Preparing for the future of work 

Kate Field, Global Head of Human and Social Sustainability at BSI explores how businesses can prepare for the future of work as it is shaped by the twin impacts of an ageing population and technology

Preparing for the future of work 

Long before the pandemic, there was plenty of speculation about the future of work, and whether it would be more flexible and remote, or whether we’d simply work less. Then, when Covid-19 hit many organisations had no choice but to adapt and rapidly shift ways of working. From working remotely to technology being deeply embedded in all aspects of our jobs, work fundamentally shifted during that period. 

Even without Covid-19, the twin impacts of an ageing population and technology, especially AI, mean that how we do our jobs in the future was never going to be the same as how we did them previously. The World Health Organisation projects that 22% of the world’s population will be over 60 by 2050. As populations age, people are likely to be working for longer, with more generations coexisting in the workplace at any one time. The opportunities and impact of this will likely be transformative for individuals, organisations and society. 

For business leaders these shifts pose questions – around creating a culture in which workers of so many different generations work well together. There are also things to consider around workplace accessibility, or how you upskill both digital natives and those who are less used to technology? For businesses, now is the moment to explore strategies to support meaningful careers and sustainable work throughout everyone’s lifetime and think in depth about what can be put in place to ensure individuals can thrive and remain productive throughout their career.

Collaboration between employers and their employees sits at the heart of this. BSI’s recent research Evolving Together: Flourishing in the age-diverse workforce identified the importance of listening to the workforce and finding out what’s most important to individuals in it. We spoke to senior professionals from nine countries, spanning seven sectors, about what they wanted to see in the future. What emerged was that they favoured structural shifts – how, where and when work is done, formal leave policies and economic considerations. Although the rankings varied between countries and sectors, all highlighted health, flexibility, renumeration and acknowledgement of caring responsibilities as pivotal. Likewise, training was seen not as a nice to have but as absolutely critical for employees who want to stay engaged and confident, especially as AI transforms jobs.

Rethink health and well-being options for employees

A key trend we noticed was that people want their employers to play a role in health and well-being, whether via workplace schemes or simply ensuring the flexibility for people to have regular check ups to maintain their health. 

There is no one size fits all way of delivering this. It may be about employers offering training on common mental illnesses, ways to improve mental health, or providing specific advice for key issues such as financial well-being. For physical and psychological health, the focus could be on employers proactively mitigating work-related risks and the impact of the work itself. In other cases it may be enabling personal physical and mental health improvements, for example by supporting targeted interventions around areas like encouraging fitness or smoking prevention. 

Consider flexible working options

The other factor business leaders across the board prioritised was flexibility, primarily around where, where and how much we work – and secondly around caring responsibilities. There was appetite for formal compassionate and personal leave policies as well. Of course, not every job can be done part-time or remotely, but Covid-19 demonstrated the scope for adjustments when necessary. For employers focused on retaining talented people, BSI’s research makes clear the importance of looking at how they can, for example, innovate when it comes to job design, move frontline workers to new roles, or modify schedules. 

Collaboration between employers and employees 

At heart, this is a two-way street. Effectively consulting employees about what they actually want and understanding their understand specific needs and expectations offers an opportunity to enhance employee engagement. 

While there may be some disparities between individuals priorities and what organizations are able to provide, these are not insurmountable. Many businesses and employees thrived against the odds during Covid-19. As working dynamics shift once again in response to demographic changes, technology and new expectations, there is an opportunity for businesses to think about this future and prepare for it so that the future of work suits us all, whatever our age or stage. 

Kate Field
Kate Field

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