In his 1994 book, ‘The Age of Diminishing Expectations’ Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, perspicaciously argued that ‘productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything’.[i] When one considers that productivity is perhaps the main driver in an economy’s ability to grow and therefore also the greatest predictor of the standard of living for a given person or group of people, it is difficult to disagree with Krugman’s contention.
In essence, productivity is defined as output per hour worked. In recent years, however, within the developed world productivity levels have been lagging. To elaborate, the recent ‘Skills and Employment Survey’ highlighted that in the UK, labour productivity has historically grown by around 2% per year since the 1970s, but since the 2008-2009 recession it has stagnated and has failed to climb back to its prerecession growth rate.[ii] This unprecedented and unexplained slump has become known as the ‘productivity puzzle’ and is an issue that has caused widespread concern amongst economists, business leaders and governments within the developed world.
As productivity levels continue to stagnate, organisations are implementing AI solutions which are reminiscent of Charlie Brooker’s superb dystopian TV show ‘Black Mirror’ to help boost productivity levels. Amazon, for example has recently patented a wristband that tracks the hand movements of warehouse workers and uses vibrations to nudge them into being more productive. Veriato, a software firm, is able to track and log every keystroke employees make on their computers in order to measure how dedicated they are to their role and the company.[iii] In Helsinki, a digital innovation consultancy named ‘Futurice’ has installed sensors that can track an employee’s every move in the office, even in the toilet.[iv] Such technologies fall under the remit of what experts call the internet of things (IoT). Employees report mixed feelings about these new technologies, with a Harvard Business Review study revealing an approximate 50/50 split between those who believe AI technology enhances productivity and those who either disagree or feel its impact is neutral.[v]
The appeal of using advanced AI from the organisation’s perspective is clear and, although surveillance at work is not a new concept (factory workers have long clocked in and out), the scale to which certain AI technologies can now be used to monitor the productivity of the workforce is leading some commentators to suggest they are bordering on Orwellian. This inevitably raises acute philosophical questions about the ethical underpinnings of applied AI in the workplace. Indeed, just how far are organisations willing to go in the pursuit of productivity? Finding the balance between safeguarding basic privacy, workers’ rights and enhanced productivity will raise some moral dilemmas for organisations, and will no doubt become central to AI discourse in the coming years.
Finding this equilibrium will not be an easy task for organisations. A recent RSA report on the ethics of AI suggests there is a public perception that we may be surrendering too much power to AI technology.[vi] One thorny issue is that existing ethical frameworks are often incompatible with the world of technology. Science has attempted to develop ethical frameworks before – from Asimov’s Three Laws for Robots to Nick Bostrom’s work on ethics. Adhering to these frameworks can be problematic, as humans often find it difficult to develop virtues for their own conduct, let alone build relevant virtues into new technologies.[vii] The debate around ethical AI must also consider how certain workers are better equipped than others to prevent employers going too far. For example, those with a specialist, in demand skill-set stand a greater chance of resisting any unethical implementation of AI, whereas those in insecure forms of employment such as zero-hours contract workers in low-wage industries, have considerably less leverage.
In the current economic climate, solving the productivity puzzle is an alluring prize for organisations. However, if organisations wish to solve it using certain AI, it must be conscientiously executed with a strong injection of humanity to help ensure workers can retain a sense of dignity in their work during this period of accelerated and uncertain change.
[i] Krugman, P. (1994) The Age of Diminishing Expectations. Cambridge, MIT Press
[iii] The Economist (2018) AI in the Workplace
[iv] Burke, C (2016) In offices of the future, sensors may track your every move – even in the bathroom (The Guardian)
[vi] Balaram, B (2018) The Ethics of Ceding More Power To Machines (RSA)
[vii] Dalmia, V. Sharma, K. (2018) The Moral Dilemmas of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (World Economic Forum)
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 email@example.com
 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
Join our webinar on Tuesday 10th June 2014 to celebrate the launch of Lynda Gratton’s latest book, The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems.
Lynda Gratton will be launching her latest book, The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems with a webinar on Tuesday 10th June 2014.
