The days of a “job for life” are over. It’s no longer the norm for a worker to spend decades at one company, moving up through the ranks. Globalisation and the information age have created rapid change in what work looks like, and both employers and employees have had to adapt to remain competitive and relevant.
At the same time, employee engagement, productivity and satisfaction are on the decline. According to a recent 142-country study by Gallup, 87% of global workers are disengaged with their jobs. The very technologies that have changed work can also split employee attention from “deep work” — the very work we most value and enjoy.
How can employers use tech to determine and nurture employee strengths within the new model of work? Here are six big changes in the HR and engagement world that will play pivotal roles in that transformation, as we build the workplace for the future.
A Contract of Alliance
The traditional employer-employee contract — long-term service rewarded by predictable progression — has become outdated, on both ends of the exchange.
Employer-employee relationships could morph into “contracts of alliance” — agreements that include informal planning and finding common ground between the employer and the worker to help both meet their goals. Such an agreement in the workplace of the future could look something like this:
- We will work together to align and grow your skills with outcomes that enhance our business, so that work can be fun, fulfilling and sustainable.
- We will create an environment where you can focus on doing your best work.
- If a future alignment between us is unattainable, we will facilitate that change amicably.
- I will explore how I work best, which skills I have and which I need to gain.
- I will listen and respond to constructive criticism.
- I will be flexible, enjoy new challenges and tackle them to the best of my ability.
The Science of Flow
An interesting concept in organisational psychology is that of “flow,” which could provide the key to optimising and measuring the way we work. Companies should strive to help employees stay in a “flow state,” which is where their greatest productivity is achieved. Flow involves structuring tasks to keep the worker “in the zone,” maintaining levels of challenge and skill without the work getting too stressful or boring. It comprises three areas:
- Absorption (cognitive)
- Enjoyment (emotional)
- Interest (motivational)
Flow is highly personalised, as people’s skills and motivations differ. With communicative workers who know themselves well and an experienced manager with the right skills, it can be made a reality. However, helping all workers to reach a state of flow requires an emerging set of technologies based on artificial intelligence and personalisation.
Digital Personal Assistants
When we think of the sci-fi world of cyborgs, we picture various bits of technology stuck to a humanoid body. This is not so far-fetched. We are already augmented by our mobile devices, digital assistants connected to people and information that help us navigate the world more easily. Traditionally, a personal assistant was for senior executives only; now, work apps can help anyone organise their projects, track performance, anxiety, energy and enjoyment levels. These are the very elements we need to understand in order to get and stay in flow.
When collected, this data should be protected, shared only as both parties deem necessary. These apps are tools to empower employees to understand themselves and improve, without fear of having one’s privacy compromised. So where does that sharing take place? In the invaluable one-to-one check-in.
In a world of instant but distant communication, face-to-face contact with managers is more important than ever. According to Microsoft, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times more engaged than those whose managers do not. Employees also value whether their managers know about their lives outside of work. The best managers make sure they get to know their employees and help them feel comfortable talking about any subject — work-related or not. Not all managers are willing or able to do this, which is where augmented check-ins can help.
There is tech available that can schedule and organise check-ins and also coach managers so that anyone can raise their managing game. It can also monitor whether check-ins are completed, and whether everyone is satisfied. Check-ins then become where each party evaluates their alliance contract and chooses which projects and tasks are a key focus. This is called “automatic job crafting.”
Automatic Job Crafting
This involves matching job tasks and expectations to the right people. It works by automatically cross-referencing what has been shared about the employee’s flow with the work at hand. The system helps identify and monitor tasks, while motivating the worker through balanced autonomy and feedback. For instance, someone who is intrinsically motivated tends to thrive on more autonomy, where someone who is extrinsically motivated needs goals and targets.
Pragmatic People Analytics
It is a widely held view that technology removes human bias. Technology itself may be neutral, but the way the tech is applied directly influences what employees create. Due diligence needs to be applied to any tools that are advising us and making decisions for us. The future of AI functionality depends on us to make sure AI amplifies, not subdues, human values.
For pragmatic people, analytics is about taking a practical approach based on the usefulness of analytical methods — like big data, predictive and machine learning. Used only when it gives real value, not hype, AI enhances flow. Intelligent technologies allow us to focus on what really matters — making the future of work fun, fulfilling and stable for us all.
See Mark speak on “A Practical Guide to HR and AI” at UNLEASH London on March 20.