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
by Anna Gurun, Research Manager.
How many times have you wished that there were more hours in the day? At our recent Masterclass, we explored how organisations can work with their employees to build a narrative on the future of work, and discussions on time as a resource particularly resonated with our members. Time is both a construct that contextualises our lives, and a resource that impacts the decisions we make for how to spend or save it, and therefore our happiness and well-being. So how can organisations rethink time to help improve the happiness and productivity of their employees? Here are two questions that will help you think about this in the context of your company:
- Do we really know how we spend our time?
For many professionals working in high-pressure jobs, time is status. The busier you are the more important you are. In fact, people often overestimate the number of hours they work, remembering their busiest week as typical. One study found that people estimating 75 plus hour work weeks were off, on average, by about 25 hours. To enable people to accurately assess how they are investing their time, organisations can consider new tools such as time-tracking apps that run in the background of computer operating systems. This replaces perceptions with data and could enable people to cut out activities that are taking time but adding little value. Better still, assessing an organisation’s culture to ensure that presenteeism is not an indicator of status will help people make effective decisions about when to work and for how long. This starts with leaders and line managers role modelling healthy work hours.
- Are we balancing our time horizons?
In addition to misunderstanding how we spend our time, we also make rigid divisions between the present/short-term and the future/long-term, with significant implications for decision making. A focus on the short-term can be constricting, with employees much less likely to invest in activities with delayed payoffs, such as learning. When people think short-term, they tend to view time as a scare resource and are more likely to make trade-offs, thinking about whether they should do something. Viewing the future as abstract, they put off decisions that could be beneficial in the longer term, like saving or learning. This is a problem for organisations, particularly those going through change and therefore requiring people to learn new skills and adapt behaviours. Research from the University of Stanford proposes that organisations take an elevated view of time. This involves viewing all units of time as equal. In this mosaic view of time, a day is like any other day, not more important because of its proximity to your present. This zoomed out perspective forces people to consider now and later, making the future less abstract and pulling potential opportunities into the present. 
Time is a key organisational resource, and to support employees in investing in their future learning and saving, companies must rethink time, starting with taking an elevated view.
Perhaps begin by asking yourself the questions above: ‘How accurately do I understand how I use my time? And, what is my default time orientation – short term or longer term?’ Then consider this in the context of your team. It may be the key to freeing up the most precious resource we have as individuals and organisations.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
 Yanofsky, D. (Oct 18, 2012), ‘Study: People claiming to work more than 70 hours a Week are totally lying, probably’, The Atlantic
 Mogilner, C. Hershfiel, H.E and Aaker, J. (2018) ‘Rethinking Time – Implications for well-being’ Consumer Pscyhology Review 1-41, 53
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.”
10 years ago, Lynda Gratton and Hot Spots Movement set out to figure out what the future of work would look like. Lynda had a hunch that there would be a massive transformation and was keen to understand 1. what was changing, and 2. how it would impact organisations, people and ultimately 3. how work would change as a result. We gathered an enthusiastic group of companies who would spend an academic year with us coming up with answers to these three questions.
You could argue, and we would agree, with the wisdom of hindsight, that it was rather optimistic to expect that after less than one year, we would have clear and concise answers.
10 years on, we’re still at it, and it’s getting more exciting by the day. In fact, it turned out that what we had started wasn’t a one-year research consortium, but a journey with an open-ended ticket, where the destinations and the routings are being defined as we move along.
The first leg of the journey was about identifying the major forces that would impact and partially or significantly define what organisations and work would look like, as well as the shape and form of future talent. We looked at technology, globalisation, societal change, demography and low carbon.
The second leg of the journey was spent on understanding how these major forces challenge fixtures of work such as – ‘work has a place’ – we work in an office or in a factory; ‘work has a time’ – we work from 9-5 or we work shifts’; and ‘work is a job’ – we’re employed to do a defined role, on a permanent basis. We explored what happens if these fixtures would no longer hold up, and we quickly moved from ‘if’ to ‘when’ as it rapidly became clear that the jury was no longer out on whether it would happen but only on how quickly.
The third leg was when we turned to investigating in detail what was happening in people’s lives, based on the understanding that at some stage (generally it should happen sooner than it does), work and organisations need to adapt to what is happening in people’s lives. We saw lots of evidence that rather than expect people – talent – to conform to how work had been organised, largely unchanged, since the 1950s, the organisation of work would need to change to attract and engage talent. So, we dove into shifting identities – how notions such as gender, family structures, age are now much more fluid and diverse. We established the need for organisations to create workplaces that embrace the whole selves of their talent and how they evolve, in all facets, over time.
All along the way, we have focused on how companies need to adapt their legacy people policies and processes. One of our favourite images to illustrate the status of people processes in many global organisations is an archaeological excavation site with multiple layers. To
understand how companies can address the challenge of having to attract and engage talent with/despite multiple era processes, we studied the Future of HR and particularly the importance of identifying and saying parting with sunset processes.
Are we at our final destination? Absolutely not! Because the future of work is impacted by how people’s lives change, by technology and by societal change, all of which remains in the making, our final destination is not yet in sight. There is so much we still need to understand, and over the next 12 months, we’ll be researching Agile People Strategy, the High-performing Organisation, and Digitising the Organisation. We’ll be looking into why so many big organisations are struggling to adopt flexible working widely, what digitalisation means for organisations, talent and work.
So my prediction is that in five years’ time, we’ll be as excited about the future of work as we were 10 years ago and as we are now.
Please stay in touch – this co-creational project is only possible thanks to great members of the Future of Work Research Consortium (www.hotspotsmovement.com).
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
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