According to Harvard Psychologist, Dan Gilbert, ‘all of us are walking around with an illusion, an illusion that we have just recently become the people that we were always meant to be and will be for the rest of our lives. However, time is a powerful force. It transforms our preferences. It reshapes our values. It alters our identities. We seem to appreciate this fact, but only in retrospect. Only when we look backwards do we realise how much change happens in a decade.’[i] Our research at the Future of Work (FoW) Research Consortium is indicating that this notion of transformations is becoming increasingly tangible and pronounced for three reasons: longer working lives, greater reflexivity and new social norms.
Longer working lives: More years have been added to life expectancy in the last century than in all previous millennia of mankind. A longer life means a longer working life, with some predicting that we will be working until we are 80. In this context, a longer working life provides more productive hours, presents more opportunities to be grasped and more identities to be explored. Simply put, longer working lives present an increasing range of possible ways of living.
Greater reflexivity: We are seeing an increasing disintegration of societal traditions enabling us greater freedom to think about and construct who we want to be. According to sociologist Ulrich Beck, we now live in a ‘risk society’ where tradition has less influence and people have more choice.
New social norms: An increased acceptance of homosexuality is perhaps the best example of new social norms forming. For example, whilst 70% of people believed gay marriage was wrong in 1973 this figure went down to almost 40% by 2010. In contrast, the percentage of people who thought that there was nothing wrong with gay marriage increased from just 10% in 1973 to over 40% in 2010.[ii]
Indeed, the rise in individualisation and its resulting impact on social norms explains why people are increasingly comfortable in both expressing and accepting a wider range of identities. What all this means is that each person at a given point in time has a spectrum of many possible selves. These possible selves are future articulations of who they might be and what they might do. They represent an ideal of what they might become, what they would like to become or what they are afraid of becoming.
What are your possible future selves?
[i] Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_you_are_always_changing
[ii] Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-rise-of-gay-marriage-and-the- decline-of-straight-marriage-wheres-the-link/274665/
[iii] Ibarra, H. (2004). Working identity: Unconventional strategies for reinventing your career. Harvard Business Press
Blog by Emma Birchall for the Huffington Post and Hot Spots Movement
In 1932, philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote an essay titled In Praise of Idleness. He was writing at a time when only the most affluent in society had the opportunity for leisure time while the poor labored away in dirty, dangerous and dull work.
Today, in developed countries the situation is quite the opposite. For the first time in history, the most skilled, highest earners in society are working the longest hours. But why is it that those who can afford the most leisure are now taking the least?
It turns out we still have much to learn from the old greats such as Russell and Keynes. Both had distinct yet complementary philosophies on the meaning of work that may help us understand why affluent knowledge workers, with above average pay cheques and already high standards of living, are slaving away to the point of burnout.
The first message is that as a society, we have had a vested interest in seeing work as virtuous. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, the virtues of work were extolled by the affluent, upper classes who, according to Russell, preached “the dignity of labor [to the poor], while taking care themselves to remain undignified in this respect.” The dignity of labor “kept adults from drink and children from mischief,” by distracting them with 15-hour work days. This ideology was reinforced by religious beliefs that the poor were far more likely to go to heaven than the rich, thus their gratification was coming, just posthumously. So what does this mean for today?
According to Keynes, despite entire populations moving into higher skill, higher paid work, “we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy.” We ascribe status now to those who make valuable contributions to the success of organizations and our “busyness” has become a proxy for that level of contribution. Perhaps then, if we are to resolve the challenge of long working hours, burnout and stress, we need to remind ourselves of the meaning of work, its role in our own lives and in society as a whole. Now that we don’t need work to prevent us all from becoming delinquent on gin and to get into the afterlife, maybe we can reassess how we spend our time?
A second message from the works of the old greats is that how we spend our leisure time is also a point of contention. Both Keynes and Russell stressed the importance of leisure time in pursuing academic and creative interests. According to Russell, the small leisure class in previous centuries “cultivated the arts and discovered sciences; it wrote the books, invented the philosophies, and refined social relations […] without the leisure class, man would never have emerged from barbarism.”
Today, we might argue that these activities take place within institutions such as universities, businesses and NGOs. However, Russell warned that when “studies are organized […] the man who thinks of some original line of research is likely to be discouraged,” making it an inadequate substitute for real leisure time.
While our context has changed markedly since the 18th and 19th Centuries, perhaps there is still something to take from this. How can we liberate people to pursue their passions, experiment and innovate under the necessary pre-condition of “no required output”? Some companies such as Google and 3G have attempted this with their “20 percent time to play” rule, allowing employees to spend the equivalent of one day a week following up on an idea they have had on the understanding that it may come to nothing. But maybe, instead of creating rules around when and how much work time people can spend in liberated, free-thinking, we need to accept the fact that people need to be absent, disconnected and unrestricted if we want them to come up with new ideas.
In short, we need to acknowledge the value of leisure time and ensure that work does not encroach. Likewise, we need to reserve energy as well as time for the pursuit of leisure or else, according to Russell, “pleasures […] become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on [… as a result of our] active energies being fully taken up with work.”
