Key to navigating an uncertain future

The world of work is changing at an exponential pace. Is the future shaping up the way we want?

Increasing globalisation, rapid advances in technology, corporate scandals, political and economic disruptions are just some of the factors contributing to a complex and unstable environment. In this context we have witnessed the demise of once-great organisations, the shortening shelf-life of careers, an imbalance of opportunities and growing discord.

Eight years on from the first shock of the global economic crisis and we’re still feeling the effects of the fallout. The recovery we’re supposed to have had clearly isn’t something that was shared or felt by all. In this year alone, we’ve seen that dissatisfaction boil over, giving rise to unprecedented changes with profound and potentially very long lasting consequences.

New technology and new business models to accompany them have given rise to the gig economy, allowing more people to access work and in ways they have not had before. And when one has a choice about the options, this can certainly be viewed as positive progress. But what about for those who have no choice? For someone facing closed doors to full-time employment, it might mean having to juggle two or three “gigs” on the trot, living hand to mouth, wondering when the next job will come, not being able to take time off sick. How can we build in protection for people in these situations?

Apart from external factors, our own outlook and value systems are also being reshaped. Partly stemming from the prevalence and “post-truth” influence of social media, partly in reaction to perceived inequality, especially around income. As remuneration becomes more and more detached from value, it’s distorting our view of what’s important.

What we are seeing today shows us that that the future is uncertain and far from secure.

But what can we do? How can we steer the course through uncharted waters?

Navigating uncertainty requires adaptability, innovation, collaboration, principled decision-making — qualities that are uniquely human.

The ability of organisations, economies, and individuals to survive and thrive hinges on unlocking and enabling human capability, and work is the channel where this can manifest. Work creates value for the economy, for society and individuals, but it is people that are at the heart of that value creation. Of course, more efficient processes or considered implementation of technology for example, will contribute to a better future of work. But the bottom line is simply this: it’s about people. Empowered, engaged, purposeful people, will power progress through uncertainty.

But how do we deliver a human future of work? For this we will need:

  • a capable, adaptable workforce;
  • leadership and culture that unlock innovation and collaboration;
  • inclusive, accessible workplaces;
  • safe, fair and protected work environments regardless of the work.

Over the past year the CIPD and our friends at Jericho Chambers have convened a community (thank you to those of you who are already involved) of business leaders, HR professionals, policy makers, think tanks, public bodies and academics to surface these ideas and the issues behind them that we collectively have to address — issues like lifelong learning and skills, education, diversity, power and voice. Over the course of next year we will continue to crank up the dial, as we look to consolidate plans for tangible actions and gather pace behind the movement.

Uncertainty is an opportunity, and the key to capturing it is right before us. Purposeful people will power progress. As a somewhat tumultuous year draws to a close, let’s cast our thoughts ahead with determination, and consider how we can make the future of work a human one.