Greater inclusion and fairness, including distribution of wealth. Companies that are actively recruiting people from more disadvantaged backgrounds, to open their talent supply lines, or engaging with people on a neurodiverse spectrum such as technology companies actively recruiting for people on the autism spectrum because of the special capabilities they can bring.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Peter Cheese.
Peter has for the last 10 years been the CEO of CIPD, the professional body for HR and People Development based in the UK with 160,000 professional members globally. He has held many Board and leadership positions and is a widely recognized speaker, writer and commentator on the future of work, with awards including three honorary doctorates. Last year, Peter authored The New World of Work, which explored the many drivers and trends shaping the future of work and the ways in which organizations and leaders can respond. Prior to joining the CIPD he had a lengthy career at Accenture, and led their global consulting practice in HR, leadership, change management and organizational strategy.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
I think the most significant life experiences that have shaped who I am today have been the incredible opportunities I have had in working with organizations, business leaders and academics around the world which have helped give me a broad outlook on life and a deep sense of curiosity and desire for learning. In a separate way I would also say that being a father of three daughters has not only been one of my life’s greatest joys, but also has helped me understand work and life from a distinct perspective and helped me to be an ally in promoting greater gender equality, inclusion and diversity more broadly.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
The reality is that work, our workforces, and workplaces have all been changing at a significantly increasing rate over the last couple of decades. While technology, AI and automation have been primary drivers of the changes we are seeing, other drivers such as social and political change are also major factors, together with the economic uncertainty and change we have been seeing since the global financial crisis in 2008. The idea that we are now in the fourth industrial revolution was first described by Klaus Schwab, Chairman of the World Economic Forum in 2016, and the evidence is all around us even if it is not all happening at the same pace. As William Gibson the science fiction writer observed, the future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed.
The pandemic, and the climate crisis, are now acting as major catalysts which are further accelerating change and the need for all businesses to respond. We are at an inflection point, where many of our long-standing working practices, business and operating models, and understanding of what is important in creating sustainable organizations are all being challenged.
There is much change and uncertainty, but there are consistent themes that we need to understand. Not least that change is a constant and therefore agility, adaptability, and resilience have become key watchwords for organizations and business leaders everywhere. The days of top-down command and control built around traditional and often sclerotic organizational structures and cultures, and strategies that may be long on detail but short on responsiveness, should be long gone. Similarly, the ideas of the past that there were standard models and practices that we should all emulate have had to give way to adaptation, to innovation and understanding the context in which our businesses operate — not so much ‘best practice’ but ‘best fit.’ New organization and operating models have evolved in many sectors, and the old Peter Drucker adage of innovate or die has never been truer.
The nature of work and jobs are changing and will be accelerated as technology continues its inexorable progress. Many argue that there are no jobs that will avoid being impacted by technology, either now or in the next few years and I would agree. It also means that every business is in some way a technology business, and data is king.
Technology is no longer just about how to make business processes more efficient within existing business models, but is driving whole new business models, and an explosion of new products and services and ways to connect with and support customers. So, whether it is the threat of job displacement by automation, or reconfiguring of tasks and roles, or completely new jobs, we must be able to understand and shape what should be good jobs for people. Technology needs to work to our individual and collective benefit.
More than ever, it is vital we work to create a world of work that is fair, gives people opportunity to grow their talents, is good for their wellbeing, and gives them some agency and voice. These are fundamentally the human aspects of work that have too often got lost in the pursuit of cost savings and bottom-line profit, or the implementation of technology with little thought to the design of the jobs that people will do. It is sad to reflect those trends in engagement, trust, mental wellbeing, inclusion, pay equity, stress and workload have been pointing in the wrong direction for some time. These should all be outcomes of good work, and work that is good for people, and the nature of our organizations and cultures that put people more front and center of the business agenda everywhere. The pandemic has without doubt highlighted these issues and from the beginning I was hearing so much more of a focus from business leaders on their people. The pandemic was a human crisis, and we must learn from it.
The social drivers of change are at the same time creating different expectations about work and what is important. Younger generations have a much greater expectation of having their voice heard, of wanting to see and be part of purposeful and responsible business, and of how they will be supported in their own growth and progression. They have significantly influenced the world of work — from the focus on corporate social responsibility, to changing corporate cultures. More young people want work and job flexibility and for them it is not about a job for life, but a life of jobs. Again, the pandemic has accelerated many of these views. We need to embed what we have learned about hybrid and flexible working to attract and retain our future workforces, and we have to be more transparent in how we operate, what drives us as leaders and organizations, and the principles we believe in.
