CIPD Podcast 109 - Looking ahead to 2016

Date: 05/01/16 Duration: 00:19:22

Welcome to our first podcast episode of 2016! In this episode we ask three leading thinkers to share their predictions for what the next 12 months will hold for HR and L&D.

Sharing their insight and foresight Professor Sir Cary Cooper, 50th anniversary professor of organisational psychology and health, Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, Dave Coplin, Author and Chief Envisioning Officer, Microsoft UK and Inji Duducu, former group people director, Benenden Group discuss the key issues facing HR and L&D in the changing world of work including automation, wellbeing, performance management, the leadership of the future, the ongoing debate around email and the concept of finding the right balance in the emerging phenomenon of “work-life integration”. 

What are your hopes and aspirations for 2016? Share your focus for the coming year on Twitter @CIPD using the hashtag #cipdpodcasts.


Philippa Lamb: Happy New Year and welcome back to the podcast. To mark our first episode of 2016 we’ve invited three forward thinking folk to share with us their insight, foresight, guidance and wisdom about what the next 12 months will hold for the profession. It’s an edition that behind the scenes we’ve called the ‘Look Ahead’ episode, for obvious reasons. But looking beyond the day-to-day to what might lie ahead can make all the difference to your organisation and to your career.

Now every year the CIPD chooses big themes to focus on for the year ahead and for this podcast we’ve chosen our guests to chime with three of them. Dave Coplin is Chief Envisioning Officer for Microsoft UK. He tells us where tech take us next and, Benenden’s former group people director, Inji Duducu, talks about the way ahead of leadership.

First though Manchester Business School’s professor of organisational psychology and health, Professor Sir Cary Cooper on why it could be dangerous to follow America’s lead on wellbeing at work.

Sir Cary Cooper: The US human resource management community has, I think, let employees down. First of all mostly you don't get much holiday time. Paid maternity leave – you've got to be joking, most American firms don't have it. And it’s a long hours culture. The way managers and HR functions there is lethal really. We’re heading in that kind of direction in my view.

PL: Wellbeing is a timely theme for the CIPD this year. The data tells us that just two in five of us are working at peak performance at any one time and stress has overtaken muscular skeletal problems as the leading cause of sickness absence. So for Cary this is decision time – do we really want to mimic workplace culture in the US?

CC: Because we see the US as kind of an engine of the developed world, the irony is of course we’re doing pretty well in the UK. We’re doing as good as they are from a growth point of view and I think if we adopt more of their HR practices we’re going to be in trouble.

PL: Of course we have plenty of unhealthy working habits here in the UK, some of them set in during the recession years but despite a recovering economy they’re not going away. A long hours culture; not taking all our holiday entitlement; habitual job insecurity; we already know this toxic mix leads to absenteeism but it’s presenteeism that really makes Cary uneasy.

CC: Yeah, that's the one that worries me the most. Sickness absence rates have kind of stabilised at a high level, but stabilised, and that's because people are frightened of being off ill. So that's that. So what we’re getting a lot of is presenteeism. Most people who talk about it think it means coming to work ill because you’re frightened of not coming to work and having on your HR record the fact you have a lot of absences.

PL: And what do you say it means?

CC: And I say it’s much broader than that. It is coming to work delivering no added value whatsoever, you’re not ill but you’re not there.

PL: You're not contributing.

CC: You’re present but you’re not delivering. And really what we need are healthy people, engaged, wanting to work, working hard but not necessarily long, because we don't need long. We do know from the research if you consistently work long hours you will get ill and by the way long is over 40, we’re turning up early, we’re staying late, we’re sending emails from home at night. And we’re not recovering from the pace, the load, the insecurity of work. And I think the presenteeism thing is troubling me because I think that is what is reducing our productivity.

PL: And when it comes to productivity the UK comes in at number seven in the G7, but why is that? It’s long been something of a mystery until now perhaps.

CC: Governments talk about looking for a magic bullet. Here’s the magic bullet for productivity: we need better equipment. Huh? The UK doesn’t have good equipment? Wrong. Globally we’re one of the great users of IT, one of the biggest. In my view we overuse IT. Emails are killing us and killing our productivity because we don't manage them. I’ll talk to people and I’ll say, “What did you do today?” and they’ll say, “Oh I had a great day today I finished my emails.” And I said, “No, no, no, tell me what you did today? What product did you create? What idea did you come up with? What service did you think about?” And you know what they say, “Nothing, I just did my emails today.”

