The film Future Risk: The Next 60 Years is a series of interviews with academics and thought leaders on how work will change and possible impacts on our health, safety and wellbeing.
Contributions from PwC, HSE, Professor Cary Cooper, the ILO and Work Foundation.
Harold Wilson said by the year 2000 people would be in what he termed the “leisure age”. Will the technology create more opportunities for leisure? I don’t think so.
We know that there are tremendous technological changes going on now.</p>
And I believe it is the most significant change that has happened to the world of work for the past 300 years and suddenly we have found a way of creating value with very little human intervention.
Does work have a future? I think work does have a future, and is work good for you? It is very good for you.
I think the future of work, at least for the next ten or twenty years, I think was set by the recession itself.
(Prof. Cary Cooper, Robertson-Cooper) What happened in the recession? Downsizing, massive downsizing by organisations. There are fewer people, they are doing more work,
they’re feeling more job insecure, they’re working longer hours and what has happened in terms of reemployment of those people is most of those people are now on short term contracts, they’re running their own businesses, they’re freelancers, so the nature of work has changed. Jobs are no longer for life, and people are now, what we really call in my trade, the contingent worker. Their job is contingent on them producing but they could lose it.
(Michael Rendell, PwC) Ten or fifteen years from now, we could see life expectancy double. That won’t mean you’re going to retire at 65 or 68, it might mean you’re going to retire at 90. You might have a 60 or 70 year working life. How is that going to feel? How is it going to feel when you’ve got a 95 year old working alongside a 23 year old?
(Deborah Greenfield, Deputy Director-General for Policy, International Labour Organisation) We’re seeing a rise in informality now. These are really jobs that don’t belong in the formal economy. Taxes aren’t paid, there are no labour inspections, there are no labour standards, ages are often late if they’re even paid at all. Overtime is rampant. So they elude the standard regulatory framework.
(Michael Rendell, PwC) Automation, artificial intelligence, robotics, I see that as being a very very powerful force for change, I think second around customisation and what people want in having more choice about what they work, when they work, where they work, it’s been described as the gig economy. And this millennial group that’s coming through, we want to change the way we work, we want to have more control, I’d say that is a secondary thing and I suppose the third thing is an ever greater drive for efficiency which puts huge pressures on businesses and puts huge pressure on those people operating in those businesses.
(Lesley Giles, Director of Work Foundation) We need to realise there is an increasing pace of innovation and change across the economy which is affecting the world of work in all sorts of ways, it’s creating uncertainty, it’s creating volatility, it’s creating complexity, in way that we haven’t seen before.
(Deborah Greenfield, Deputy Director-General for Policy, International Labour Organisation) We know that there are tremendous technological changes going on now, but that’s only a partial beginning to the debate for the future of work for us. We are not techno-determinist, in the sense that we say all the jobs are going to disappear, that’s it. Instead we are looking at the ways in which technology will affect the world of work and how we can develop the policies so that the future of work is the future that we want it to be.
(Michael Rendell, PwC) I think what this technology allows us to do though is people can be much more self-directing so they can create their own agenda, they can work a little bit more at their own pace, I think it is going to put pressure on employers, to make sure that they are attractive so as we move into these so called elastic talent pools, the gig economy, people are going to have so many more choices.
(Prof. Cary Cooper, Robertson-Cooper) There will be counter-trends, and that some firms will say hey, listen, what we want to do is create commitment here and we want reliability, we want a sustainable organisation, that may happen and if it proves to be successful, then maybe, the trend with change. But I don’t think in the short term, I think in maybe 5 – 10 years that will change.
(Michael Rendell, PwC) We’ve seen some interesting examples, something that Finland launched just this month, around actually you have a fixed wage, everybody receives the same level of salary, and if you continue to work on top of that or your jobs change by automation, you’ve still got a basic level of income, so I think we’re going to see more and more of those kinds of initiatives.