So, in 10–15 years I believe we will see organizations that are working to these principles and understanding and measuring the importance of outcomes about their people as much as they measure financial returns. The growth of the ESG movement and alignment to the UN Sustainability Development Goals are good indicators of a direction of travel that we must continue. This therefore is a positive view about how we can and must shape a better future of work for all.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
I would advise leaders to take time to step back, to look outwards at what is happening around them, to be more curious, and be prepared to take risks and innovate. None of us have all the answers and we must listen to those with differing views, and to employees on the front line, and to encourage debate to be more comfortable with conflicts and uncertainty. For some that may require a deal more humility, but also being able to recognize it is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong. We will have to course correct as we go forwards more than we ever have in the past, but to continue the analogy, you can’t steer a ship in the right direction by looking at the wake.
We have to be able to take a strategic and longer-term view of where our organizations are headed and the external and internal drivers of change. We need to be better at horizon scanning and to build our strategies with the understanding that we can be constant on principles and purpose, clear on what really differentiates us from our competition, but will have to be adaptive in practice in a more uncertain world.
Yet historically, business has been often very short-term driven. Short term profit and share price have been very dominant in what drives businesses and how business leaders are rewarded. The Milton Friedman assertion from the 1970s that the sole purpose of business is to make money drove so much business practice and behavior for the following decades. Of course, business needs to make money, but we are now in a world that demands we consider all our stakeholders. Responsible business and multi-stakeholder capitalism are taking hold — paying attention not just to the financial shareholder, but our customers, suppliers, employees, and the communities of which we are part, as well as the wider environment that we all impact.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
As I noted earlier, the expectations of our current and future workforces are changing. Most organizations are now more focused on the employee value proposition — what are the attributes of the job and the organization that will best attract and retain the talent and skills needed. This is now being extended into better understanding of the employee journey — how they actually experience the organization, how they progress, and the attributes of what makes for a good job. Many of these ideas have been borrowed from marketing and all the work in recent decades on understanding the customer and facilitating the customer interactions and journey. It is certainly time we turned that telescope round to look at our own organizations and used more analytical capabilities to provide better insight on how our cultures work, what is driving engagement and desire to stay, and how well are we understanding and supporting the wellbeing of our people.
Most research and surveys show that people want to have a voice and agency. They want to feel empowered and trusted, to be able to speak up safely, and to have a say in how they work. These are critical drivers of engagement and of inclusion, but have not been the typical characteristics of many workplaces in the past. They are also central to how we get the best out of people and therefore directly impact productivity and creativity. Managers at all levels have not been trained enough or held accountable for how they support and grow their people. Promotion has usually been determined by job skills or delivery of results with too often little regard for how they are managing their teams.
This has to change, particularly now as we build on what we have all experienced and learned from the pandemic. The so-called great resignation is showing just how much people value the importance of good workplaces and cultures, of compassionate management and of fairness and opportunity to gain experience. Our future workplaces will also be more agile and flexible, and our working practices and workforces more diverse. These create further need to develop and support managers at all levels to be effective people managers, to understand delegation and empowerment, and to move away from overly rule bound cultures or micro-management practices.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Working from home during the pandemic was the single biggest ‘experiment’ we have seen in the workplace and working practices in our lifetimes. In most countries close on half the workforce was required to work from home where many had never experienced that before. Working from home and flexible working in terms of hours and schedules of course existed before the pandemic, but generally hovered around 15–20% of the workforce.
Our working practices of going to offices 5 days a week at the same times were born out of the industrial revolution and have barely changed in a century. Nor have our cultures and bias of presenteeism, of regarding those who work nonstandard hours as somehow less committed, or the preference and bias towards visibility of people as they work.
The pandemic has taught us that people can work effectively and productively in these diverse ways, particularly with modern workplace technologies. So many surveys have shown that most people want to continue with some forms of flexible or home working and to be given some choice. It will not be one size fits all, and there are also many people who have struggled with the loss of human contact at work, or difficult home working environments or circumstances. We have also learned that there are large percentages of our workforces who work in ‘essential’ jobs that keep our communities working and have to be in a place of work, but are amongst the lowest paid.
Looking ahead, this is an opportunity for our working patterns to change, to be more flexible and adaptable, balancing individual needs, with the needs of our teams and organizations. We are already seeing that in a much tighter supply constrained job market, prospective employees are looking at flexible working as one of the most important attractors to employment. For organizations therefore, embedding more flexible working is important to attracting and retaining people, but also gives them more options in where and how they can recruit. We can look beyond pre-existing talent pools, engage people from more widespread locations, and adapt our offices to be more open and flexible, perhaps smaller and more networked, thereby also saving operating costs.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
The most important societal changes and issues that have been emerging in recent years and again reinforced during the time of the pandemic I believe are around inclusion and diversity, addressing inequalities, and the focus on wellbeing at work.