In this webinar, Lynda will explore the ways in which today’s corporations – already bigger, wealthier and more powerful than ever before – can ensure a resilient future. Drawing on research from her book The Key, which includes over 20 case studies fromVodafone, Natura, Tata Consultancy Servicesand others, Lynda will look at how corporations can use their wealth, power and wisdom to combat global challenges such as climate change, youth unemployment and global poverty.
The webinar will take place on Tuesday 10th June 2014, 5pm-6pm BST. To register, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Lynda Gratton
Our talent landscape is evolving. Demographic shifts are changing where the world’s workforce will be located, with some countries entering a period of demographic dividend with millions of young people entering the workforce. At the same time, other countries are seeing their workforce age, with fewer people planning to retire in their 60s.
Organisations are also becoming keenly aware of a growing skills gap between their requirements and the available talent pool. Advances in technology have placed many middle-skill jobs under threat, while increasing demand for high-skilled roles that are intrinsically difficult to automate or standardise. This creates a range of opportunities for ambitious young people – but also means that they want to be able to retrain and upskill in order to increase their value in the workplace.
The scarcity of middle-skill jobs has made it easier for organisations to attract the best talent – but the emerging need for development opportunities means that retention is proving more difficult. This is an issue we explored in the “Future Talent Survey” conducted by my Future of Work Research Consortium which brings executives from more than 50 global companies together to talk about issues around human capital and the future. We discovered that of the three largest generations at work (Baby Boomers, born 1945-64; Generation X, 1965-79; Generation Y, 1980-94), executives believe that it will be Gen Y who will be the most difficult to retain.
These changes have created an unprecedented requirement for innovation when it comes to talent strategy. Faced with a generationally and culturally diverse workforce that is tasked with performing increasingly complex jobs, many organisations are looking for new ideas to help them cater to the needs of their talent pool. Very often at this stage talent experts turn to development experiences and training programmes to solve the problem. These certainly have their role to play – but in this article I would like instead to focus on a talent development and retention issue I believe to be crucial and undervalued – that is the design and configuration of work.
As I see it, there are two ways in which companies can cater for all this emergent complexity and diversity. The first is to ensure their most talented employees are able to maintain high performance in the face of complex work by taking an active role in enhancing their intellectual leverage and emotional vitality – a strategy which has the added effect of enhancing the organisation’s own internal resilience. And the second is to equip themselves with the tools and processes to to provide for the needs of workers from a range of different demographics and life stages.
Enhancing intellectual leverage and emotional vitality
As I show in my book The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems, enhancing employees’ intelligence and emotional vitality has a vital part to play in helping organisations build the layer of inner resilience they need for the future.
Resilience starts with what happens inside the corporation – with an intellectually challenging, emotionally vibrant and socially connected community of employees. Some companies, like Tata Consultancy Services and Cisco are already using newly emerging intranet technologies to amplify the intellectual ideas and knowledge of employees across their businesses. They are ensuring that they gather the social wealth held in the different communities of people and in the networks that crisscross the company and span its boundaries.
Other organisations realise that ignoring emotional vitality has long-term implications, because among the workforce it is younger workers – the leaders of tomorrow – who prize wellbeing most highly. Last year I conducted, with USC the PwC Millennials Survey. What this clearly showed was that this young generation of employees are very conscious that they will not be retiring at 55 or 65 like their grandparents and are concerned with maintaining their health and achieving a work-life balance. It was clear that recognising and supporting these priorities is an important part of keeping these younger workers engaged. At the same time, many workers of the Baby Boomer generation are putting off retirement age and remaining in the workplace – and this ageing demographic also has more complex wellbeing needs than the traditional 20-65 year-old worker.
The importance of the work-home cycle
In a joint study on stress at work I conducted with As Dr Hans-Joachim Wolfram shows, we discovered that the work-home cycle also has a huge role to play when it comes to managing emotional vitality and combating stress. This cycle can be either caustic and draining, or positive and enhancing. It becomes caustic when an employee leaves work feel stressed, tired and demotivated – and leaves home feeling guilty or anxious about not fulfilling family obligations. The cycle is positive when an employee leaves home feeling authentic and resilient, and leaves work feeling networked and inspired by things they have learnt. It is this positive spillover into their home life which creates a reinforcing positive cycle: in this context, work is good and the knowledge and connections gained there can be a source of support for the family.
