HR Transformer Blog


Workforce Futurist Newsletter

This is the 66th article from the HR Transformer Blog since it was set up in 2008 - thankyou for reading!

A lot has changed for all of us since then, in organisations and in our careers.

I have led, advised and worked on over 30 transformation programmes over the years. One learning from HR Transformation, is that you can't fundamentally change organisations by changing one business function. A holistic approach is needed. The way we manage people in organisations is dictated by how we view work, and that is changing rapidly.

Which is why I have established Workforce Futurist Newsletter, if you haven't already, I hope you will subscribe to it

The newsletter is weekly, free, and direct to your inbox.

It covers how the Workforce is changing in the context of the pandemic, how a new infrastructure for work is being built and its impact on different industries.

Outstanding speculation on the future of work.

Hung Lee - Recruiting Brainfood

I've known Andy Spence for a few years and his thinking is consistently a few years ahead of the vast majority of analysts and consultants in our space.

David Green -People Analytics leader

This article has really made me think about the next normal of how work will be done and how the workforce and society will come together to add new value to what is now seen as today's broken model.

Hélène Stanway Global Head of Technology Innovation AXA

Most popular Workforce Futurist Newsletter articles

There are more than 25 articles in the archive for you to browse, but here are a few that have got people talking:

Workforce Futurist Newsletter

Unleashing the Decentralised Workforce This is a long-read about redefining work in the Digital Covid Age, a description of some of the new decentralised workers and some questions for workforce futurists.

NFTs and the Tokenization of Work What are Non- Fungible Tokens, and what do the new crypto creators tell us about the future of work?

The History of Remote Work A quick look back before we zoom too far into the future with views on when we will get back to work from the Superforecasters.

Four Work Trends Set to Boom Many more ways to earn and learn will be positive for workers, and watch out for a creative BOOM!

Blockchain Workforce Update #2 Latest updates on identity management, digital wallets replacing CVs/resumes in Singapore and a beer-machine that checks your age!

The Personal Data Backlash Next Up Recruitment? How secure is your personal career data, really?

Thanks for reading HR Transformer Blog and I look forward to seeing you over at Workforce Futurist!

To show your support for this new venture, I would appreciate it if you could help me spread the word to people in your network who might find it interesting.

You can subscribe here -> Workforce Futurist Newsletter

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Blockchain Platforms Can Enable Good Work

Blockchain Platforms Can Enable Good Work RSA Andy Spence

Babies born in the UK today are expected to live past 100. It is unlikely they will go to university when they are 18 for three years, work for two or three employers then retire with a pension at 66. The way we work is rapidly changing, shaped by new technology and evolving business models, there are now more flexible employment options than ever. For example, in a survey conducted by the RSA, it was estimated that there are 1.1 million people in Britain’s gig economy.

The Taylor Review described the goal of ‘good work’ for all improving the quality of work, whilst retaining flexibility. To achieve these aims, we need to improve the way we match work with suitable and willing workers. There are problems with our recruitment of different types of workers. These include prejudice and bias, lack of visibility of available workers, low levels of trust in centralised social networks, spam and high fees to intermediaries. We now have the opportunity to build the next generation work platforms enabled by technology such as artificial intelligence, mobile and blockchain, the underlying technology behind Bitcoin.

Blockchains are essentially distributed ledgers, which enable secure peer-to-peer encrypted transactions. There is no central database, or intermediaries needed and it keeps an immutable digital record of transactions. Beyond the latest headline grabbing crypto price bubble, blockchain solutions are being built. For example, blockchain solutions are being developed to record property transactions on land registries, logging birth certificates in Illinois and tracking blood diamonds.

There are some key features of a new generation of digital work platforms that have the potential to revolutionise our economy.

First, identity verification mechanisms, managed by individuals and authenticated by independent agencies, could include qualifications, work history and references. I have looked at how such an approach could impact HR and, through the Blockchain Research Institute, have examined the potential benefits of workers managing their own verified career profile on decentralised platforms. This approach is being trailed by the Open University, working with APPII, to place qualifications and accreditations onto the blockchain.  Decentralised career networks will allow people to monetise their own data and efforts and get paid straight away and enables people to have more control over their own career history.

Currently our data is owned and monetised by centralised platforms such as LinkedIn and Upwork. A second design feature – worker-owned networks and incentivisation –could be developed through the use of digital tokens to reward and motivate users. Tokens can be used as a utility to operate within the community where each member has equity in the network. Incentivisation could range from setting-up interviews, to agree to be approached by a hirer or simply for giving a relevant reference. Tokens could be used for democratic votes on how the platform operates and to promote community-based resolutions. These tokens will also have intrinsic value over the longer-term especially if the platform is used by large numbers of people.

Third, more secure and quicker payments to workers can be delivered using digital smart-contracts between client and worker. This can reduce cashflow problems caused by delayed payments to workers and reliance on payday loans. Etch are developing pilots in the UK construction industry, paying contractors almost immediately after they have finished work. Using a combination of technologies including blockchain, the platform allows workers to share wages earned with family, including overseas, with low remittance fees.