Keynes predicted that we would all be working three-hour days by now. We’ve perhaps ended up closer to Russell’s depiction of “a large percentage of the population idle, because we can dispense with their labour by making the others overwork.” We simultaneously have people working extended hours and persistent unemployment.
Could our ineffectiveness at addressing the skills mismatches behind this phenomenon be in part because we can make the skilled overwork? Both Keynes and Russell expected it to take some time to transition into a society that can accept and create value through extended leisure, without blindly pursuing more and more work as an end in itself. But perhaps it’s worth remembering Russell’s departing line: “there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.”
The other day I was watching the Matrix, an epic sci-fi trilogy that depicts a dystopian future, in which the perceived reality is a computer-generated simulation. In the second part of the trilogy, during a very intense car chase, Trintiy, one of the main characters, finds herself in a situation in which she has to learn how to start a motorbike without having the keys. She was under pressure, and she needed to master the new skill very quickly. What happens next is Trinity calls the ‘Operator’ to ask for a ‘download.’ As her mind is connected to the matrix, the Operator is able to download and install the new skill, just like you would install a new app on your phone. This was the moment when I realised that sometimes, day-to-day work can be very similar: we find ourselves in a challenging environment that requires us to learn in the moment.
The ever-changing world of work and increasing longevity means that we need to learn continuously throughout our career so we can stay productive and relevant for a longer period of time. At the same time, the knowledge and skills we pick up in the education system becomes outdated very rapidly, therefore an unorthodox approach to learning becomes necessary.
Here are three things you and your organisation can do to enable rapid re-skilling:
- Create a learning culture that focuses on ‘pull’ learning: While traditional L&D focused on push learning, making these decisions for the learner, pull learning allows individuals to identify and meet their own development needs in the moment. The Operator did not make Trinity learn the new skill, she asked for it when she needed it.
- Shift the role of L&D from broker to enabler: the role of L&D needs to shift from acting as a broker between employees and learning to becoming more of an enabler of learning. This is the Operator’s role in the scene – to make sure people are enabled.
- Be proactive as an employee: Ask yourself what skill set you will need over the next 10 years and if you identify a gap, be proactive in addressing it. After every mission in the Matrix, Trinity assesses herself to identify her own areas to develop, so she can work out what skills she needs to master in the future.
To stay ahead in the future of work, we – like Trinity – will need to embrace learning new skills in the moment; and organisations will need to create environments that enable this.
Guest blog by Siobhan McHale, CHRO at Dulux Group
“Anne Lewis” mulled over a problem she was having with a staff member as she queued for her morning coffee at the city’s popular Hole In The Wall Café. She was the executive in charge of a retail loans department at “BlueStoneBank (BSB)” and she had an issue with one of the employees in her team. Jack had been working at the bank for 6 years but had seemed quite disengaged recently. He was bright and others in the team liked working with him but he had been in the same position for over 3 years now. He seemed stuck in a rut. Indeed, over the past few months she noticed that Jack had been so leisurely in his ways that others in the team had to wade in to help him get through his workload.
Anne was meeting with her boss Lee later that afternoon and she knew he would be demanding more from her team. The recent performance stats were not looking good and she needed everyone in the Department, including Jack, to pull their weight. If they didn’t all lift their game Lee would start micromanaging her again!
The Chevy Corvette Sting Ray
As Anne stood in line she wondered whether Jack was simply bored with work or just disinterested in life in general. She remembered a recent work social event when he had spoken animatedly about his passion for antique cars. He seemed to spend every waking hour, when he wasn’t at work, tinkering with that Chevy Corvette Sting Ray sitting in his garage. She wished Jack had the same level of enthusiasm for his job as he had for his beloved collectible car.
Jack seemed much more engaged in working on his Chevy Corvette Sting Ray than he was in his role at BSB
Anne’s mind went back again to the meeting with her boss Lee later that afternoon. She knew that her Department was coming under scrutiny and Jack’s recent listless manner wasn’t helping one bit! She wondered if she should take a different approach to unleashing some of his discretionary effort at work.
The coffee catch-up
Anne ordered her usual cappuccino and decided to get Jack a latte which was his favourite morning brew. Five minutes later she bounded into his office and, as she handed him his coffee, she asked “Jack how do you see your role, you know your job here at BBS?” He took a long sip of the latte, leaned back in his chair and responded “Hey, thanks for the coffee! Well my role, as I see it, is to help our customers complete their loan applications and then submit them to the Risk department for approval. As you know it’s all about driving the revenue line I suppose.”
Anne enquired “What loans do you have on your ‘to do’ list for today?” Jack stretched his arms out above his head and responded “One couple, the Mendozas, want to try and buy their first home in a cool suburb near the bay. Another loan is for a recent graduate Sofia who has just gotten her driving license and wants to purchase her first car. The last high priority one for today is for this guy Liam who is a fanatical sailor and wants to buy a boat so that he can try his hand at fulfilling his dream of sailing around the world!”