Really helping talented people manage this emotional cycle between work and home is vital. To fail to do so leads to the ‘emotional lock-down’ that can be so dangerous for creativity and innovation. And yet the simple truth is that it is this group who are most likely to be working under pressure, putting in the longest hours and travelling the most. To get the balance of the work-home cycle right is hard, and it starts with realising that work and home as not two unconnected spheres, but are highly connected. For example, as Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen has observed, managers have an incredibly important influence on whether the work-home cycle is positive or negative. As a result, companies must think about how they support families and whether their talented employees have enough scope to ensure a cycle of positive emotional spillover.
It’s also time to think hard about how to design jobs in a way that enhances rather than denudes the emotional vitality of employees. For some, like BT, the wide-scale adoption of flexible working is allowing people to manage their own time in a positive and enhancing way. Others, like Deloitte are thinking hard about how to break the career hierarchies and introduce a matrix process that allows people to increase or decrease their contribution at different stages of their working life.
When we surveyed members of the Future of Work Research Consortium for a ‘Future Talent Report’, many of them highlighted the importance of career customisation in increasing retention. By providing talented people with the ability to determine their own development experiences, and with longer-term aspirational goals, organisations create a sense of purpose, empowerment and trust.
The report also highlighted that whilst many large corporations have flexible working arrangements, when it comes to improved job design – by which I mean initiatives such as phased retirement, job share schemes and, on- and off-boarding ramps, few are adequately prepared. I estimate that such companies have a period of three years at most to introduce these elements of job design before the lack of them starts to have a serious impact on the retention of their most talented people.
The importance of scale
So why are so many companies struggling with this? One reason is idea of job design and career customisation is associated with motherhood. When a talented woman leaves an organisation, there is an implicit assumption they are doing so to start a family. In fact, as I have seen with my MBA students at London Business School, when they leave a company, it’s to start their own business. And a key reason for this is that doing so is because it empowers them to take charge of their own job design.
This talent drain is just one reason why companies need to ramp up their experiments and pilots in the field of job design and then really focus on scaling and mobilizing around these crucial issues. That is because the challenges of emotional vitality are about to get worse. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, life stage is becoming an increasingly important factor in people’s career choices – and people reach these stages at vastly different ages. For example, some employees will choose to become parents in their 20s, while others will do so in their 40s. As people start to live longer, we will see more of them rejecting traditional linear career paths and opting for careers that move sideways, downwards, or even pause for a while. It is the companies that are learning to deal with these issues already – and the ones that act now to start handling them more effectively – that will prove resilient over the coming decades.
The solution to this problem is to make work and careers more customised, fluid and transparent. Healthy, vital employees want control over how, when, where they work and to manage their work and their careers in tune with the rhythms of their life. To enable this, employers need to let workers know that the design of their job can change according to their circumstances and that customisation is available to everyone, not just mothers. For example, Vodafone has created a culture where flexible working is not a privilege for which employees must ask for permission, but something employees can choose to do as and when the need arises. This change has had a marked effect on their retention rate. Above all, they need to know what their options are at each stage of their life and career, so that they can make the appropriate choices.
A resilient future strategy
It’s clear that today’s organisations need to develop the ability to create an employee value proposition powerful enough to appeal to the demands of an increasingly diverse and global talent pool – a challenge that requires considerable effort and innovation.
Providing talent with constant development and ample opportunities for enhancing emotional vitality is not easy – but the benefits in terms of talent retention and organisational resilience are immense. By providing talent with the ability to determine their own career experiences, and with longer-term aspirational goals, organisations create a sense of purpose, empowerment and trust.
To achieve this, organisations must shift their focus, dividing it more equally between identifying and recruiting and their ability to retain high-value individuals. They must also recognise that younger generations are starting to expect more from their work, both in terms of the quality of their experiences and the meaning and purpose of their roles, while older workers will have differing requirements depending on their life stage. By integrating strategies such as career customisation into their talent strategy, businesses can go a long way to enhancing emotional vitality in ways that will not only increase retention, but will also prepare them for the entry of the next generation – Gen Z – into the workforce.
Lynda Gratton is a Professor of Management Practice at London Business School where she directs the program ‘Human Resource Strategy in Transforming Companies’ – considered the world’s leading program on human resources. Her latest book, The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems, is out on 9th June.