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What Is The Future of Work?

With 3 in 10 jobs in the US held by the self-employed and their sub-contractors there is no doubt that the workplace is changing. (Source)  It is hardly surprising then that 2 out of 5 (40%) of people around the world believe that traditional employment “won’t be around in the future.” Thus the most recent issue of Management Today with its feature section on “The Future of Work” makes for interesting reading.

Some of the key points it makes warrant highlighting and further comment.

Workplaces of the future are likely to encourage their employees to think and act like entrepreneurs within the confines of the organisation, free to take full ownership of particular domains or projects, with minimal supervision or bureaucracy. Encouraging such ‘intrapreneurship’ at every level is a logical strategy but as yet I see little evidence of any process for sharing the rewards it would warrant.

To attract and retain high-calibre employees, employers will need to foster a more collaborative environment.  Once again this seems like a logical strategy. It is questionable, however, whether the solutions identified – hot-desking, ideas workshops and a more collaborative environment – will go anything like far enough to meet the long term need.

31% of HR professionals are building strategies around the rise of the portfolio career while 465 expect at least 20% of their workers to be made up of contractors or temporary workers.  This appears to contradict the previous points. Especially when you factor in automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), with Oxford University estimates that 35% of UK jobs and 47% of US jobs could be susceptible to computerisation or automation in the next 2 decades  and McKinsey reporting that robots could jeopardise 40-75 million jobs in the next 10 years.

Some reassurance is proffered by the fact that “once a technical job is created it leads to 5 new jobs in the local economy.” Perhaps I am unduly pessimistic, but I am sceptical about such claims and more inclined to defer to the well-known financial services disclaimer that, “Past results are no guarantee of future performance.” Historically new advancements have led to new employment opportunities, but those have never included the level of sophistication and intelligence – with the self-diagnosis and self-repair capabilities – being envisaged.

My doubts here are reinforced by my research – cited in my book "The Democracy Delusion"  – identifying the scale of employee reduction in one of the world’s largest organisations.  I believe this is further evidenced by the fact that real incomes for the majority of workers have not risen for the last quarter century or more. Thus I am more inclined to believe those, like Guy Standing, who warn of a “race to the bottom” creating a ‘precariat of workers with no financial security, job stability or prospect of career progression.

Brand 123RF_41682176_sUltimately these two facts seem likely to jeopardise the size and scale of future markets. How can any executive expect to create or sustain a worthwhile brand, with portfolio workers whose self-interest and survival instinct makes them unlikely to have any loyalty to the organisation? Intrapreneurship and a portfolio workforce are mutually exclusive. The latter is effectively entrepreneurship – hardly compatible with long-term organisational objectives.

Consequently the future scenarios described have to be unsound. The only way to create the intrapreneurship being envisaged is to create a culture that stimulates it. If, as the article suggests, this requires “taking ownership” – and that does looks to be the only logical way to create the common purpose or strategic alignment needed to offer a business-sustaining, superior customer experience – then the only way to create it has to be to give employees ownership. That is the direct opposite of a portfolio workforce and entails an entirely different approach to your people. It means making them partners rather than employees. And that is precisely what my ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model offers you.   

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If you like what you have read contact me today for a free 30 minute conversation about how my ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model can provide the catalyst to help you create an organisational culture of ‘Love at Work’ : one where everyone cares and the business becomes our business, so embracing change and transforming – and sustaining – organisational performance.

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Bay Jordan

Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, and the creator of the ‘Every Individual Matters’ organisational culture model that helps transform organisational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “The 7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement” and, more recently, The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped.

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