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Happy New Year and welcome back to work — and to Working It! On the podcast this week, I talk about workplace predictions for 2023, with Taylor Nicole Rogers, the FT’s US labour and equality correspondent, and Sophia Smith, co-editor of this newsletter. One of the things that Taylor predicts is lay-offs among HR and diversity and inclusion staff, as companies look to save money. “They need the finance people more than they need the people people,” Taylor says.
Sophia points out that some trends come from the world of dating and romance — including “career cushioning” and “job cuffing” — the latter is hitching yourself to a job for the winter months, in advance of a spring thaw and a better jobs market. All of this may indicate another big trend for 2023: the rise of the personal over the corporate.
Lucie Greene, a brand strategist and futurist, gave some thought-provoking predictions which we could not include in the final podcast — but we will return to in another episode. Lucie notes a blurring between work tech and our personal use of platforms and websites. “People are using MailChimp and SquareSpace for both enterprise and their personal side hustles,” says Lucie. Many consumers are paying to upgrade Zoom accounts to professional ones — just for their personal use.
In a further indication of all-round “blurring”, Lucie also thinks a lot of business-focused brands will be making themselves more like the mainstream apps we all use in daily life. “A lot of them are trying to look like Uber or Instagram — being cool and culturally relevant is now synonymous with being a good product, even in a business context.” Even factories and industrial companies, Lucie says, are hiring cool creatives to give themselves an image makeover.
Next week, we talk about whether we should be more open about our failures at work — should we include the jobs we didn’t get on our CVs? With Farrah Storr, Substack’s head of writer partnerships, and my FT colleague Brooke Masters. (Isabel Berwick)
What would you like to see us cover in Working It this year? Write to us at [email protected] to let us know.
Top stories in the world of work:
1. The changes at work from 2022 that will last: Office life changed hugely in 2022. Pilita Clark predicts that some of these changes — such as evolving rules about hybrid, and the increasing popularity of sneakers and backpacks — will continue into the new year.
2. Life lessons from the self-employed: With so many people working remote or hybrid jobs, working life is superficially much more like freelancing than ever before. Viv Groskop, a 21-year veteran of the freelancing world, shares her guidelines for continued growth and productivity.
3. Why ‘overboarding’ has become a hot issue: How many board seats are too many for one person? The answer depends on who you ask — but there are concerns over how thinly some serial board members stretch themselves.
4. Business books to read in 2023: Kickstart the year by picking up a title on managing your time better, developing a “tomorrowmind” mindset or lessons from successful rule breakers.
5. How the City of London adapted to hybrid working: FT research has found that while there’s a divide between firms that let employees choose where to work versus those that are demanding staff return to the office, hybrid work is here to stay.
Personalised employee experience is on the horizon
A possible recession looms — which would normally shift power away from workers. But as baby boomers enter retirement age, workplace demographic changes mean that this time around, workers will still retain leverage.
Samantha Gadd, founder of the employee experience consultancy Excellent, says: “It’s an employee’s market even amid mass lay-offs. Organisations are still fighting over the best people, and those people hold the power.
“Our work lives are so one-size-fits all, and it just feels very clunky and old school,” says Samantha. Last month, Samantha joined 33 other HR leaders to publish an employee experience manifesto, which makes the case for why companies should think about employee experience (EX) in the same way they think about customer experience or user experience. One compelling reason is that companies with better employee experience are more profitable, according to research by consulting firm Willis Towers Watson.
Whereas an organisation’s culture is its collective experience, the employee experience is individual. This can include tailored, personalised perks and benefits packages that workplaces offer individual staff members — anything from flexible and hybrid work and scheduling to pay rises, training and career development. Even the daily duties in a job description could be up for discussion.
Pay is one area that is likely to see a lot more personalisation. For example, some workers might choose a lower base salary if it comes with more paid time off. According to Culture Amp, which develops employee engagement tools, high performers respond more strongly to recognition than lower-performing peers, so something like clear delineation between standard pay rises and merit-based increases will help them see the return on their efforts. “Flattening the playing field completely is dissatisfying,” says Ken Matos, Culture Amp’s director of people science.
Another area ripe for personalisation is training and career development. Ken predicts that the organisations which most successfully manage turnover will be those that build change into the natural employee career cycle. This could amount to a manager and their employee planning out the next year in order to springboard that person into their next opportunity. Approaching employee development like this can also boost a company’s reputation and provide a long runway for training a replacement.
Mike Bechtel, chief futurist at Deloitte, predicts that regardless of whether an employee leaves or stays, internal training will be important this year. “There’s increasing gnashing of teeth over the last couple of years over the mythical ‘rock star’ [employee],” says Mike. Hunting for deeply specialised workers is time and effort intensive — and they’re expensive to hire. Instead, companies will shift those resources to in-house training, and will increasingly see employees’ desire for variety as a feature, not a bug. One approach could be offering workers the opportunity to rotate through different roles, or split their time in ways that meets both their interests and the needs of the company.
And just as the employee experience is moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach, there’s also divergence between companies. When Covid hit, everyone was going through the same experience at the same time, but now “we’re starting to fragment”, says Ken. “There’ll be a visible differentiation again rather than everyone doing the same thing.” So while some companies will lean heavily into the movement towards personalising the employee experience, others will be moving in the other direction — toward policies like mandated in-office days.
The key in any move towards personalisation, says Samantha, is for companies to consult their employees. “Leaders prescribe solutions because they think they should, or because they think employees will ask for something unreasonable, but I hope more organisations will take the next step of asking employees what the solutions should be,” she says. (Sophia Smith)
In the final Ask Jonathan column of 2022, one FT reader asks for advice on rebuilding their confidence after leaving a bad manager.
Reader TechTeacake’s advice is to prioritise yourself, your career and your sanity above all else:
Always seize control of your own career and don’t hang around in the hope of workplace justice — it could take a LONG time to ever happen! The other option is to consider contracting. I found this opened up more interesting, well-paid work and less politics.
Reader ricsto moved on from their own bad experience by trying to better understand their bad boss’s position:
I had a truly awful manager who continually criticised my performance and threw me under the bus. He had a reputation for this type of behaviour and had previously had HR investigate him for it. There’s no excuse for his awful behaviour, but I tried to understand him a bit. I discovered that his bullying always coincided with him being under extreme pressure from his senior team. The realisation that he made himself feel better by taking it out on his staff helped me come to terms with the fact that it had nothing to do with me or my performance. Rationalising the experience this way helped me move on from it.
Reader George Horsington reminds us that therapeutic practices are worthwhile when the advice to “just move on” doesn’t help:
A lot of “just move on” advice ignores how traumatic and painful working for a bad manager can be. My thoughts are to share your experiences and feelings with someone you trust who can hear and validate you. There may be a lot of hurt and resentment bottled up inside you that you need to pour out. Writing down what happened and how it made you feel also helps. Pain needs catharsis. Then maybe you can breathe deeply, gather yourself together and move on.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
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