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"People are more reflective on what work means to them and the role that it plays in their lives today."

Victoria caught up with Alys O’Neill, our co-founder and Director of Consulting, to discuss the recent Work Remastered survey results.  

For the past four years, United Culture has carried out an in-depth survey into the future of work. But this year, our outreach was bigger than ever.  

What is the reach of the survey and who participated?

Over 1,100 people participated in the research globally, so our reach was more extensive this year.  

What for you are the key takeaways from the research?

There were some surprises, and a few contradictions!  

It’s interesting that people are clearly more individually minded. People are more reflective on what work means to them and the role that it plays in their lives today.  

It highlights the real challenge that managers have on their hands in meeting and balancing very different individual requirements with the need to build a sense of team and community and get everyone aligned behind the same goal.  

I think the research also shows that we are still only starting to see the true impact that hybrid working is having on businesses.  

There’s a lot of work to do to understand how we make it work, and how we also ensure it is equitable irrespective of role. Hybrid working just isn’t a possibility for everyone because of the nature of what they do, so we have to find another way to offer those people flexibility too. Hybrid and flexibility have become a little muddied, and they are different things – flexible working encompasses so much more.

I think the stats around work-life balance also indicate that more people than ever are rejecting hustle culture and are carving out stronger boundaries. That seems to be very much linked to life stage, as well as generational nuances.  

What opportunities do the results present to leaders?

The research reveals that there is more pressure than ever on leaders and managers to engage people in the right way.  

Leaders have a real chance to drive the debate and make crucial changes to the employee experience, so that it is fit for the future in their organisations and meets people’s expectations of work today.  

And when it comes to leaders themselves, the research showed that the scale of what people expect from them is broader than ever. Not only are they supposed to be responsible for setting the strategic direction of a company, but they also need to be guardians of culture, role models, wellbeing champions, and have a view on the latest cultural and societal issues.  

They have an opportunity to step back and build capability differently and reframe the role that leaders play in organisations today.  

What do you think leaders to do differently? How should they be showing up?  

We still need leaders to be confident, to provide clarity, and be fast decision makers. But we also need leaders who are willing and want to collaborate, who are empathetic, and authentic.  

It is impossible for them to be all things to all people, but leaders do need to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses as they stand today in this new world of work. They need to build teams that complement or close the gap between their own skillset and personality traits. They also need to let go of some of the traditional command and control power, break down outdated hierarchies and bureaucracy, and empower and inspire their people differently.  

What do you think the biggest watch out for businesses is when they are thinking about what they need to do to build a work environment that is fit for the future?

There are three things that stand out.  

Not involving people in the decisions that affect them won’t fly moving forwards. Mandating change without context and collaboration will mean companies will haemorrhage talent.  We can see that play that out right now with the widespread return to office mandates.  

Companies are already trying to recapture old ways of working and cultures that no longer serve them. Times have changed and we need to embrace that to survive. There is no going back.  

We also need to urgently reframe the role of the line manager and invest and develop this population so they can play the role they need to – both for their own sakes, and for the sake of their teams.  

The survey highlighted that three of the key things people want from work are work life balance, security and working with colleagues they get on with. What do you think is driving this?

The current economic climate and socio-political instability is driving the need for security. But coupled with this, COVID was a game changer for people – it gave so many of us time to reflect. People used it as an opportunity to reassess why they work, and reconsidered the choices they make.  

So much of people’s identities have historically been tied up in how they chose to make a living, and for that reason work was often all consuming. I don’t think work necessarily defines our identity or who we are anymore, at least not entirely.

Work means something different for everyone and we need to help leaders and managers be more comfortable with that notion. I don’t think the broad brushstroke generalisations about certain generations lacking commitment and drive are helpful – we should be focusing on mindset instead and accepting the nature of work for people today.    

People are much clearer now on what they need – some want to find a community, others want to work in a field that they’re hugely passionate about, and some want the stability of a job that does not require anything of them beyond a predefined amount of effort.  

Although there are definitely commonalities, what people value about work and how they find fulfilment is different and it’s a manager’s responsibility to understand their motivations and mindset and engage people accordingly.  

Not everyone in your team needs to be a passionate advocate – but they do need to feel a sense of connection and they do need to understand how what they do impacts the bigger picture.

Hungry to find out more about Work Remastered and the trends identified? Access the research report here.