It is a truism to say that the world of work is changing at an ever headier pace – unfortunately, it's a truism that happens to be true.  Just as companies try to come to terms with warp factor changes in technology – the role of artificial intelligence for example – along comes another challenge – let's say from public demands for a clean carbon economy. Then round the corner come major new expectations from employees – to work in new ways, for ethical employers, with their voices heard.

It may help to think of this tsunami as six interconnected pressures:

  • Climate change and the need for countries and companies to reach net zero emissions
  • New technology, automation and its knock-on effects on things like retraining, cybersecurity and the ethical use of algorithms and AI
  • The demands for good quality work that pays attention to workers’ mental health and wellbeing while making work meaningful and worthwhile
  • The need to give more consideration to diversity, inclusivity and providing equal opportunities to everyone at work
  • The need to demonstrate good corporate governance, ethical approaches to investment and respond to new regulation
  • The need to boost productivity and become more adaptable and agile; something that will help with the rest of the above

These pressures are clearly all interconnected and they all flow from multiple directions:

From within: organisations' own workforces, especially new generations of millennial and gen z employees who expect good work, want a voice at work and care a lot about climate change and other CSR issues.

From investors who are increasingly putting pressure on companies to demonstrate good responsible from behaviour in these areas.

From government and other regulators such as the FRC, with the new corporate governance code; the new information and consultation regulations giving increased rights for employees to demand ICE arrangements; new carbon zero targets, an so on.

From media, consumers and the public: increasing scrutiny of companies’ ethical behaviour, treatment of employees, approach to diversity and the environment. Companies that ignore these areas do so at their peril.

The best – probably the only way - for companies to approach all of these issues is in a close partnership with their workforce. Companies that try and solve these huge challenges with a top-down command and control approach will fail, since they will be unable to take the workforce with them on the organisational changes required. Workers increasingly want to be involved in conversations on all these issues, they want to have a voice at work. Given the right architecture and structures for listening to employees, this is a major opportunity for effective change management.  All the evidence is that introducing changes small or profound in the workplace only works when employees feel involved in drawing up plans, own them to some extent, and feel vested in their success.

As society and our economies evolve to meet the external and internal challenges, enabling employees to be citizens at work – treated as responsible and engaged partners in the organisation, rather than insentient widgets, or untrustworthy children – will be one of the defining characteristics of a successful enterprise. Dinosaurs who persist in believing that management alone knows best run the risk of disappearing along with the once mighty tyrannosaurs.

Nita Clarke is Director of the IPA

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