Change is everywhere. It feels like the pace is accelerating. No matter where I look it’s hard not to see it. I wonder what life in 5 years will be like, let alone in 50 years.

The world of work is experiencing this too. Shifts in markets, technology, politics and people’s expectations are all shaking old certainties. I feel that what worked for us over the past 100 years is not what we need in the new world of work.

For those of us that want to build successful businesses, create services that people want to use, and gather high performing teams around them to achieve this; I firmly believe that we need to elevate trust and great communication behaviours in our organisations. Encourage collaboration and shared purpose. Value engagement and staff fulfilment just as much as profit and market share.

To respond positively and successfully to change, people and relationships will make all the difference.

Comfortable old certainties

There was an old model to the way we worked, an unspoken but deeply understood contract between employer and employee. We strived for a career that often looked like this:

  • A stable job for life, often with the same company.
  • A career ladder that was laid out and as long as you kept your nose clean, put the hours in you’d work your way up that ladder.
  • And when you retired at 60 or 65 you’d be guaranteed your gold watch and final salary pension.

The roles we looked up were the steady professions; the bank manager, the high street solicitor, the family GP. These were the people we were told to look up to.

Work was not meant to be fun, it was work. It was not about fulfilment or purpose and meaning for most of us — it was the daily grind. But you put up with it because of that unspoken contract, often backed by a real contract — permanent employment, defined promotional path and the final salary pension.

You put up with the shit and lived for the weekend, found fulfilment amidst 20th century consumption culture and the promise of a comfortable retirement playing golf.

Disruption is smashing the model

This model is breaking down fast, those steady professions that every career guidance teacher thought were so aspirational have either gone, or have changed beyond recognition.

We are starting to realise (perhaps too late) that consumption does not provide fulfilment and worst still is destroying the world around us. We are experiencing a time of massive change and disruption.

The world of work is changing fast, there are example after example of the pace and impact of that change — adoption of technology, the shake up of companies that occupy the FTSE and NYSE, the job roles that are commonplace today that did not exist 20 yrs ago.

The model has been eroded by many forces — technology, globalisation, the power of consumer choice and the commoditization of many services. These forces have led businesses to move steadily away from offering the kind of employment contracts that characterised the old world of work.

So, as employers have removed jobs for life and consigned final salary pensions to history, so too have employees abandoned their end of the unspoken contract. Thus we see shrinking employee loyalty and declining levels of engagement.

Responding to change becomes a whole heap harder when you are reliant on a disengaged people to deliver.

People are looking for different things from work

We spend a lot of time working, many of us define who we are by the work we do. So, if the unspoken contract with employers has gone, what do people get from work beyond their take home pay? If there is no ‘job for life and a decent pension’ guarantee, what’s the motivation.

Where is our why?

Research suggests people are seeking out new motivations from work, new whys and this can explain the rise in what people are saying they want from work today:

  • Engagement
  • Purpose
  • Co-creation
  • Recognition not just reward

The tangible certainties of the past are being replaced by more intangible motivations.

This shift may also be a counter balance the pace of change across all aspects of society. In a world where we feel less secure, less certain and more transient; are we looking to our work give our lives for a sense of belonging and contributing to something that matters?

But why should business care, do they really need to indulge the needs of these people, can’t they just be dismissed as the unrealistic demands of needy millennials?

I believe people and relationships are at the heart of successful working, so these new motivations and expectations are important because;

If you want to attract and retain the best talent in an age of mobility and low loyalty then you need to meet the expectations of the new workforce, hence the rise in the idea of the ‘age of the employee’. Finding and keeping staff is always near the top in business surveys of big challenges, especially in high skill areas like tech.

If we believe what people say about what they are seeking from work today, then the salary package and a funky office will not be enough. Businesses really need to think about how it feels to work as part of their team, opportunities they offer for genuine collaboration and most importantly help their people understand the meaningful impact of what they do.

Businesses cannot afford to ignore how engaged their people are — key to gaining competitive advantage. There is a growing issue of presentism and ghosting draining productivity. The UK has a well documented productivity issue, higher engagement is one way of tackling this. The Gallop Global Workforce Survey has shown year in and year out how important engagement is in helping a business outperform its competitors.

We are in a period of massive change. This is a challenge to businesses. Tech, social and political turmoil, globalisation, market disruption makes business more unstable than ever. You need a workforce that can adapt and be flexible and resilient.

In the old world of work you could largely ignore levels of engagement, staff were primarily employed to perform tasks to a set pattern. People acquired and refined the skills needed to perform these tasks and with experience were able to do so with increasing ease. This model requires less engagement.

In a period of rapid change, market disruption, new technology and political turmoil, a business and its people need different mindsets in order to thrive.

A workforce that is engaged, resilient, creative and able to respond to unknown future challenges and disruption will enable a business to thrive. This is where value is created.