“That’s a pretty interesting and diverse group” Anne responded. “And it seems to me from those stories that you’re actually helping to make these peoples’ dreams come true in your role, eh?’ Jack looked at her over the rim of his coffee cup. He raised his eyebrow and nodded slowly. “Yes I suppose you could say that.”
Over the next few week Anne noticed a spring in Jack’s step. He was getting to work on time, she was finding fewer mistakes in his applications and he just seemed, well, happier. He was also a lot more productive and even made time to help out others in the Department. All of this had led to an increase in the team’s productivity which has not gone un-noticed by the boss Lee, who was once again singing Anne’s praises.
The power of reframing
When I caught up with Anne at The Hole In The Wall Café later that month she talked about the shift in Jack’s attitude. “What’s changed to create a happier and more engaged employee? I asked. Anne explained the work that she had been doing over the past few months to reframe the role of her team and to connect them more closely to the difference their work was making in the lives of customers. She went on to say “I reframed Jack’s role from ‘form filler’ to ‘dream maker’ and that, I believe, has made all the difference.”
Reframing verb (transitive) 1. to support or enclose (a picture, photograph, etc) in a new or different frame. 2. to change the plans or basic details of (a policy, idea, etc)
Reframing is about looking at the world through a different lens and is a powerful way to transform our thinking by giving a different meaning to our experience. Reframing the role of employees can lead to higher levels of engagement especially if connected to the difference that your company makes in the lives of others.
How are your employees framing their role at work? Is there an opportunity to reframe how they see the part they are playing in meeting the needs of customers?
Jack had reframed his role from ‘form filler’ to ‘dream maker’ and that had made all the difference
Thank you for reading my post. I’m passionate about creating better workplaces and regularly write about culture and change. If you would like to read future articles please ‘follow or send me a LinkedIn invite. Want to read more?
There has been a fundamental disruption of influence and power over the past few years. Historically, power and influence were in the hands of a chosen few at the top of hierarchies such as politicians, CEOs and public figures. Today we see a different picture. A great example of this is the meteoric rise of Vloggers. These are often teenagers, posting videos from their homes somewhere quite remote. They can command viewers in the their millions and make – or break – a brand or product purely through the influence of a 50 second video. Just last week celebrity influencer Kylie Jenner appears to have wiped roughly $1.5 billion off the market value of Snapchat with one tweet.
The interesting point for organisations to take away is that this isn’t just happening in the outside world. It’s happening at work too. Enterprise social networks such as Yammer or Chatter, as well as a tendency towards flatter hierarchies in many organisations, means that your influencers aren’t necessary all sitting in the executive team. At work, influencers are ‘people who can, because of their knowledge, skills and position in the company network, and not their formal hierarchical power, shape the views of multiple colleagues’. These influencers can become powerful change agents, most particularly in the face of culture change or a major transition your organisation is undertaking.
A challenge for organisations is to identify these influencers, and ensure they can leverage them to support organisational needs and outcomes. While I find that most of the organisations I speak with are aware this should be on their to do list, I sense that many are struggling to find a route to achieving it. So I’ve drawn out three ways to illustrate how to identify influencers, focus on them to nudge behaviour and leverage them to change micro-behaviours.
- Identify influencers: Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a long-standing client of ours, has made public communication the default through an internal social networking platform the norm called Knome. By using Knome in place of email, a private form communication they aim to unleash unstructured collaboration, innovation and creativity. Interestingly, TCS have also used this tool to identify influencers within their organisation. By using a platform, they can see beyond the traditional hierarchy and identify those with social capital or bright ideas, wherever they might sit within the organisation
- Focus on influencers to nudge behaviour: Nudge theory is a concept in behavioural science where positive reinforcements and indirect suggestions influence the motives, incentives and decision making of groups and individuals. As you can imagine, if organisations focus on changing the behaviours of influencers and leaders, these nudges become all the more powerful. This is due to the multiplier effect of highly visible or influential people on their peers
- Leverage influencers to change micro-behaviours: Enabling workplace culture change requires an understanding and altering of micro-behaviours. It is important for influencers and leaders to call out negative micro-behaviours in the workplace. Equally, leaders and influencers should provide micro-affirmations, that is congratulating the efforts and achievements of employees when they engage in the right kind of work or behaviours. In doing so, employees’ behaviour becomes conditioned through negative repercussions and positive reinforcements, provided by both leaders and influencers
Identifying and leveraging influencers requires subtle and thoughtful work, but research indicates that the outcomes can be significant, particularly in the context of culture change. I have certainly seen the results in the crowdsourcing projects that I run with clients – both in engaging influencers to raise awareness and engagement before the event, and in identifying hidden influencers during crowdsourcing events themselves.
If you’d like to find out more about how to identify and leverage influencers in your organisation, feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
 Shu, L. Gino, F. Bazerman, M H., (2011) Ethical Discrepancy : Changing Our Attitudes to Resolve Moral Dissonance, Behavioral Business Ethics: Ideas on an Emerging Field. Taylor and Francis Publishing
 Workwire, (2015) Workplace Nudging Persuade People To Desirable Behaviour