PL: Did you know that work/life balance has a new name? Work/life integration. It would be funny if it wasn't quite so chilling. With smartphones always on and always on us many of us have no true downtime anymore, no space to hide from our work, our colleagues, our clients. And for Cary it’s wellbeing or the lack of it that lies at the heart of the UK’s productivity problem. But if that is true what should we be doing now, as the New Year begins, to tackle it?

CC: There are a lot of potential interventions. Let’s take a look at, say, resilience training, we know that works. But more important than that is for organisations to do online wellbeing audits of their employees, finding out from them what’s troubling them. An employee survey is not enough because an employee survey is very generic, it’s an “Are you stressed?” No, no, we’re not into that, we’re into your perception of different aspects of what’s going on around you. “What’s the impact of your line manager? Is there good communications? Do you have long hours? Is there a glass ceiling for women?” But more important than anything is the line manager. If you have a socially sensitive line manager, somebody who is really skilled, they’ll recognise when people aren’t coping and help you deal with it. They won't overload you. They’ll give you balance. They’ll allow you to work flexibly. They’ll do all the things that employees now need.

PL: The business case for these wellbeing interventions is it well-established now?

CC: Oh yes. It’s very well-established. I mean there's absolutely no question about it. We know there's something like a 0.4, 40% relationship between a wellbeing culture and productivity but in terms of sickness absence it’s well-established.

PL: So there's data for HR managers…

CC: The data’s around.

PL: … to take into the boardroom and say, “This is damaging your business.”

CC: No. And not only that we even have the ROIs; we have the Returns on Investment to show things.

PL: So for HRs pondering on this difficulty and thinking about how they’re going to convince their CFO to do something to alter the culture and to introduce wellbeing strategies, what is the first thing they should do?

CC: Actually if you’re trying to influence the CFO, use the ROI, the Return on Investment. Show the CFO, he or she, that really this is a bottom line issue. They’ll listen to you, probably more than the CEO will, because it’s people who tend to get to CEO positions tend to be workaholics.

PL: So is that the strong tip then go to the CFO not the CEO?

CC: I think the CFO is a better place to go than the CEO, who will think that working all hours God sends is the answer to productivity and they’re wrong.

PL: Cary says emails are killing our productivity, is he right? Tweet @CIPD #podcasts, tell us what you think. Dave Coplin for one says no. He's chief envisaging officer for Microsoft UK and he spends his days researching the role of technology in our personal and professional lives and trying to work out how we can live up to the potential that tech offers.

Dave Coplin: It’s not the technology that's the problem it’s the people that use it. That's the issue. What we have to realise is what we essentially do with technology today is we replicate old ways of working. The thing that we use technology for most is actually just to repeat all of the business processes that existed in many cases that they go back to Victorian times and all we use the technology for is to make those old processes a bit quicker or a bit cheaper. That's not the point of technology; it’s not the gift of technology.

PL: Examples. What sort of stuff are we talking about?

DC: Well a classic example, and this is such an easy target but it’s an important one, is email. You know email is just the digitisation of an old analogue process we had called office memos. All we did with that process is we, the geniuses in IT, we digitised it. We made it fast, we made it efficient, we made it slick, we made it cheap. I don't know anybody who doesn’t get enough email, everybody is overwhelmed by email. What we need to do is to say, “Do you know what, maybe there's a different way we can communicate. Maybe the technology affords us a way to communicate in a different manner rather than simply to replicate this old way of working.”

PL: And what might that be?

DC: The big problem I have with email is, if you think about my inbox or your inbox, I think about all of the knowledge that's contained in my inbox that would be valuable for the rest of the organisation but they won't get to see it until it passes through the bottom link which is me. And that's just stupid, I don't work on anything top secret or confidential, why would it be held away, locked away from other people, just because we have this old-fashioned process? So what we could be doing is using new collaboration tools that enable us to communicate with each other, it’s just that we do it a bit like social media, we do it out in the open but all of the little chit chat that you have over email that could be done in an open manner such that when you get the new starter they don't have to ask the same old questions they can just go and look it up, they can go and search on it, so it makes knowledge discoverable.

