Our Future of Working Roundtable held on 6 December 2022 provided much food for thought and an excellent springboard for further debate, discourse and discussion on this topic in the new year.
Our Chief Professionalist, Professor Deen Sanders OAM facilitated this lively session with our expert panel who explored a range of unravelling factors from productivity, profitability, efficiency, technology, talent attraction & retention, diversity and work-place well-being.
Here, we share some of the key take-aways from the session.
Our first expert, ACoP’s Chief Futurist, Dr Simon Eassom examined the paradoxes of the 21st century and suggested that the idea of ‘work’, be it a 4-day work week or otherwise, is an urgent social issue as much as it is an economic issue, reflecting a desire to dismantle the constructs of work perpetuated by the 19th century industrial era driven by outputs, directed by time. He stressed the importance of the balance between work and play and engaging in meaningful work that Australians long yearn for.
He proposed that the social challenge for the 21st century is therefore to enable people to engage in meaningful work and not clamour for the four-day week, which Simon observes is a band aid on a system that’s increasingly damaged. Instead, at a minimum, he shares that it’s about enabling good work for everybody as satisfied by three necessary conditions:
- Work that gives people acceptable control over the money they need to sustain a meaningful life
- Work that allows the individual the autonomy to create a working environment that includes human interaction, personal development and the full utilisation of their talent, skills, abilities and energies
- Control over the when and how of work that enables them to combine work with other important life tasks and responsibilities such as caring for their family, exercise, eating healthy and social interactions
Simon continued by outlining the four cornerstones of the new world of work and the changing nature of work experience:
- Culture trumps rules!
- It’s about working, not about jobs
- Building teams becomes the significant factor in leading overall improvement of an organisation performance, moving away from hierarchical structures, instead using technology to better collaborate
- Leadership is not about management, it’s about coaching
Simon concluded by inviting us to not just reflect, with a deep frustration, around the way in which we endured meaningless knowledge/office work for decades, but a punctuation in that cycle that is giving us an opportunity to rethink a move forward around the future of work.
Our next presenter, Shivani Gopal explored what an inclusive, diverse and equitable work environment will resemble in the future, drawing our attention to the other impacts of the four-day work week on women if we move the dial too fast without a proper strategy and focus on what this means for genuine inclusion. potential negative ripple effect of a four-day week for women.
Shivani warned that a further exacerbation of gender roles in society could lead to a further widening of existing gaps – the gender pay gap, the leadership gap, the superannuation gap and the wealth gap.
She reminded of how the pandemic exasperated the gender roles in society and how women were often the ones left to juggle both professional and domestic duties, citing the Australian Institute of Family Studies’ staggering statistic that 78% of women carried the mental load of all households, thus impacting brain space, efficiency and ability for worm to each full ambitions and dreams and the potential negative ripple effect of a four-day week for women.
Shivani shared preliminary findings of her Landmark national research on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (D,E&I) in Corporate Australia, covering the gender pay gap; and the paradigm shift of the need to reposition Diversity, Equity and Inclusion towards Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (I,E&D).
Shivani concluded by recommending that a well-constructed I,E&D strategy is to incorporate it into an organisation’s EVP and ESG strategies, allowing organisations to be set apart from their competitors and establishing them as employers of choice.
Our third contributor on the panel was Rowena Ditzell, who is currently undertaking her PhD research on the future of work and alternative work schedules, including the Unilever trial. Rowena began by grounding us in the notion that there are many different ways that the four-day week can play out. The most common model is the compressed work week, where historically we tended to shove five days’ worth of work into four longer days.
Rowena explained that the model that she’s exploring is somewhat different in that it’s about still getting paid for five days, but doing so in 80% of the time (ie: four days), sometimes called the ‘100-80-100’ model predicated on the fact that people will need to do things differently if they want to achieve the desired outcomes.
Rowena talked through some of the initial findings from this fascinating work from a business perspective ranging from employee outcomes, wellbeing, engagement, job satisfaction and job conflict. Observations included a significant change process which saw improvements over time, coupled with support from management to deliver successful outcomes. With the extra time on people’s hands, it became clear that both men and women with caring responsibilities were able to use that time for their own personal benefit in a positive way. By giving people back time, there are significant benefits across a number of domains. Rowena concluded by encouraging us to think about genuine change and how things could be done differently in the future.
The event drew to a close by Deen facilitating an engaging Q&A session and provoked our thinking by asking if ‘future workplace flexibility’ is just another code word for ‘doing more with less’ and being ‘rewarded more for less’?
As he points out, professionals and professional workplaces have a choice, reflecting that ‘choice’ is in fact the function of privilege, noting that until and unless we see workplaces that understand and respect genuine choice, even with the existing biases, we will not be able to move to a place of equity and flexibility in the future.