuals, there are key messages here. Most importantly, prevention is better than cure. Do not wait too long to raise any concerns over growing pressure, talk to someone and ask for help. This is not a sign of weakness but, if considered properly, is a sign of strength.
Two final thoughts:
- People sometimes feel frustrated and in need of a new job when, in reality, the need is to change the factors creating the stress. People leave a job they love because they hate their boss or the department is under-resourced. Be careful not to address the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem.
- It is easier to find a new job when you are in a job
There are some colossal political forces in action today. Many of our largest and successful companies operate in numerous countries and continents. They have little affiliation for their originating nation nor any other. The measures revolve around costs and productivity, not the wellbeing and continued employment of the current workforce. This doesn’t mean they are deliberately jettisoning people, just operations will be moved to the optimum location.
One of these factors upon which decisions are made is the cost of employment; wages, employment law and training. Post-Brexit, the UK will be able to respond to the needs of business, if it desires, to attract them to settle here. The inherent dangers for employees include the removal of the wage safety net, relaxed laws which allow easy dismissal and diluted Health and Safety regulations. It is possible the quality of the jobs available for the majority of people will be poor.
It is very likely that any trade deal with the USA will be driven by the demands of American businesses. Employment in America is more precarious than in the UK. However, Employment Law in the UK today is far more business friendly than the rest of Europe. To compete the temptation for the UK Government might be to concede workers’ rights. It isn’t certain this will happen but there will be a concerted effort from certain multi-nationals to influence UK policies.
Wikipedia describes Moore’s Law as, “the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. The observation is named after Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, whose 1965 paper described a doubling every year in the number of components per integrated circuit, and projected this rate of growth would continue for at least another decade. In 1975, looking forward to the next decade, he revised the forecast to doubling every two years.”
This may appear to be gobbledegook to some of us but a simplistic interpretation is the amount of power of Information Technology is rising at an exponential rate; in 20 years it will be 1000 times more powerful and in 22 years by 2000 times it is now, in 24 years 4000 times more powerful, in 26 years 8000 times and so on. It is not possible to get our minds around the unbelievable scope and opportunities this creates.
Again, technology supports the view businesses can operate from anywhere. The key factor will be skills and education. The incredible increases of graduates in, for example, India and China the two largest populations in the world may give them the edge. These two countries have issues today regarding language, infrastructure and culture for Western businesses but these are becoming less relevant and they are creating their own companies which are competing hard.
The robots are not only coming but they are here. The business case is compelling; imagine if a robot costs £50000, which may equate to two people’s salary and it can replace 12 human beings, the pay back is just two months.
Together with Artificial Intelligence (AI) the effect on employment is going to be immense. The Chief Economist at the Bank of England has estimated that 50% of today’s jobs will be impacted in the next 10 years.
Let’s consider a job which many of us would think has to be carried out by a person, that of a doctor. We build a relationship and trust with our GP, not least of which is because we know the doctor has 7 or more years training and is, therefore, competent. He or she can observe us and assess our demeanour and behaviour.
Yet doctors are highly fallible and make mistakes. An automaton will be able to instantly access all of our data, any test results, family history and our DNA. It will be 98% correct, perhaps twice as accurate as a person. It will be a major step forward, which will be strongly resisted by the people it can help.
So, if even the job of a doctor is under threat, what roles aren’t vulnerable?
Some research by accountants PWC, estimates around 50% of jobs occupied by people with few qualifications will be done by technology, 36% of those with people with a “medium” education and 12% of the jobs of graduates. Roles traditionally taken by men will be hardest hit.
It is the pace of the change which is the threat. Technology is in revolutionary mode and employees are in gradual evolution; the contrast is too severe to accommodate the effects. Of course, since the times of the Luddites there has been resistance to the introduction of technology and the economy has adapted and even more jobs created. The specific workers may have been badly treated but the overall trend has been positive, including rising standards of living.
A very real concern today is about the quality of the jobs which will be created, even if there isn’t mass unemployment. What will pay levels be like? What strange hours will people need to work? Will there be a demand for extreme flexibility?
It is amusing to note that Charles Duell, Commissioner of Patents for the USA in 1899 said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented”. Good job, Chuck, a man of vision.
Jobs will exist but increasingly people will need to move to where they are, especially the good ones. This may even mean between countries, so Brexit may make that more difficult. Companies will pay for the skills they need, so which skills should we be targeting for ourselves?
What will be the effect on families and relationships?
What happens if you need more than one job to survive?
What if your partner has a career?
Resources and the Environment
The world has finite resources and some are already becoming scarce.
There is increasing pressure on organisations to be environmentally sensitive.
Constant innovation is needed to deal with these issues, and the costs of purchase and responsiveness.
Employment will go to those of us who can contribute to solving the problems emanating from there issues.
Losing jobs in;
- Manufacturing (once 25% of all jobs in the UK, now less than 10%)
- Traditional retail
- Gaining jobs in;
- Low wage occupations
- Call Centres
- Non-traditional Retail
- High Tech
In the section regarding employment for young people we reflect that in a study by an academic named Fritz, he showed that the top ten jobs for school and university leavers in 2010, none even existed 6 years before; staggering again. How can we prepare ourselves and our children?
The unemployed are better off than those in employment 60 years ago. This is a staggering statement but if a view is taken in a materialistic way it is true. The average home in the 1950s did not have central heating, a phone or a washing machine. Many still didn’t have indoor toilets, showers or televisions. It was a different planet. The safety net is stronger, albeit not across the whole world and there are pressures on the systems. But even if we can survive, is a life without a job or something worthwhile the way we want to carry on?
In the UK there is low unemployment today, relatively. There are more jobs, even if many are McJobs. The unemployment statistics have been massaged over the years by the exclusion of certain groups of people, who don’t have jobs but survive on State Benefits.
Even so there are, for example, 20% of job seekers with a long-term illness, which inevitably restricts the options and 30% have no qualifications at all, which reduces their range of possible jobs.
By 2025, it is estimated that 75% of jobs will be taken by millennials, people aged under 40. What about the rest of us? How should we adapt? What sort of jobs will be available for us?
Do these themes worry you? Hopefully, they have got you thinking about the impact the trends and pressures will have and how you can respond. These are high level macro issues and there are both positives and negatives; there are threats and opportunities. Our view is, that with some thought, there is scope for personal development and success.
People who sit back and wait for solutions to be delivered to them may struggle but people who take considered action will thrive.
In other articles and videos we will be addressing how the workplace will change and what the employee of the future needs to behave like.
Recommended reading: “The Future of Work” by Jacob Morgan