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Post-Covid we are all questioning everything and struggling to weather all the change that has become a constant. That’s why quality work is vital to motivate people and keep them engaged.
What is good work? A report out last week from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development [CIPD] looked at seven key areas which it associates with quality work, from work-life balance and pay to job design, workplace relationships and wellbeing. It found that there has been no significant improvement in job quality in the past four years as we have struggled to come to terms with all the huge upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, in some respects things have got worse, with people viewing and valuing their work less and more likely to see it as purely transactional.
The CIPD survey shows a growing sense of people switching off and focusing on their own wellbeing. It says people are less willing to work harder than they need to help their employer or organisation. They are also less likely to say that work has a positive impact on their mental health. They are less enthused about work and less likely to say they think their work is useful. Which is not to say there have not been some positives in terms of flexible working and more focus on skills and career development, for instance.
In part a change in how we view work – and the world generally – is a normal response to all that we have collectively been through and the general lack of stability we are all experiencing. We have swung from anxiety about job security at the start of Covid to a period of severe labour shortages where employees were more in the driving seat to now, when redundancies are on the rise while more and more people are looking to increase their incomes through second, third or more jobs.
It’s a lot to get your head around and many people are just focusing on survival. But, with large numbers of people economically inactive for a range of reasons, with health – mental and physical – being a big driver of drop-outs, being able to offer good work that is fit for a future of people working longer and the wave of technology transformations to come, is vital.
That means a greater emphasis on people strategy that addresses all the different pressures people face at different life stages, on flexibility and openness to change and on experimentation, but in a world where risk is everywhere. The problem is that standing still, while it may seem the safest option, is also a risk. I’ve been talking to young people recently about mental health and so many seem to some degree or other lost. Remote studying and working may be part of it [although some seem to prefer this], but I think it is a much broader, multi-layered issue than this and one that has been building for some time.
The period of intense questioning many of us have been through over the last few years needs to be met by similar questioning on the part of employers about what they do and how they do it combined with an awareness of the emotional exhaustion of the last years. In the absence of a national period of coming to terms with all that we have been through – which perhaps the Covid inquiry will provide in some sense, although it will take several years to conclude – employers will need to renew their commitment to good work and treat their employees with empathy and understanding.