We have all been reminded through many recent events of the issues of diversity and inclusion, of respect and providing fair opportunities for all. Our societies everywhere are becoming more diverse in many different ways — ethnically, educationally, beliefs and attitudes, behaviors and preferences. Even our demographics are changing with ageing populations in most developed nations of the world, as well as the generational differences that have been so much talked about.
That says that we have to be able to adapt our organizations and our organizational cultures as well. Encouraging diversity drives greater innovation, dispels group think, opens recruitment opportunities, and ensures that we have organizations that reflect the societies of which we are part. To make more progress there are growing demands for organizations to be much more transparent on the make up of their workforces, and particularly at the senior and Board levels. Pay disparities have been growing over many years — across different demographic groups but also notably from the tops of organizations to the middle and lower ends. These are fundamental issues of fairness and the whole subject of the economics of inequality is gaining increased influence in business, government, and regulatory thinking.
But we have many challenges. Inequalities in education and early life opportunity are foundation issues that governments and civil society have to address. People need more guidance on careers and work opportunity and business needs to play its part. We have huge upskilling and reskilling challenges ahead of us as the rapid changes in work already discussed shift the skills people need and how they adapt. That requires more investment and development of learning within organizations, but also the promotion of adult and lifelong learning.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
My greatest source of optimism about the future of work is that we will create a better world of work and working lives for all. Work should be good for us. It should allow us to develop and grow our talents, to give us meaning and some structure to our lives, to earn a decent living, and therefore also to give us the time to focus on the other aspects of our lives that are so important.
A fundamental outcome is that of wellbeing. Going back to Aristotle, he talked about the goal of the future of humanity as increasing ‘eudaimonia’ — the sense of wellness and happiness. This is an idea that has received much more attention in recent years — commentators such as Yuval Harrari in his book Sapiens where he also talks about this as a goal of humanity. The idea of happiness as a human right is in the US Constitution and in 1968, Bobby Kennedy. He talked about the failings of what we measure as success in our economies and societies that miss so much of what is important to life.
We need to come back to these ideas. To find the right measures that show us we are on course to develop a better future of work and allow us to hold ourselves and others to account. We know that what gets measured gets done. If we use technology well, we can ease the workloads and pressures so many people face, we can use our human skills better, we can support our wellbeing and work-life balance, and we can and must spread wealth more evenly and drive towards fairer opportunities and societies.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
Mental health and wellbeing have become a much more central debate in organizations everywhere and a recognition of our duties of care to our people. The pandemic has shone a further light on understanding mental wellbeing and how poor mental health impacts so many.
It is however not an easy area to understand and cannot be addressed by single interventions. Individual mental health is impacted by many things that can be related to physiological, social and environmental issues as much as what happens in the workplace. However, the working environment and demands, and the culture at work are significant factors in people’s mental wellbeing that we should understand, and we can and should provide support.
Approaches being taken cover a wide range, and include everything from mindfulness apps, employee assistance programs, awareness training, and mental wellbeing champions. These can all play their part, but most importantly we have to be able to look at wellbeing holistically and to think strategically. Wellbeing is seen as combinations of mental and emotional, physical, and other social drivers, and most frameworks such as Martin Seligman’s 5 pillars model highlight this. That then underpins a strategic view of wellbeing where we have to consider working cultures and relationships, working environment, workload and stress and the nature of job roles, as well as the more specific support interventions. Organizations that are really making progress recognize this and typically begin with opening the discussions about mental health and wellbeing, to destigmatize it, and create safe cultures where people feel they can be honest and open up about their own challenges. This must start from the top and it has been heartening to see leading organizations do this with their top executives being honest about their own challenges and talking openly, thereby encouraging others to speak up.
Finally, the other area that is so important in all wellbeing debates is how we best measure and understand it within our organizations. As noted, wellbeing is not a single thing, but organizations are getting better at surveying and asking people with questions related to their wellbeing. They are then looking for objective proxy and outcome measures such as absenteeism rates, uptake of employee assistance programs, and even productivity to compare with the more subjective measures. More consistency in measurement and then reporting and transparency is needed and being pressed for by many so that we can all have more confidence in the interventions we are making to improve wellbeing as a critical business outcome.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation.’ ‘The Great Reconfiguration.’ And now the ‘Great Reevaluation.’ What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
As economies begin to recover and we see the light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic, the pressures on businesses have shifted to attraction and retention of people and the talent and skills they bring. Almost universally now businesses are complaining of the difficulty in filling critical job vacancies, not just in high skill or areas like technology, but in many other jobs and in trade professions, the caring professions or in logistics and jobs like truck drivers.
This has led to many of the media headlines, but the reasons for these pressures are varied. Firstly, during the pandemic job churn and movement slowed significantly — people would hold on to the jobs they had if they could. Depending on different government support programs, either increasing unemployment support or providing funding to employers to hold on to employees (furlough programs), the actual impact on employment rates varied, but with much reduced recruitment happening the effect was the same.
