“We don’t stop living when we go to work and, very often today, we don’t stop working when we arrive home.”
The line between work and home is disappearing, says former Financial Times columnist Richard Donkin in his new book. “We don’t stop living when we go to work and, very often today, we don’t stop working when we arrive home.”
Technology has merged our working and personal lives, creating a more unified experience described in The Future of Work.
“If the computer screen is not yet the Big Brother of George Orwell’s 1984, along with invasive accomplices like the BlackBerry and iPhone, it may be seen as a kind of tolerated Little Brother, ever tugging at our sleeves for attention,” Donkin writes.
Donkin opens the book by recounting his experience at a funeral, where a colleague was checking his BlackBerry, a reminder that today, people can work anywhere, at any time.
What will be the key influences on the future of work and the workers of tomorrow?
Donkin lists several, including:
Standardization has turned the fulfilling work of the artisan into the cheerless repetitive job of the factory worker. Most businesses have closed systems and rigid policies and have “removed the discretion that allows people either to use their initiative or to impose their personalities and style on a job.”
Work is here to stay, but it isn’t working well. “People deserve better,” Donkin writes.
In 2011, the oldest Baby Boomers will turn 65, heralding the biggest retirement wave ever, which will be about 79 million in total.
In the past, people rarely retired early. Donkin suggests that older workers continue working longer. “To be working full-on one day and finding oneself in retirement the next is simply not natural,” he writes, calling for a gradual transition into part-time work.
Companies are often hesitant to hire aging employees, but a U.K. Department of Trade and Industry study showed that older workers were as productive as younger ones, and often had better attendance records and lower stress.
The World Health Organization foresees more unhealthy workers, predicting that diabetes deaths will rise 50% in the next decade and that global obesity levels will skyrocket. Companies can save millions by proactively caring for workers. British Telecom launched health initiatives in 2005, leading to a 33% decline in workers using sick days, saving $48 million annually.
Separately, studies show that working more than 55 hours a week can cause stress and mental decline, a sure threat to productivity of companies demanding long hours from workers.
Women in the workplace.
Many of America’s low-paid jobs, such as cashiers and cleaners, are done primarily by women. In contrast, research published by Catalyst in 2004 found that Fortune 500 companies with the highest percentage of women in top management or on the board significantly outperformed companies with the lowest percentage of women in those roles.
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British Telecom let 600 workers begin working from home in 1998. Today, 6,600 workers telecommute, saving the company $58 million.
Social interaction in the workplace is changing with the times, moving away from the water cooler to social-networking sites such as Facebook. The result is deeper engagement with workplace peers and a rise in what Donkin calls “presenteeism.”
The Net Generation.
A 2008 study found that young people’s highest priority in a job was meaningful work. What’s more, more than half of Internet-savvy youth in North America prefer to work outside the office and work flexible hours. Most jobs do not offer that option.
The blurry line between home and office makes it important for employers to embrace the idea of “human capital,” a concept Donkin knows well. In 2005 in the United Kingdom, he helped launch the Human Capital Standards Group.
That organization measures how human resources management affects bottom-line performance.
As the workplace evolves, the task of managing human capital will become more important for companies, spurring them to show greater concern for the human component of business.
“Just as there is a greed for money in today’s society,” Donkin writes, “there is a greed for people. Business must learn to share their people. Companies do not own the lives of their employees.”
Donkin recommends more freedom for workers, advocating a 30-hour workweek, or the option of working four days (10 hours each, if necessary) and taking Fridays off.
Near the end of the book, Donkin digresses down a science-fiction path, offering a bizarre vision of a quasi-utopian future in which everyone is connected through a ubiquitous “Wall.”
Still, Donkin writes convincingly about the future of work and makes persuasive arguments for why change is needed. Most of the arguments are not new, but since they’ve gone largely unheeded by the business sector at large, their restatement seems worthwhile.
Via USA Today