Fourth, blockchain can help to reduce transaction costs; it is estimated that decentralised, peer-to-peer work platforms could reduce fees from between 15-35% to below 5% for many categories of workers, as the involvement of intermediaries is diminished.

Finally,digital work audit trail, which records evidence of work done, in a tamper-proof record,will over time give more confidence to the labour market and help to prevent exploitative work practices such as unlawful deductions from wages. It will also help to ensure legislative compliance, for example with the Modern Slavery Act.

The UK is well positioned to build the next generation of global work platforms on blockchain with interested industries and technology hubs. The UK government has been positive to the benefits of blockchain, and I have given two examples from many UK based start-ups leading the way in developing blockchain solutions for the employment market. Using blockchain technology, for example, in the verification of UK degrees, will send a positive message on UK’s innovation and competitiveness and also develop useful expertise in important new skills.

It is impossible to predict exactly how industries will develop and what type of work will be needed in the future. But we have an opportunity to push a new social contract for good work using digital work platforms and this requires a big-picture approach that includes consideration of lifelong learning, education and taxation.

I am working with technologists, start-ups and early adopters to build the next generation of work platforms; let me know if you are interested in helping and if you want to learn more about blockchain, a good start would be Don Tapscott’s TED talk. If the next generation will live past 100, then we can begin to build the foundations of a better, fairer economy, one block at a time.

This was a guest post for the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) 

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The Seven Deadly Sins Preventing Meaningful Work

Prof Katie Bailey

People are more likely to view work as meaningful when it mattered to others more than just to themselves.  In our article, “What Makes Work Meaningful?”, we highlighted some research findings on the qualities of meaningful work.

 

Professor Katie Bailey, from the University of Sussex, and her research team interviewed 135 people working in 10 very different occupations (retail assistants, solicitors, nurses, soldiers, stonemasons, street sweepers, entrepreneurs, priests, artists, writers and academics) and explored what makes work meaningful for them and also, what led to a feeling of meaningless.

 

The researchers found that that there were five key qualities of meaningful work and that times when people found their work meaningful were often intensely personal. Meaningfulness is bound up with feeling a sense of accomplishment and doing a good job.

 

For organisation designers, leaders and managers, it is interesting to investigate the question: What are the factors that serve to destroy the meaningfulness that individuals find in their work?

 

We have all worked in work environments that were dysfunctional in some way, I certainly have.  Tolstoy observed that happy families are alike, but unhappy families are unhappy in their own special way.  It’s similar with organisations.

 

 

Working out why an organisation is not a positive environment is a complex task, but employees working in jobs they don’t find meaningful is likely to be a contributing factor.

 

Here are some of the factors that destroy meaningful work, some of which might resonate with you too?  (Listed in order from most to least grievous).

 

The Seven Deadly Sins of Meaningful Work

 

1 Disconnect people from values

Those interviewed often talked about a disconnect between their own values and those of their employer or work group as the major cause of a sense of futility and meaninglessness. This issue was raised most frequently as a source of meaninglessness in work. A recurring theme was the tension between an organisational focus on the bottom line and the individual’s focus on the quality or professionalism of work. One stonemason commented that he found the organisation’s focus on cost “deeply depressing.

 

2 Take people for granted

The lack of recognition for hard work by organisational leaders was frequently cited as invoking a feeling of pointlessness. For example Sales Assistants talked of bosses who did not thank them for taking on additional work.

 

3 Give people pointless work

Individuals had a strong sense of what their job should involve and how they should be spending their time.  A feeling of meaninglessness arose when they were required to perform tasks that did not fit that sense.  Nurses, academics, artists, and clergy all cited bureaucratic tasks and form-filling not directly related to their core purpose as a source of futility and pointlessness.

 

4 Treat people unfairly

If people feel that they can’t trust their leaders to be fair, open and equitable, then they are unlikely to find much meaning in their work.  Forms of unfairness ranged from distributive injustices to freelance musicians being asked to write a film score without payment.

 

5 Disempower people

Quite often a sense of meaninglessness was connected with a feeling of disempowerment, or overriding people’s better judgment over how work was done.  Lawyers talked about being forced to cut corners to finish cases quickly.

 

6 Isolate people

Feelings of isolation or disconnecting people from supportive relationships at work were linked with meaninglessness. This could occur through deliberate ostracism on the part of managers, or just through feeling disconnected from co-workers and teams. Entrepreneurs talked about their sense of loneliness and meaninglessness during the startup phase of their business, and the growing sense of meaningfulness that arose as the business developed and involved more people with whom they could share the successes.

 

7 Put people at risk

Unnecessary exposure to risk of physical or emotional harm was associated with lost meaningfulness. For example, nurses cited feelings of vulnerability when left alone with aggressive patients.

 

These seven destroyers emerged as highly damaging to an individual’s sense of their work as meaningful.  When several of these factors were present, meaningfulness was considerably lower.

 

For those who are involved in managing teams or implementing digital transformation initiatives, then understanding which features  makes work meaningful for people is important.

 

In my article, The Campaign for Meaningful Work, I shared some thoughts on the “why of work” and the flaws with our past initiatives around improving employee engagement.  One impact of this, is that of ‘displacement’.  In HR, we could have spent the effort and energy (read blood, sweat and tears) on finding out what really does drive employee wellbeing and productivity in our organisations.

