The workplace is changing and it’s changing rapidly. A combination of technological innovations and economic trends mean businesses are having to adapt quickly to developments that are not always easy to anticipate. And inevitably their responses have a knock on effect for employees. Rarely has the workplace felt so insecure and it’s no accident that 82% of us feel stressed in any given week.
So what are the challenges driving this uncertainty. Technological change is happening at an unprecedented rate. There is a race to digitisation with companies worried about being left behind. Yet there is a skills shortage in the UK, nowhere more so than in the very areas that are most needed; in technology and artificial intelligence, where competition is fierce to attract the best talent. There has been considerable economic volatility, not least as a result of Brexit which means many companies are holding fire on important investment decisions until we get clarity on the future. There is a trade war brewing and we have the perennial problem of Britain’s low productivity. Meanwhile falling consumer demand is the result of almost static wage growth for a decade, with little sign of movement, whilst consumer debt is at levels not seen since the financial crisis.
And these challenges are transforming the workplace environment and will continue to do so. A number of factors combine to increase the pressure on employees. There are greater workload demands as stripped back businesses seek to do more with less. We’ve seen the disappearance of the career ladder. The proliferation of zero hours contracts increases the uncertainty for many employees. And emerging business models, which are expected to proliferate in the future, operate with a much reduced core of permanent employees, with labour supplemented from online platforms like Upwork. Finally we have the longest working hours in Europe and an “always- on” culture in which employees can work from anywhere at anytime
This is the demanding employment landscape that forms the background to BWC’s new research with Robertson Cooper. The findings of “Creating Well Workplaces” suggest the prevailing approached to employee wellbeing fall short of what’s needed to enable employees to negotiate their way through and succeed in the fast changing workplace that is emerging. Businesses need to reappraise how they will build the levels of resilience and adaptability that will be needed for employees to succeed. The report suggests that more employee self- management is needed – of their careers and of their wellbeing. Employers still have a vital role to play in creating the wellbeing programmes that will allow employees to maintain their health and build their resilience. But organisations also need to shift away from a paternalistic approach to wellbeing, to one that is more of a partnership model where businesses and employees both do their share.
The report includes some great examples from the banking sector of wellbeing initiatives that exemplify what the research is calling for; that is wellbeing initiatives that are employee led or have very high levels of employee involvement and represent the kind of partnership approach that will be essential in the future.