World of work facing shifts

Margaret Gilsenan sees major change happening in the workplace as a pent up sequence of events is unleashed

As you read this article, I hope we will be sitting at tables of more than six, singing and dancing and starting to see the end of a world dictated by yellow and black signs. What we cannot ignore is the impact of the changes we saw in the past 20 months or so. Nor to forget that across history, major world events brought with them huge and positive change in their wakes.

The Spanish Flu changed healthcare for ever, while the Second World War brought more women to the workplace, started to break down social elites and saw the introduction of the UN in a bid to create a more peaceful world. “All great changes are preceded by chaos,” said Deepak Chopra. It is evident that Covid is going to have a big impact on the world of work.

How we work? Where we work? What we work at? It has brought in its wake a perfect storm of digital democracy, flexible working, location agnosticism, conscientious consumerism, rejection of certain roles (not least HGV truck driving across Europe) and an awareness of the environmental crisis facing us. We can talk about things getting “back to normal”.

Workplace trends in play: Two current complementary trends have been named The Great Resignation (I am leaving this job) and The Great Reappraisal (am I doing the right job?), both resulting in the huge employee turnover widely covered in the media. Margaret Gilsenan says a third trend should be added – ‘The Great Opportunity’, to harness the best aspects of change because as people leave and move on, new hires take their places.

We can lament the old ways pre-Covid-19, or we can grab change by the throat, let go of our set ways and become flexible so we can make the most of what is before us. If you are an advocate of positive change, you know that it allows us to move forward in life, to experience new and exciting things. So let us look at how change may impact employees and employers.

How has the pandemic changed how we, as employees, should/want to experience work? We benefit from lessons that would never have happened without Covid-19, not least the old belief that working from home will never work. We have reconsidered what we perceive as valuable, like the type of work we do, work-life balance and in-person communications.

We are likely to enjoy more flexibility in our work, with some Government supports already in place. We want and are likely to have more autonomy in our roles, as people have now proven they can be trusted to deliver remotely. All commentators talk about change making us more creative, because in uncertainty, our problem-solution and creative skills improve.

We are, whether by design or default, living more sustainably. Working from home even two days a week means less commuting, less traffic, less out of home food packaging and less new clothes required. There is a changing attitude to mental health. Instead of employers expecting employees to self-cope, employers are looking for new ways to support staff.

Like helping them to physically and emotionally avoid burnout. Two current complementary trends have been named The Great Resignation (I am leaving this job) and The Great Reappraisal (am I doing the right job?), both resulting in the huge employee turnover written about in publications from The Irish Times to The Economist to the Harvard Business Review.

However, as people leave and move on, new people take their places. With them comes ‘The Great Opportunity’, to harness the best aspects of change. The Harvard Business Review/Gartner HR anticipate that to accommodate the aforementioned employee needs, and to ensure that they continue to attract the best talent, employers must make changes.


They will shift from managing the employee experience to managing the life experience of their employees, which covers a multitude from hours, to expectations, to type of work. More will adopt positions on social, political or cultural issues – providing staff with employers who have greater meaning of purpose for them. They must also manage wage gaps.

Current research shows managers see in office workers as higher performers and may reward them accordingly. However, there is a danger this could favour certain cohorts over others, across gender, age and race. Work flexibility will shift from location to time. Employees will be judged on output as opposed to the old hourly criterium.

Mental health support will be the norm. They will ‘rent’ talent to fill the skills gap. It is near impossible to reskill the workforce fast enough. JFK once said: “There’s nothing more certain and unchanging than uncertainty and change”. We need to watch how the world of work evolves as we emerge from the mists of Covid-19.

Margaret Gilsenan is founder and chief strategy officer at Boys+Girls





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