 

As an optimist, I believe organisations have the opportunity to solve current organisational issues if it brings in evidence-based approaches and capitalises on the employee/organisational data it has.  With well-designed and funded research programmes carried out by academics and practitioners we have a better chance of  creating jobs that provide meaningful work.

Reference

What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless   Bailey, C. & Madden, A. 2016 ‘What makes Work Meaningful – or Meaningless’.  MIT Sloan Management Review, 57(4): 53-61

(This was a guest post for HRN Blog)

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What Makes Work Meaningful?

Meaningful Work Glass Bead Consulting

 

Thirty seven percent of British workers think their jobs are meaningless, according to a YouGov survey, which is a really shocking statistic if you think about it.

In my article, The Campaign for Meaningful Work, I shared some thoughts on the ‘why of work’ and the flaws with our past initiatives around improving employee engagement.  In the absence of a strong causal link between engagement and productivity, my ‘hunch’ was that ‘meaningful work’ is important for our own personal sanity and well-being.

So the question for leaders in organisations and the HR community, is,

How can organisations provide work that is meaningful?

There are different ways of responding to this question and one source of evidence is to look at the scientific research.

I recently met up with Katie Bailey, Professor of Management at the University of Sussex to discuss her research on Meaningful Work.   A quick review of the scientific literature shows that there is surprisingly little research which explores where and how people find their work meaningful. 

As part of the research the team interviewed 135 people working in 10 very different occupations (retail assistants, solicitors, nurses, soldiers, stonemasons, street sweepers, entrepreneurs, priests, artists, writers and academics).  The group was asked to tell stories about incidents or times when they found their work to be meaningful.  

According to Katie, “the overwhelming majority of people seem to find meaning in at least some aspect of their job. In fact, 86% of people said that their jobs were meaningful”.

The team found that there were patterns of work from their research which they categorised as five qualities of meaningful work.

Five Qualities of Meaningful Work

Self-Transcendent, or working for a higher goal

People are more likely to view work as meaningful when it mattered to others more than just to themselves.   From the interviews, an example is the garbage collector who found work meaningful at ‘tipping point’ at the end of the day when refuse was sent to recycling.  This individual could see his work contributed to a clean environment for his grandchildren.

Poignant

Meaningfulness is not always a positive experience.  We don’t walk around in a euphoric state all day at work. For example nurses use their skills to ease the passing of patients at the end of their lives.

Episodic

Meaning can come and go during the working life, rather than an everyday occurrence.  For example, the lecturer “feels like a rock star” after delivering a good lecture, or the stonemasons leaving their mark into a stone that might be discovered in hundreds or years.

Reflective

Meaningfulness was rarely experienced in the moment, but rather in retrospect and on reflection when people were able to see their completed work and make connections between their achievements and a wider sense of life meaning. One academic talked about research he had done for many years that seemed fairly meaningless at the time, but 20 years later provided the technological solution for touch-screen technology.

Personal

Work that is meaningful, on the other hand, is often understood by people not just in the context of their work but also in the wider context of their personal life experiences.  An example was an entrepreneur’s motivation to start her own business included the desire to make her grandfather proud.

So, what insights can we elicit from this research?

First, it emerged that the individual feels that they have done a good job and therefore experience a sense of achievement or pride. No one said to us, “Hey, I did a really poor job today, but it meant a lot to me.”  For example, the street cleaners talked of looking back along the street they had just cleaned and feeling they had made an important contribution to the neighbourhood. The stone masons explained that they found their work meaningful when they had successfully completed an intricate carving.

Secondly, in most cases it was important that the individual could see they had contributed to their team, other individuals, or a wider cause. Some talked of the importance of a sense of camaraderie or belonging, others talked of times they felt recognised or valued by clients or the public. For instance, the retail workers talked of helping vulnerable elderly customers.

Finally, the times when people found their work meaningful were often intensely personal.  One entrepreneur had started her bakery business to make her grandfather proud of her. A hesitant author was emboldened to embrace her craft following a chance encounter with another customer in a stationery shop who assumed she was a writer. A soldier talked of the importance of her family being present at a dinner held to celebrate her military service.

Over the years I have shared my ideas about making work more meaningful, including linking the work to something bigger, empower people to organise their own work and ditching that annual engagement survey. 

If you really want to understand what employees think about their job, then ask them.  “Feedback is the killer app” for management, as Josh Bersin says.  New technology makes this possible whether using pulse tools or analysing responses to open questions such as Workometry.

For those who are involved in designing new organisations, managing teams or implementing digital transformation initiatives, then understanding which features  makes work meaningful for people is important.  You might also find this article of interest, "The Seven Deadly Sins Preventing Meaningful Work".  Hopefully we will see more workers finding meaning in their work in the future.  I am looking forward to seeing how this fascinating research area develops.

Reference

What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless   Bailey, C. & Madden, A. 2016 ‘What makes Work Meaningful – or Meaningless’.  MIT Sloan Management Review, 57(4): 53-61

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