Flexible working, which is only made possible by new technology, is now much more prevalent but also creates its own set of challenges for business managers and leaders.
With the pension age increasing Peter O’Donnell, CEO of Unum explains that and people staying in the workforce for longer, adapting the workplace and culture to support older workers and employees across several generations will also play a huge role in the future. Having identified these three trends – advancing technology, the demand for flexible working hours and an ageing workplace – how can businesses implement practical changes to ensure they attract and retain the best employees who are in turn motivated and productive?
Switched on: The role of technology in the future
Advancing technology is clearly a huge factor to bear in mind when planning for the future. The use of technology affects the relationship between business leaders and their employees, and raises the expectation and needs of the workforce. While there are undoubtedly huge benefits in technology, there are downsides too. Unum’s Future Workplace report found that nearly three quarters (73%) of British workers today feel they are expected to always be available for work and employees often feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of tasks thrown up by this increased efficiency.
While some companies have taken action to ensure employees have the support in place to step away and regroup, the pace at which our connectivity is increasing is far outpacing the steps made to cushion its impact. Encouraging workers to recharge mentally and achieve balance in their busy, hyper-connected, digital lifestyles helps to create a “Mindful Workplace” in which mental health is nurtured.
Training line managers to spot and deal with mental health issues ensures employees are supported correctly if they feel overwhelmed, and line managers can attend training sessions developed and accredited by Mental Health First Aid England.
Establishing this type of workplace isn’t about getting rid of technology, it’s about setting a balance. Within the office itself, zoned-off office spaces for relaxing meditation and naps could become mainstream in the future, with employees taking time out for contemplation.
Technology itself plays a role in ensuring workers switch off and will be increasingly used for this function in the future. For example by stopping emails being sent and received outside working hours or configuring workers’ devices so they cannot spend excessive periods on them.
Preparing for the future means developing systems which are both simpler and more intuitive to deal with the increased pressure brought about by technology. This could be as straight-forward as establishing minimalist layouts across email and social media platforms, converting all text to a clearer typography and enlarging pictures.
Doing away with the 9-5 routine
Such technological gains have revolutionised modern living in general. Our lives no longer revolve around routines as people move towards an always on and always connected lifestyle. We’re no longer limited to opening hours but shop online and can be reached and reach people anytime and anywhere.
This is also mirrored in the workplace as technology allows people to work remotely and outside of regular office hours. Offering flexibility in the future will be the key to success for many businesses, both in terms of attracting and retaining talent, by giving staff responsibility for their own working patterns and performance.
The challenge with flexible working is ensuring employees still feel in contact with and supported by their colleagues, and that clients understand when they can and can’t expect a response. In the future, employers will use employee data to better understand staff working patterns and behaviour, using this insight to create a more tailored working environment and role for employees, as well as providing a benefits package which best meets staff needs.
The ageing and cross-generational workforce
Through advances in medicine and healthcare, and due to the rising pension age, we’re seeing more older employees in the workforce. An “Ageless Workplace” allows “returnment”, encouraging older workers to remain or return to the workplace instead of retiring, and sees workers energised to continue to work until a later age because they want to, rather than have to. With increasing numbers of people working later in life, companies could see up to four different generations within their workforce, all with different requirements.
This diverse workforce means that employers need to evolve the benefits and support they provide, tailoring their offering so all employees feel cared for. By looking at an individual’s age and situation (for example have they recently become a parent) as well as wider factors such as their role and job demands, employers can provide tailored benefits packages.
Benefits like Income Protection, which support employees financially if they fall ill, will help organisations demonstrate they understand the needs of their workplace. Many businesses also take advantage of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) which are usually included within Group Income Protection and which provide employees with day-to-day support such as counselling and legal advice, to stop problems developing in the first place.
So, what does protecting your business and employees for the future mean? It’s about meeting all these challenges and having the agility and conviction to make changes to ensure the longevity and success of your company. In a recent study, we found that UK businesses face costs of between £29bn and £101bn* if they fail to get to grips with the changes we had outlined. For a 100-strong company, these hiring costs and the impact on productivity equate to between £643,000 and £2.2m.
As Britain leaves the years of recession behind and businesses look to grow and recruit, creating a workplace, culture and benefits package which can evolve alongside changing demographics and habits will be key to recruitment and retention. Employees will be looking for an employer who understands them, and which prioritises workplace wellbeing. All businesses, regardless of size or sector, can take simple steps now to protect their workforce and business in the future.
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