What if we simply just don’t know?

Matthew Syed wrote a brilliant comment piece in the Times paper this weekend on the public debate on the performance of the Government on handling the Covid pandemic. You can read the piece here, but in summary (and for those that can’t access it), the premise of the column was that too many opinions were thrown around before there was enough data and fact to actual judge the outcome. And now that there is, there are few people willing to change their opinions or admit they called it wrong. Before I go on, it isn’t a pro or anti Government piece, it is an assessment of how our public debate and assessment of situations is becoming more tribal and less rational by the day.

By coincidence, last week there was also a tweet by the well known business man, Sir Alan Sugar, reacting negatively to the news that PwC was continuing the practice of “summer hours” and relating it to the WFH debate. I don’t know the PwC policy in detail, but this is an approach I’ve worked with in the past. Essentially it is compressed hours during a period of time in the summer that allows people to work their hours across, normally, four and a half days rather than five. You can read that tweet here.

It wasn’t long before Twitter and thereafter Linkedin were alight with various references, emojis and gifs likening him to a dinosaur. Now, to be clear, I wouldn’t have expressed any view in the way that Sir Alan did and I totally understand the concept of “live by the sword, die by the sword”. But the language and tonality of the debate was an example of exactly the point that Syed was making in his article.

Different people, different organisations, will have differing views on how to handle themselves. Whether that is their strategy, their physical location or indeed their working practices. I’m not sure, in my living memory, that I’ve heard one organisation be criticised because of their choice of physical location – although that said, having worked for an organisation that was one of the early adopters of Milton Keynes I’m aware there were a few raised eyebrows.

But the debate about the future of work, and before it the recent debate about Black Lives Matters and #MeToo have become polarised in a way that is fundamentally unhealthy to the development of both positive workplaces and a better society. On one side people are castigated as “lacking trust” or being “dinosaurs”. On the other as being “work shy” or “lazy”. None of which makes any sense or represents the complexity of the challenge we are facing into. I don’t think anyone would say that surgeons aren’t trusted because they aren’t allowed to work from home or that the entrepreneurs that started businesses in their bedrooms were in anyway lazy.

Similar to the pandemic, we are in a moment in time that requires more reflection, better evidence, a diversity of thought and approach. And most of all, it needs us to recognise that we simply don’t know. Only then will find the curiosity to explore and ask the right questions.

I’ll be talking about this and more at the CRF event on The Realities of the New Working Environment this Tuesday. More here.

Ignore generational trends at your peril

I know the are a lot of people out there who are adverse to the idea of any generational comparisons. I get that, The Generation Y piece is the neglected Bank Holiday barbecue sausage of a topic, cooked to within an inch of its life, unpalatable to fairly much all and a shadow of its intended state. But as a profession, we need to be curious about the macro environment, we need to be interested in demographics and we need to look at the generational factors that may be impacting on our supply chain: the workforce.

Generalising from the specific is never a good idea, but trying to disprove trends by raising anomalies is also foolish. We should be better at analysis than that, we should be more questioning and we should be more thoughtful. Because there is something going on with the current generation of job seekers and we should be aware of this as employers.

I was sat last Thursday having dinner with five French people in their seventies, all now retired. Two had worked their own farm, one had worked in accountancy and two were (what we now call) serial entrepreneurs. Like any conversation in the euro zone at the moment, it wasn’t long before it turned to the economy and specifically employment. The views of the current generation of jobless were, at best, damning. Not about their skills, their abilities but their willingness to take opportunities. I heard time and time again, “the jobs are there, they just don’t want to do them”. Coincidentally this came on the same day that Jamie Oliver made his comments about UK employees and their attitudes to work.

But is this coincidence? Or something else?

I first wrote about this topic in 2010 and recounted a conversation that I’d had two years earlier when I was being lectured to about the needs of GenerationY. My response, over six years ago now, was that we’d witness a massive economic downturn, the labour market would toughen and that the winners would be from the less advantaged countries, who were willing to work harder and start at the bottom. It was a bit of a throwaway comment at the time, but true words spoken in jest and all that.

I know that there are hardworking young people out there, I see and meet with them all the time. I know that there are lazy work shy, feckless¬†septuagenarians too. But I don’t think we should overlook a body of anecdotal and empirical evidence that suggests that we have are¬†witnessing a mismatch in expectations (and I’m not just talking about these two occurrences) that is leading to an employment gap.

Do we need to prepare ourselves for a lost generation? Do we let market forces take their course and allow the next generation to right the wrong? Do we need to do more as employers? Or do we write this off as generational nonsense and bury our heads back in the sand?

The CIPD launched a brilliant piece of research earlier this year “Employers are from Mars, young people are from Venus”, which if you haven’t read, I’d implore you to do so. It explores a number of these issues.

As for the answer, well I’m not sure. But one thing I’ve learnt over the years, is that when you see a dripping tap, or a crack in the wall, you’re better off inspecting it and looking at the root cause, rather than turning a blind eye and pretending it doesn’t exist.