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The Future of Work | Working the Future
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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking


2024-03-25 10:54

Cathryn Barnard



As well as the pressures of economic uncertainty, higher interest rates and geopolitical supply chain challenges, almost all businesses face staffing issues.


Its an understatement to say the labour market has changed since 2020.


In addition to the escalating pressures of economic uncertainty, higher interest rates and geopolitical supply chain challenges, almost all businesses face staffing issues.

Whether its understanding the long-term implications of AI on jobs, organisational streamlining, preparing to make layoffs, grappling with ongoing low productivity, getting to grips with optimal hybrid working  the pressures on HR and the C-Suite cant be understated.

Sadly, this is borne out in research. In late 2023, UK based Ultimate Resilience gathered data to measure the mental health of HR professionals. Their findings were grim. High workloads and emotional challenge are creating stress such that nearly half their survey respondents met the criteria for clinically significant symptoms of depression. The research also showed high risk of burnout within the profession.

If this is the case for HR professionals, I cant imagine the state of mental health in boardrooms right now. Business is precarious, the stakes are high and there are scant few resources available to support entrepreneurs as they try to navigate escalating uncertainty. I cant imagine for a minute that staffing decisions are being made with level heads and pragmatic judgement. 

And despite all claims to the contrary, I simply dont believe the next wave of AI will replace humans at work any time soon. Human oversight and discernment will still be required for the foreseeable future.

Like it or loathe it, its people who determine the performance of organisations. Emotional intelligence and critical thinking are needed to ensure the ethical and safe adoption of these technologies. As such, hiring, and more importantly, retaining people possessing the skills and talents needed to deliver commercial results will remain a priority challenge until further notice. Long-term organisational sustainability depends on it. 

Research also shows that autonomy, competence and relatedness underpin intrinsic human motivation. Curating and nurturing team and work environments that promote these is key to engagement, performance and ultimately, staff retention. This is about so much more than where people work; its about creating a sense of trust, equity, inclusion and appreciation.

To overcome staffing challenges, fresh thinking about recruitment and employment is required. This is a broad and complex field, not least as modern workers are increasingly shrewd when making decisions about who they are willing to work for. 

Nonetheless, progress must be made. While there are myriad starting points, here are four easy ways to improve recruitment and retention outcomes.

1] Showcase your business purpose and vision

As labour markets become ever more complex, a well-defined and clearly communicated business purpose and vision are essential. 

A clear purpose, documented and interwoven into all hiring collateral, is essential in the current climate. Modern job seekers want to know who theyre working for and expect far greater levels of transparency. Increasingly, they want to know the work they do matters. It never ceases to amaze me how often, particularly in larger organisations, employees dont know how their work fits into their employers wider goals.

Successive research shows theres a strong desire to work for organisations that are actively stepping up to act as a force for good in the world. Labour market data has started to show signs that people will quit if they dont see their employer making moves to address social and environmental injustices. 

Clear purpose and vision are also key to team alignment and focus. People want a sense of group identity and something positive to believe in and work towards.

2] Build and nurture environments of trust and inclusion

The annual Edelman Trust Barometer always makes for a fascinating read. In recent years, this research has shown the public has lost faith in Government. People now increasingly look to their employers to tackle societal challenges. 

As we progress into advanced stages of peak-capitalism and mass consumerism, it becomes harder to foresee a pathway forward that will benefit the many rather than the elite few. Morality and ethics in business have never been more urgently needed. As such, its incumbent on leaders to create the conditions for business that addresses key challenges in a way that priorities planet and people over profit.

When trust is prioritised as a cornerstone of business, openness, transparency and inclusion automatically follow.

Its also worth noting that trust underpins the much-needed psychological safety that allows people to share their ideas. When trust is valued, critical thinking, innovation and creativity flourish. 

3] Embrace continuous learning 

The challenges that lie ahead fundamentally threaten our human organising systems and indeed our species. Weve overstretched ourselves and the way we live and work must change. 

As commercial landscapes become increasingly complex, the only viable way through is for organisations to embrace continuous learning as the new normal. The pace and scale of digital disruption means were all now in perpetual beta mode anyway. 

Fortunately, this plays into the human desire for competence. Career and skills advancement are consistently shown as a primary reason why people leave their jobs. 

Resilient organisations nurture learning cultures where people willingly share ideas, information, knowledge and insights. Its OK to be wrong when learning is the bedfellow. When every person on the team is open to continuous learning, the wider organisation evolves and adapts faster to new contexts as they emerge. 

4] Communicate

Humans are an innately social species. But while weve never been more digitally connected, were suffering a crisis of meaningful connection in parallel. We urgently need to rediscover our human talent for authentic communication. Sharing stories and circumstance strengthens bonds of trust and deepens relationships. 

As demand for distributed and asynchronous working grows, finding ways to connect and convene is essential. In the digital age, the power of authentic human communication cant be underestimated. It builds relationship, connection, belonging, and the willingness and commitment to keep pushing forward. Its a vital component of successful staff recruitment and retention and no amount of technology can replace it.

Seth Godin recently wrote

Tell us what we need to know. Not because you need to hear yourself repeat it, but because you believe we need to hear it.”

How well people perform at work isnt a hard science. Its soft, nebulous and emotive and it requires the tenacity to show up, day after day, in the hope of building something better. It requires continuous communication to maintain alignment around shared goals.

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For too long, organisations have based their success on didactic instruction and hard data. Commercial survival now requires deeper understanding of the complexity of human nature. No organisation can expect loyalty and commitment without taking the time to understand the unique needs and preferences of their various stakeholders. Qualitative data is essential. 

To attract and more importantly, retain, talent, regardless of employment contract type requires continuous attention to interpersonal dynamics. It requires emotionally-intelligent evaluation of increasingly diverse wants and needs. It demands mass customisation of organising approaches. 

Rehumanised recruitment and retention processes underpin longer term business resilience. The future of us all depends on it.

Get in contact today for a no-obligation conversation about how we help redesign recruitment processes. 

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