Employees’ expectations are increasing. Now it’s time for employers to up their game

When we look back on 2020, we will see it as a tipping point for the nine-to-five, office-bound job for life becoming a thing of the past. But I think it’s fair to say this concept had been brewing for quite some time.

This is what informed the thinking behind the final virtual roundtable in our World of Work series: The future of work. To fuel the discussion, Aster commissioned a YouGov survey of 1,000 employees working at UK-based businesses, which found that, alarmingly, less than half (48%) were optimistic about what the future holds for their careers.

This trend is something we need to urgently reverse. Employees who are pessimistic about their prospects won’t be as driven, engaged or productive as those who feel they have the potential to achieve their ambitions. It’s not good for business and it’s damaging for colleagues on a personal level too.

While it’s clear that employees do want more flexibility, there’s clearly a real challenge in ensuring staff stay connected, motivated and creative in the new world of work. A big part of that is that people increasingly want jobs where they feel they are making a difference. While that includes contributing to the commercial aims of the business, it also increasingly refers to an employer’s social purpose too.

When colleagues feel that a company’s values chime with their own, it gives their job a purpose beyond just clocking in to bring home a pay cheque.

And communication is key to encouraging this kind of engagement.

At Aster, we’re fortunate that we have a clear vision that binds us all together; that everyone has a home. We’re committed to rewarding and celebrating the great contributions our people make, too. That helps create an environment where employees are engaged, valued and excited about what they do, where agile working is the norm rather than the exception.

I expect the concept of agility in work will be stretched even further in years to come.

We’re retiring later in life and people won’t want to work in a very traditional, nine-to-five way into their old age. Rather, they will want to enjoy the flexibility to do different things and take time off.

Having a portfolio career working for different employers on different projects might very well be the future. That could mean having many different income streams, perhaps from a mix of part-time roles, project work, freelancing and consultancy work.

Working like this brings extra flexibility, greater financial security and the ability to pursue opportunities that you are passionate about. But it will present challenges for employers in accessing the best skills and delivering the support that staff need.

So, what skills will managers need in this new landscape?

Supporting mental health and wellbeing, including financial wellbeing, is going to be more important than ever. When people are working remotely, it can start creeping into their personal life, throwing their work/life balance off kilter. To avoid burnout, there need to be clear boundaries and colleagues must factor in ‘me time’ so they still have the energy to continue to work at their best.

And enabling the kind of social interaction that happens naturally when people work alongside each other can help overcome feelings of isolation and loneliness, while also fostering collaboration and creativity – things that every business needs.

So, in ten years’ time, we can imagine that the most dynamic businesses will have a very different structure, employing teams of floating specialists to deliver specific outcomes, utilising flexible workplaces to promote creative collaboration where needed.

Managed properly, the new world of work has the potential to boost productivity and engagement while also creating more stimulating, satisfying jobs. At the same time, the automation of many tedious administrative processes will create more of the kind of higher value, skilled jobs that make rewarding careers.

But this rapid evolution does present extra challenges for managers, for whom people skills will be as important as technical know-how going forward.

2020 was a difficult year to say the least, but it also provided the opportunity to stop and reflect. As our roundtable series draws to a close, I’m reminded of the valuable insights, views, trends and best-practice our panellists have shared based on their own experiences of the changing world of work.

While there’s a huge amount of work to be done in ensuring the transition to a more balanced, purposeful and diverse workplace is as successful as possible across all sectors and industries, what’s struck me most is the shared motivation to collaborate and willingness to drive change – and that’s a good place to be starting from.

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