Wherever you look, it is apparent the ‘traditional’ models of work are under increased scrutiny. Rhonda Brighton-Hall, Flexpert Careers chairperson, explains what’s changing and why we should be excited!

I often think about the future of work – mainly because I’m so eager to get to a better place than we are today. Work, as we know it, is just not very friendly for real people with real lives. Fundamentally, ‘work’ is long overdue for an overhaul, and all the current disruptions present such an abundance of inter-related possibilities, that I’m daring to be excited!

Of course, the bar we’re starting off is pretty low. Our current understanding of work is hanging on to some really old ideas. For example:

The five day week, eight hour day model, stemming from the International Workingmen’s Association in Geneva in 1866

Career paths that were first designed in the 1950s, running from post school/university until one’s mid-fifties, when everyone retired to live out their remaining 14 years in relative peace and harmony. This ignores the fact that we’re already living (on average) into our eighties and are fast heading towards the long touted 100 year life!

Talent processes that assumed no one took a career break, ever, for any reason, so we can all be assessed at our best and most productive in the work place between the ages of 28 and 35 years of age, and no later. For the record, 71% of Australian women have children around that age. The first paid maternity leave came into effect for Government employees in Australia in 1973, so since then we’ve been clear on seeking to keep our careers on track even with some breaks.

We’ve hung on to all those things despite so many other things changing.

Businesses (and lives) are now 24/7. We can move work around our global community in a second, and work is rarely as physically demanding as it was in the cotton mills of the industrial revolution. So, from this point, it’s easy to agree we can do a lot better. Of course, we need to temper our excitement with the reality that some of the disruptors have been around for years and we’re yet to truly embrace the opportunities they offer. Like technology. We’ve talked remote ‘away from the office’ work for ages, but not really mainstreamed it into the big jobs. Similarly, job sharing and part-time. We’ve run whole conferences on flexi-work and shared and re-shared the stories of working mums. Despite that decade of conversation and amazing possibility, it’s still front page news when a big corporate says “we’re going to make our jobs flexible” and conference keynotes are about how hard that is to achieve.

So what’s different and why should we be excited now?

Three things. Three really big things.

1. Economics

Our aging population is forcing us to face the fact that our economic model needs more of us contributing for longer. The large communities of great capability and expertise that we’ve too long left on the sideline – people with disability, women (and men) with children or caring responsibilities, and people over 55 years – are now required to contribute in order for the economy to be productive and sustainable. On top of that ‘work’ as we know is changing rapidly, and shorter working weeks, or fundamentally different work patterns are highly likely, and frankly, required to allow work to be shared quite differently.

2. Social Change

Large scale social change means the gender-based model, so heavily structured in favour of men, is being questioned. Men now expect their partners in life to be as career-oriented as they are. Women expect their partners to be as keen to take a role in parenting as they do. People with children (single parents, same-sex couples, traditional families – in fact all of us) and people with more in their life than work (which is most of us) are changing all the rules by telling their stories and expecting flexibility. Conversations about “Mummy (and Daddy) paths” versus “Partner Paths” are no longer acceptable. We’re also becoming much more aware of wellbeing and its impact and health and happiness, and on longer lives. Its no longer acceptable that ‘work’ creates anxiety, high levels of stress, and long term damage to our phsyical and emotional well-being.

3. Start up Culture

Perhaps most importantly: Courageous and inspiring people are rising up and building businesses in a fundamentally new way and changing the very definition of ‘work’. For example, corporates are losing some awesome talent to social enterprises that are run for people who need to work differently, (if you want an example, look up FightingChance.org.au for some serious inspiration!). Just a few years ago, we called them “social entrepreneurs’. Now we expect ALL businesses to run to a model that is not only financially viable, but also good for people and good our community and our environment.

Against this backdrop, the future of work will start with a rethink of hours. Not “part-time” but work in pieces – all sorts of pieces to make up the seven days in a new ‘normal’ business week. It will move to a rethink of “location”. Work will move to where the people who can do it, want to be. Recruitment will target a much broader group of potential candidates, from vastly different backgrounds. The shortage of key capabilities, and the rapid rise of new ones, will mean we recruit attributes and potential and then train for skills and capability.

Training will move from traditional training facilities to a hybrid model, with much of it taking place just-in-time inside a workplace. Talent management will need to look at potential outside the 28-35 year group to where more great potential lives in people in their early 20s, people in their 40s and 50s, and heaven forbid, their 60s (when most of us will still have 15 years of good work contribution to be made).

Rewards need to be attractive when working very differently (like profit share for people with profound disability who don’t work ‘hourly’ every day). Of course, the rise and rise of portfolio work will also mean most of us have two or three employers, at any one time, as we eagerly build a multi-faceted skillset and experience portfolio, linked to our purpose and passions. And beyond all the basics, leadership will look very different when the ‘caste’ system of organisational structure, built on privilege and a “control test” (which is rapidly in retreat), will be replaced by much more egalitarian expectations. Leaders will need to genuinely attract and retain people based on caring about them, having a positive impact on them and their employability, and providing a much better (virtual) place to work.

Described like this, there’s every chance that the future of work could be much better designed for humans and the society we want to live in today. Perhaps, we could make that our whole objective.

More about Rhonda 

We would like to thank Rhonda for her contribution. Rhonda will be presenting at one of our ‘Ask the Expert’ Events early in 2016. Keep an eye on our LinkedIn page for more details.

Rhonda Brighton-Hall is chairperson of Flexpert Careers. Rhonda is recognised as one of Australia’s foremost experts in human resources and specifically in leadership, diversity and work design. Her fundamental belief is that inclusion and good leadership are not only the foundation stones of good people practices in organisations, but equally of more equitable and prosperous economies and communities. A former HR Leader of the Year and Telstra Business Woman of the Year, Rhonda’s career and experience have spanned senior roles in four large multi-nationals (including BHP, Sara Lee, Luxottica and CBA), across four continents (Europe, Asia, USA and Australia).

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