PL: A radical evolution in email? Sounds excellent frankly but that's not all that's up for a rehash.

DC: There are so many other concepts. I mean let’s look at flexible working as a classic example, why is it in the 21st century that we still feel that we can only work if we’re physically inside the container of our organisation, i.e. our office?

PL: You see I think a lot of people are working like that now aren’t they, even in big corporates and you see this, you see this at airports all over the place lots of people doing the stuff with bits of kit, the technology and the kit is very straightforward now to do that isn’t it but there's a tension isn’t there between, as you say, empowering people to do that, and it sounds great, all the stuff around spending time with your family, doing the domestic stuff you need to do, working when it suits you, whatever, but there is also that tension of is it empowering a thing for you to do or are you actually then driven to do more? And I think that's the anxiety it’s replaced presenteeism in the office, hasn’t it, that it’s the always on, you need to do more?

DC: Well there are two things. Number one, I don't think lots of people are doing this at all. You only have to commute into any major city to see the insanity, thousands upon thousands of people enduring the humiliation of commuting, right? And it’s just a nightmare. But I do take your point about the issue here now is that when you’re given free rein you can overwork. And what we need now is a culture inside the organisation and a culture for the individual and skills for the individual that helps them make a choice. So actually just because I can work 24/7 doesn’t mean that I will work 24/7. But you don't continually work because then you hit burn out. And this is one of the core life skills we need to equip people with.

PL: This plays into another of the CIPD’s big themes for 2016, employability. Now even for school leavers who are technically brilliant there are other vital skills that we now need to thrive in the working world.

DC: Kids in school they’re going to go into a really nebulous self-directed world of work but they’re going to come from an environment that is regimented and structured and you then go into double Maths, double English, PE, do you know what I mean? Unless they’re able to equip themselves with those skills we’re going to struggle with that. So we have to find a way to get people comfortable with that kind of approach, to empower them with the culture of the organisation but also enable them to make the right kind of choices as to when they work, where they work and how they use the tools they have.

PL: Of course the choices about how much to work and how long to work are driven by the targets and demands for your employer aren’t they largely?

DC: They are and this is where we really get into the meat of it because this is all about the culture of the organisation. PL: Yes because given the individual there's still a great deal of job insecurity and anxiety about am I doing well enough? Will I stay in this role? What will happen next year? So people do push and push, to stay, to progress. So for organisations they surely need to take the lead here don't they about limiting what people can do, so shutting down servers at weekends, evenings, we’ve seen companies modelling that haven’t we?

DC: But I think that's wrong.

PL: Do you, why?

DC: I do because I think that's a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. These companies who have email-free Fridays, frankly I think it’s ridiculous because you’re not fixing the behavioural problem you’re just actually blocking the technology.

PL: But aren’t you sending a message and saying, “Actually we’re enabling you to work whenever but we don't want you do to it at weekends”?

DC: But it’s the wrong answer because it’s like what that basically says it’s okay for you to abuse the technology or to do bad email four days a week but for one day a week we’ll stop you from doing bad email by turning it off. I’d rather a conversation that says, “Why don't we get everybody to do good email?”

PL: But won't we end up with a polarisation there? We hear a lot about this don't we? Portfolio careers, this is great for people who are high skill, high potential, high earners, what about the rest? What about the people who are working in the middle, and they either won't or don't want to aspire to higher demanding jobs, they’re in the middle, is this stuff ever going to apply to them?

DC: Well so let me answer that question in a different way because those people are facing probably the most significant disruption in our labour market since the industrial revolution because the algorithms are coming. And just as the Spinning Jenny replaced the weavers of old, algorithms will be doing many of the tasks today’s knowledge workers do. Now we have a choice, right? We have a choice how we deal with that. We can let the algorithms do that and sit on our fat backsides and do nothing for the rest of our lives or we can use that as a gift. If the technology can do more of the stuff that I can do then I can stand on top of that and reach further than I ever could do before. I can do the stuff that the technology still can't. It frees me up. It increases my capability and I think this is the key issue facing, especially middle managers, but also every single organisation faces this dilemma, the disruption in the workforce over the next decade or so is going to be absolutely significant and we have a choice about how we deal with that.