But there has also been the effect of people reflecting during the period of the pandemic — about their job and their futures, progression opportunities, and about how well or not they felt their employers were treating them or looking after them. This has been a factor in the growing resignation rates particularly from sectors where work is often hard and the rewards not always great. Sectors like hospitality, but also worryingly in sectors like health and social care who have had to face the full force of the impact of the pandemic. We have also seen trends in reduced participation rates in formal employment from older and younger workers — those parts of our workforces more disproportionately impacted by the economic effects of the pandemic.
We are seeing therefore some of the highest job vacancy rates in recent times and a supply driven labor market which again emphasizes the importance of all the things we have talked about in creating decent work and good organizations and workplaces.
Shifting our cultures, our working practices and employee journeys takes time, but through the pandemic I have seen a lot of progress which we now need to keep the momentum up on. But we also need to think ahead. Even before the pandemic, skills shortages were rising to the top of corporate risk registers. As businesses reconfigure themselves, they also need different skills. And job markets in many countries have been changing with geopolitical shifts and movement of labor or shifting back from some of the offshoring of the past.
This requires us to see people strategy as a fundamental part of business strategy. What do we understand of our future skill and capability needs and what are the options of sourcing these capabilities? Do we buy, build, borrow or bot. We can recruit in, employ contingent or contract labor, partner with others who can bring the skills we need, or we can automate or change the skills needs of the jobs. Whatever options we choose, it is clear we will need to get a lot better at building job skills, and we need to reinvent learning and development. Technology and digital learning’s time has come. More bite size learning at the point of need, embedding learning in the flow of work, readily accessible and in a form that best suits the learner. We will need better analysis and metrics to drive all this understanding of our workforces’ capabilities, the gaps and how we fill them.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
In my book ‘The New World of Work,’ I tried to describe the key trends driving the future of work and have used the PESTLE framework to shape the ideas — the political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental drivers. I always aim to focus on the positive ideas that will shape a better future, but there are many commentators who paint incredibly challenging scenarios of technology displacing substantial numbers of jobs or controlling our lives more, of growing inequalities, or greater geopolitical tensions and divisions. These may happen but I believe we all have agency and our part to play in avoiding these outcomes. Indeed, we have a duty to.
These set the scene for what we will need to track in the future of work, and I have tried to summarise them.
- AI and automation enable better and more productive work. Less drudgery of work, better use of our human skills and capabilities, but also empowering us and not controlling us, and a better balance of our time. There are so many good examples in every sector — medics using AI to improve diagnosis or automation to support surgical procedures and outcomes or even working remotely. Driverless vehicles that will make better use of infrastructure but also address skills shortages. Factory work where workers can oversee, to problem solve, and to improve, not just to do the hard graft.
- Greater inclusion and fairness, including distribution of wealth. Companies that are actively recruiting people from more disadvantaged backgrounds, to open their talent supply lines, or engaging with people on a neurodiverse spectrum such as technology companies actively recruiting for people on the autism spectrum because of the special capabilities they can bring.
- More flexibility in how and where we work, enabling more people to engage with work and to support work life balance and wellbeing. Evidence is everywhere and catalyzed by what we have learned through the pandemic. We need to sustain these changes with convincing evidence of the benefits.
- Significant advance in education and learning to enable opportunity for all but also upskilling and reskilling and support for lifelong learning to enable us all to adapt and grow. Many organizations building new ways of learning into jobs, including VR and AR to train technical job skills or even people skills, and MOOCs that are opening a whole new world of learning for all.
- More responsible and transparent business and governance — doing well by doing good, clarity of purpose and understanding of our responsibilities to all stakeholders. All underpinned by better and more consistent measures that hold us to account. ESG is becoming a framework that is driving more investment and regulatory thinking, but we need more insight and consistency particularly on the ‘S’ measures — the social measures of organizations, their cultures and their people.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
I also am a fan of good, pithy quotes that are memorable and sum up what otherwise might have taken many words to explain. Einstein was a great quote machine and I have always been intrigued by the quote that ‘not everything that counts is counted, and not everything that is counted counts. It is so true and as I have discussed and as Bobby Kennedy so well observed, we have to work harder at the often difficult to measure things that really do count.
A quote that I reference but is not well sourced describes quite well my life philosophy. It is that ‘the past is your lesson, the present is your gift, and the future is your motivation.’ We need to learn from the past, to live in the present, but to work to shape the future. That is our best way to predict what will happen next.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
I think like many of us I would love to spend time with business visionaries like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos — what are their perspectives on the future of work, but also the challenges of wealth distribution, fairness and greater equality.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.