(Prof. Cary Cooper, Robertson-Cooper) And then we have the issue of the man and machine interface, really important because these are not simple robotics, these are artificial intelligence robotics, and we’re going to have issues I think in the future with; does the robot control me or do I control the robot?
(Deborah Greenfield, Deputy Director-General for Policy, International Labour Organisation) because we are a normative organisation and believe that people deserve to work in dignity and in jobs that are safe, that don’t harm their health, that allow them to support themselves and their families, and in the changing world of work, that can become challenging.
(Prof. Andrew Curran, Chief Scientific Advisor, Health and Safety Executive) Try and imagine a future of world of work where there is a very distributed work force, where you have autonomous systems working independently from humans, maybe speaking to each other, where there are different ways of creating and developing different outputs from those kinds of processes, and that brings the questions to the fore about who owns the risk, how should that risk be regulated, how do you make sure you’ve got the right responsibilities with the right people. You’ve only got to look at the autonomous vehicles world or indeed the artificial intelligence sphere to think, how, if an artificial system, creates a situation where new risk is introduced or safety isn’t necessarily designed into the algorithms, how would you regulate in that space?
(Michael Rendell, PwC) I think the whole automation / artificial intelligence debate and how we are seeing that transform many businesses, that’s increasing levels of stress, people are worried about what’s my contribution, am I going to lose my job, how do I continue to add value? What is the value that I as a human being can make versus this wonderful algorithm or this fantastic robot that somebody has built? I think people are struggling to find their place in the work force, I don’t think we as people are particularly good at collaborating with machines. We are used to machines doing things that we tell them to do, in the future we’re going to be collaborating with a colleague and that colleague just so happens to be a machine. So I think the stress that is bringing into the work place, as people are looking for their place, the place that they add value, that increasing over the next few years.
(Prof. Cary Cooper, Robertson-Cooper) then we have communication and information technologies which in my view we haven’t managed well. So if you look at risk in organisations now, one of the factors never looked at, is technostress, in overload. People are now on 24/7, and that has risk because we don’t have rest and recuperation or respite from the communication technologies, we’re on the smart phone all the time and because it is so simple, we can access it at night when we are with our families.
(Prof. Andrew Curran, Chief Scientific Advisor, Health and Safety Executive) one of the great assets that we have within the health and safety executive, is forty years of investigating failure in the context of the workplace. That information is hugely valuable because if you can build it into innovation space, you can build it into new designs, new approaches and new technologies early enough then hopefully you can design out some of the health and safety issues before they become problems.
(Prof. Cary Cooper, Robertson-Cooper) So with all of these kinds of changes taking place, I think a wellbeing culture is needed, now why is needed? Well, if more people are more mobile, and they no longer have loyalty to the employer because the employer no longer has loyalty to them, there is no real psychological contract between employer and employee anymore. If that’s the case, you want to retain people for as long as you can. If you want to retain them for as long as you can, then you have to create a culture in which they feel valued and trusted.
(Michael Rendell, PwC) again we’re used to an environment where if we’re busy we feel valued, and if we keep ourselves busy in order to feel valued, maybe actually in the future we’ll just be doing those small interventions, that will add more value to the process and that will make the more mundane activity gets done by the machine.
(Prof. Cary Cooper, Robertson-Cooper) a very interesting question, does work have a future? I think work does have a future. Will the technologies create more opportunities for leisure? I don’t think so. What it will do is it will create opportunities for people to do different things, and different kinds of jobs, but not to stop work. And is work good for you? It is very good for you.
(Michael Rendell, PwC) And I believe it’s the most significant change that has happened to the world of work for probably the last 300 years, much more significant than the industrial revolution, much more significant than coal and steel and other things because suddenly we’ve found a way of creating value with very little human intervention. So that’s a big change and it picks right at the heart of what humanity is all about.
(Prof. Cary Cooper, Robertson-Cooper) Keeping cognitively active, being socially engaged with other people, Is a part of the human condition that is important and that is what work provides you.