PL: Automation will continue to transform the global workforce but taking an active role in that process will help us reduce the damage and increase the gains and getting that right will need good leadership in the coming decades. Inji Duducu is a former Group People Director for Benenden. Here’s her take on where leadership is right now.

Inji Duducu: The core fundamentals of leadership remain the same; I always say for me the starting point is “do you care about your people?” Leadership is a privilege do you care about your people? And if you don't move out of the way and make space for someone who does.

PL: So it’s the relationship. And I know you feel strongly it’s about leadership is the relationship with whole people, what do you mean by that?

ID: Yeah for me I think this is going to be one of the next stages of engagement. I think engagement started as being, I don't know, a bit mechanistic, we’ll do a survey and we will do an action plan on the back of it and then we will survey again. And I think one of the reasons we’re seeing an increasing trend towards job title change like mine is Group People Director, is that we don't employ human resources we employ people, with families and healthcare problems and lives and hopes and dreams and fears, as we all do. And I think we’re deluded if we think that's not coming to work with them. And I think my view is that you get the best out of your people if you really connect with them in that way, if you really understand that. Timpson’s have a really interesting checklist of things that managers are expected to know about their people and I remember the first time I saw it I thought, “There's only one of my team I could answer that for.”

PL: What sort of things?

ID: Their birthday, when they’re going on the next holiday, the names of their kids, and it’s quite a long list.

PL: Very intimate.

ID: Very intimate.

PL: Is that what everyone wants from their manager do you think?

ID: I think the world is changing. If you look at the way the work was post-war, 1950s, I think I saw a statistic recently that people who are being born today are expected to have 35 jobs in their lifetime; people are willing to move for what they want. I think there's an increasing body of evidence to suggest that yes people are looking for their managers to work with them in a much more human way, to know them in a much more human way. But yes I think our lives are increasingly fluid, I saw a joke the other day on social media: “I'm leaving the office to go home and check my work email!” We work and live very differently.

PL: Inji is convinced we need less tick box performance management and much more ongoing conversation.

ID: Pay cycles, performance cycles, I think there's a growing body of evidence that that's not an effective way to get the best out of your people. So there is an increasing trend for organisations to move towards making that more fluid, not doing away with conversations about how people are performing or what their development is but that just becomes how we do things around here.

PL: And the doing away with the annual appraisals things it’s a tidal wave now isn’t it? Big organisation saying, no more, it’s Microsoft, it’s Google, it’s Deloitte, it’s Accenture, and many, many others, doing away with them, often with quite a fanfare of publicity around they’re gone hurrah! And everyone’s really pleased. But it is an interesting question what they’re replacing them with isn’t it?

ID: It is and we are regulated by three very robust regulators and so we haven’t gone to that place yet and, for example, under our Financial Services Regulators we’re required to demonstrate that our people are trained and competent and fit and proper.

PL: And so it’s compliance?

ID: So yes I think there is something about the external context and what you are required to do. But even so there’s still probably a way of making that better.

PL: Want to find out how the finesse this in your organisation? Well you'll find plenty of tips on the performance management pages of the CIPD website and you can join the conversation in the CIPD communities or indeed on social media and share your thoughts. After all as Inji says if you want to get the best from your leaders and your people try stealing with pride.

ID: I guess what I mean by it is it’s not literally to go out stealing but people are people and leadership is leadership and if you’re grappling with an issue somebody else, somewhere else is and they’ve solved it for them or they’ve learnt some stuff along the way. So I'm a big fan of things facilitated like the CIPD of sharing learning, sharing what’s going on in organisations. There's fantastic stuff on social media. As we say in Yorkshire “there's nowt new in the world”, go away, talk to people, find someone else who’s done it, shortcut what you have to do by taking their learnings.

PL: Don't reinvent the wheel.

ID: Don't reinvent the wheel. No.

PL: If it’s good enough for Sam Walton it’s good enough for us and that's your permission to get thieving. Next month we’ll be investigating why resilience is the buzzword for 2016. What are the characteristics of a resilient organisation? And how can you measure your own resilience? Spoiler alert, it might just involve sticking electrodes on your chest! Don't miss it.

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