A looming succession crisis?

In addition to a skills shortage employers may soon face a problem with succession planning if they don’t make the path to the C suite less about working all hours.

stress levels, depression, burnout


There’s been a lot around of late about the skills shortage, particularly in areas like health and social care which are under pressure due to the ageing population and badly hit by Brexit.

I was speaking to someone the other day at a meeting about women’s career progression. He said words to the effect of what if parents don’t want to progress and just want to stand still for a few years while they devote time to other things. It’s a subject that has come up in our Top Employer Award discussions and there is a lot of research, particularly in the US, charting how parents are taking it in turns to progress with the mum taking up a new job while the dad steps back and does more at home and then everything switching a few years later. So career not as a ladder going to the top, but more as a sort of up and down travelator as parents seek to find something that works for the particular circumstances they face at any given time.

A lot of policy focuses on very young children and often doesn’t take into account that people usually have more than one child. It’s either about sharing care in the first year – important though that is and childcare and it tends to stop at the point when children start school. Apparently you’re a veteran by then and no further support is necessary. I think this is partly because many people making the policy are themselves parents of small children or friends of people who are. That will change in due course as the ever-increasing number of mums in the workplace makes its way through the work life cycle.

In my experience quite a few parents manage to survive the whole baby/toddler/preschool years only to struggle – and sometimes drop out of the workplace – in the teen years when faced by the whole panoply of issues related to secondary school and growing up in today’s world. Everyone’s situation is different and circumstances often change – grandparents who were relied upon in the early years become ill or infirm and need care themselves; partnerships break down; children become overwhelmed by the pressures of school and social life. The list is endless because life itself is messy.

So the on-off model might become more common. Working Families’ Modern Families Index is really interesting in this respect. It charts how mums and dads are effectively stalling their careers and not going for promotion because of shared parenting responsibilities. As I said, we’ve been speaking a lot about skills shortages, but what is the impact of this pattern going to be on succession planning at the head of organisations? Are there going to be enough people ready to take the helm or do the requirements of those top jobs and the career path to them need to change significantly more than they have already?

This is not a woman issue. This is about planning for the future.  A lot of talk about the future of work is around automation and robots. But people are still at the heart of most organisations. Work has to adapt to how people live their lives or it will run into a wall.

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