Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Finding work that needs doing: Understanding changes in the workplace

At the completion of any cycle, whether in the business or our personal lives, we are often called to take some time and think about the proverbial chapter just completed. Since we have just completed the old year and have been given a taste of what 2012 has to offer, I guess it would be fair to say that this process is currently being played out in the lives of many people and businesses.

Towards the end of last year we were talking about the need for us to find work that needs doing – if you can recall, this forms part of the first critical task according to the Integrative Life Planning model of Hansen (1997). Let us continue looking at some of issues related to this first critical task.

We have said it before, but it needs to be said again: the world of work has changed, and all workers will need to realise that thinking differently in this ever-changing landscape is no longer a choice. A key challenge organisations are faced with, is finding ways to manage their employees in these new times where old ways of doing have been replaced by a new mindset of workers. If one starts looking into related literature on the topic, we will be able to find many examples showing us how employment patterns have changed, how the availability and nature of work and work patterns have changed, and how the link between work and famliy has shifted.

One significant example of the availability of work can be seen on the International Labour Organization (ILO) website. The ILO is suggesting that the number of migrant workers in the world is so numerous that, when brought together, they would be equal in number to the world’s fifth most populous country! If we apply our minds to the challenges brought by these astonishing numbers, it becomes clear in no time that current policy and practice is simply not offering sufficient strategy in terms of dealing with this challenge.

Another example of changes in work patterns, can be seen in the number of American citizens above the age of 65 (previously called retirement) that are still working; this number has almost doubled since the early 1980’s. According to Mark Penn (Microtrends), there currently are 5 million people in the USA over the retirement age of 65 that are still working! At this time, I am wondering what the 2011 South African census will reveal on this issue.

Penn continues to spell out the possible implications of an increase in this number; for one, younger workers now have to compete with even more people for a piece of the same economic pie. Previously, succession planning was less of a headache for companies; with the above-mentioned shift being seen in more and more companies, it goes without saying that a new approach and perspective has to be found.

Taking an even closer look at the changes in the workplace, we see that there are even more perspectives that warn us of looming chaos! In the words of Giddens, a British sociologist, the world is characterised by chaos; this can already be seen in what he refers to as the world being a “risk society”; according to this perspective, there are three important sociological trends we need to take cognisance of: globalisation, de-traditionalisation, and social reflexivity. The latter trend, in the work of Giddens, suggests that it is the move towards reflexivity that is making it possible for people to cope with change and uncertainty.

In our attempt to understand how the workplace is changing, we have already looked into some closely related issues. If I may remind you, we have already spent some time considering what has been called the bigger picture and changing global contexts, we have taken a cursory look at how we can promote the constructive use of technology, and also how to approach new thinking on preserving the environment. Putting all of the above together should help us understand how we need to approach the first critical task spelled out in terms of the Integrative Life Planning model.

To conclude our current discussion, please allow me to leave you with 5 statements on the workplace of tomorrow (today?):

1.In the organisation of the 21st century, there is less emphasis on jobs and an increased emphasis on tasks and assignments

2. Workers will still be performing tasks, but they will also be required to create tasks, i.e. for projects. This implies a shift towards becoming more entrepreneurial in their thinking.

3. The actual place where work will be done, will change. No longer will work be limited to the office, but will it also spread to other locations.

4. Every person will be regarded as a temporary worker.

5. Workers will start forgetting about work and will think more in terms of finding work that needs doing.

Take a few minutes to ponder the above; next time we will be looking at these statements in the context of the 21st Century and will assess what the implications for career planning and development will be.

Based on the work of Sunny Hansen: Integrative Life Planning: Critical Tasks for Career Development and Changing Life Patterns

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