What will the future of work look like in the UK?


BLM brought together HR and business leaders to discuss what the future of work will look like and discuss the current motivations for employees working across businesses small and large, across the UK.

In your opinion, how is the world of work changing?

Leanne Bridges: “At A-Gas we’re seeing a shift away from traditional working hours and we’re reacting to that. It isn’t always easy though as we have manufacturing and office-based staff, so you do need to find a balance that suits both.”

Heather Cooper: “There is lots of change now – we’re embracing different types of flexible working, engaging with different talent pools and the motivation staff have is changing too.

“How you think about culture is becoming more important too; and this can be key in ensuring that all your employees who work in different parts of the business come together.

“We’re going through some big programmes of change but the average age of employees in our business is thirty-four, so we’re not seeing much resistance to this. The average mindset at Hargreaves Lansdown wants to achieve a work life balance.

Vicky Parfitt: “We’re primarily a manufacturing business so the work is 24/7 and we operate very structured shift patterns, so it can sometimes be difficult to offer this side of the business flexible working. But if you offer it to the office side of the business then, quite rightly you’ll hear that it’s being done for the office people but not the manufacturing side.”

Adam Hardwood: “The reality is that we need to open our ears to the workforce and listen to how they want to shape their working patterns. Perhaps in traditional manufacturing companies, it was a case of you’re the people who do the work and we’re the bosses but that’s not how we see it – and we’re much more accommodating.”

Karen Stephens: “We have lots of workers out in the field and we’re seeing changes to how they work, and part of this is more part-time working and job sharing. We’ve also engaged with Perkbox as an employee engagement tool and this is having a positive impact. It’s early days but this is where we want to be.”

Christopher Allen: “One of the challenges is that we’re still fixed on the concept of ‘working the hours’. If we stick to working the hours we naturally go to a command and control way of working but many of the companies are starting to trial flexible working patterns, so there is a tension.”

How are you approaching changes to work as a very large organisation?

Josie Peadon: “We employ 56k people in the UK and we approach work from the perspective of what the client wants but also on what a certain department needs. We offer flexible working and we have the scope to give people different contracts and shift patterns.

“We also have our own app which everybody has access too. Technology has been key for us helping front line staff keep in touch with their manager – whom they might not see from week to week. When staff aren’t being supervised daily, technology is an important tool to harness.”

How can smaller companies adapt to how work is changing?

Neil Douglas: “It’s challenging but it’s something we’re taking seriously. For example, we operate four day working weeks and more flexible hours – so people can work between ten o’clock and three o’clock, should they wish.

“We conducted an employee survey last year and it was interesting that what came back as most important for them, was flexible working.”

Marie Hodgson: In a smaller business much of it is down to trust and you can have informal arrangements in place, so being a small company can be an advantage as you can be agile and implement practices that other businesses can’t. But when it comes to flexible working, this can be challenging when you have different parts of the business and working patterns – such as field based, office based, or factory based.”

Christopher Allen: “In my opinion, managing flexible working across different teams is a training issue and heads of departments need to realise that flexibility will be different for different teams. You can only do that by putting fewer constraints and policies in place.

“Netflix is a good example. They have a document which just says, ‘be a great employee’”

What other trends are you seeing around the future of working?

Stuart Price: “There was a recent survey which shows that the UK could potentially be more productive and add £20bn a year to the economy by fully embracing flexible working. This is because people would spend less time commuting and it would also relieve stress.

“So flexible working is something that we can’t ignore. Looking at the end of an employee’s working life is also becoming a bigger part of the conversation and pensions are on the radar more now
than ever.”

What does being a family run business mean when it comes to working patterns?

Emma Cox: “Culture is everything and you’re coming to work for a family business, so we try hard to break down the lines of ‘you work in the manufacturing side of the business and you work in the office part’.

“If we need people to work on the lines I’m there and the Managing Director will be there. It’s very fluid and everybody who joins the company will work across every part of the company.

“We also work closely with staff to listen to what they have to say and listening is the most important thing you can do, as it allows you to develop a career path and plan and to stick to it; and this may mean moving from one part of the business to another for example.

“Finally, regarding flexible working that’s interesting and you need to be careful because many people on the production side of the business like the shift patterns and we wouldn’t want to change them. It goes both ways.”

Regarding motivation to work, what is it that motivates people the most to work?

Marie Hodgson: “Every client is different, but career development is commonly important and helping people to move through the business and develop a career path.

It’s all about listening to what employees have to say and then acting on it – this carries a lot of weight.” 

Christopher Allen: “People with purpose are the happiest and retained people in the business. But to gain people like that is the challenge.

“I’ve been working with Innocent Drinks and they are fabulous at allowing people to work out who they are and switch roles if they discover that they enjoy something else more.

“Interestingly they also champion people when they leave and put them on the wall as an achievement of somebody that the company has developed. If you set up your own business – they make a golden star out of you.

“More companies don’t do this because they don’t think about the emotional capital of their staff.”

Neil Douglas: “I believe it’s the full package – it’s flexible working, it’s development and it’s employee benefits.

“It doesn’t always have to be expensive either. We can’t offer the same packages as larger employers, but you can implement small perks such as yoga classes and sports masseurs which engage with staff in regard to their health and wellbeing. There is lots you can do and listening is always at the heart of it.

“In a small company the career path can be challenging because you can promote and develop people but if they want the top jobs, they’re often relying on somebody leaving.”

Christopher Allen: I find perks interesting. There is something called the hedonic treadmill, whereby people are so used to getting perks, no matter how small, that they constantly expect one. You must be careful because in order to attract and retain people as a small business you can end up spending lots of money on perks but lose the motivation of why they’re in the business in the first place.

“The biggest perk you can give people is talking to them – and that costs nothing.”

What part are pensions playing in employee retention and developing staff for the future of work?

Stuart Price: Pensions are very important because you must think about when you finish work too, because you can’t just rely on the state pension.

“But the younger generation have different aspirations and needs – if they have spare money what are they spending it on? This is where flexible benefits can be good because it gives choice and allows you to pick what suites your lifestyle.

“I would also say that the workforce is more engaged since auto-enrolment. People now know more about pensions but often what they’re putting aside is not even touching the sides to where they need to be. But of course, not everybody can afford to put money aside.”

Leanne Bridges: “I guess there is change around pensions and the freedom of pensions too, whereby people might want to draw some of it earlier in their life and before retirement and they can also take their pensions elsewhere, as more people are having multiple jobs.

“The final salary style pension is becoming a thing of the past and dying out.”

Stuart Price: “Yes, pensions are becoming more flexible and there is more freedom around them, but if you give too much flexibility you will end up with nothing to live on. I still believe a pension should be much more about after work.”

Does there need to be more financial education in the workplace?

Heather Cooper: “Financial awareness and the financial journey of an employee is important too. Many young people are coming out of education with no information about this.

“As an employer we’re helping people to understand about this. Young people aren’t interested in pensions – they should be but they’re not. Young people are interested in spending and not saving. Not all of course, but as a trend generally this is the case.”

David Deidun: “Financial education really is important and it’s something we drum into our staff as soon as they join the business and throughout their time with us.

“I remember when I was at school, we had a symposium class each Friday afternoon and people from different professions would visit us and you’d listen to somebody talk about their particular trade.

“On one occasion we had a bank manager come in – he had what we thought was a fancy car and suit. I was very curious in those days and I asked him how much he earned? He said, ‘all of it!’ and I found that an interesting answer. That was an early introduction to finance for me and it was the moment that made me decide I wanted to work in this field.

“We all have a responsibility around this, and I think it’s important.”

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