There is much to take from The Taylor Review

Last week saw the publication of the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices. Inevitably it made headlines and drew attention to a number of high-profile ongoing debates – not least the “gig economy” and the challenge of flexibility. Perhaps unsurprisingly it also managed to draw criticism from both the trade unions and some within the business community – I generally think anything that fails to appease two potentially opposing groups must have something interesting and progressive about it.

The debate about work, the future of work and the working practices that we want to encourage in the UK is one that weaves a tricky path between those that argue for deep legislative protection for employees and those that argue for total liberalisation of the employment market. The answer almost certainly lies somewhere in the middle and navigating the world of compromise and pragmatic outcomes is always harder than taking a simplistic, dogmatic position. It is always much easier to highlight the issues that aren’t solved, than to look at the solutions that are actually proposed.

The report is over 100 pages and yet most of the reporting focused on relatively small sections and all in all there is much to be commended in the review. It provides one of the most balanced, thoughtful and helpful assessments of the challenges of developing an economy whilst maintaining good work and working lives – particularly in a world post membership of the European Union.

The definition and scoping of “good work” aims to take the debate beyond simple wage growth or contractual status – but without suggesting that they’re not important. Like the political manifestos of all major parties, it recognises the importance of employee voice and participation within the workplace and discusses the importance of work life balance and working conditions.

The section on learning and skills and employability is one that has had perhaps the least attention but is perhaps one of the strongest. Let me give you three direct excerpts:

On education policy: “Government should use its convening power to bring together employers and the education sector to develop a consistent strategic approach to employability and lifelong learning. This should cover formal vocational training, ‘on the job’ learning and development, lifelong learning and informal learning outside work. It could be linked to the longer-term development of life-time digital individual learning records. As part of this, the Government should seek to develop a uni ed framework of employability skills and encourage stakeholders to use this framework.”

On careers education: “In developing a national careers strategy, the Government should pay particular attention to how those in low paid and atypical work are supported to progress. It should take a well-rounded approach, promoting the role of high-quality work experience and encounters at different education stages.”

On unpaid internships: “The Government should ensure that exploitative unpaid internships, which damage social mobility in the UK, are stamped out. The Government should do this by clarifying the interpretation of the law and encouraging enforcement action taken by HMRC in this area.”

The Taylor Review doesn’t answer every question on the future of work, but it provides an incredibly helpful, thoughtful and balanced starting point. It is beholden on all of us associated with and interested in the UK economy, productivity and good work to take the outputs of the review and to build on them to develop our country’s approach to work. There is much good within the review and much to consider, we mustn’t lose this amongst the faff and nonsense of special interest groups concerned with looking after their own, increasingly dated agendas.

What do we do?

If you listened to a lot of the stuff and nonsense that is written and spoken about HR you’d think we were all engaged in hand to hand ninja fighting with machines, whilst repeating the mantra, “the future of work is human” and promising a tomorrow characterised by self actualised, engagement and bliss.

I don’t know about you, but that is far from the existence I see in most organisations. Far from the work that I see most people do.

First and foremost, before anything else, we make sure the trains run on time. We get people paid, we make sure laws aren’t broken. We handle the enrolment in to benefits that you never know you need – until you really need them.

We make work places safe, ensuring people have a place to go if they feel that they’re being badly treated, informing and educating towards a workplace that has dignity and respect at its heart.

We handle things when the go wrong. Sometimes it’s our fault, sometimes it is a manager’s or an employee’s fault. Sometimes, it is just one of those things. We are there to resolve, rectify and recover from situations that no-one would wish for in the first place.

We find and grow the skills that are necessary to move our organisations forward. Whether that’s hiring, developing or nurturing – making sure that we are able to be successful today and tomorrow. Running programmes, schemes, campaigns to develop the skill base of the organisation.

We support people at their best and at their worst. We deal with the extremes of workplace experience, from the promotions, job offers, bonuses or pay rises to the redundancies, dismissals, deaths and emotional crises. We own messages which most would find difficult and own them well.

We guide, advise, counsel and coach. We help others to find the solutions, identify the outcomes and develop the conclusions that make their work better. We stand shoulder to shoulder with leaders as they go through organisational transitions and changes.

We take the blame. Someone has to and we are more than used to handling it. Not everything will go right at work, not everyone can always be happy. Sometimes people just need someone to point a finger at. And that’s ok.

Sure, we do a whole lot more as well. But funnily enough, not a single robot slain.

Conversation is not enough

In a country still reeling from the largely unforeseen referendum in June, the US election result added a further sense of discombobulation to the many attendees at the CIPD Conference last week, who reacted to the unexpected news on Wednesday morning with a level of predictable hysteria.

A lot of the debate at the conference followed the theme of the future of work and making work more human. Themes that I (and others) have been implementing, writing and talking about for over five years. And whilst it is great to see the mainstream finally adopt the same agenda, it fills me with a deep and profound sense of unease.

Both electoral outcomes were largely unseen by the liberal elite, the same people that talk of making work more human. Both outcomes were partly driven by a sense of societal injustice, unfairness and frustration with the role that the establishment has played. Or perhaps, more accurately, the role the establishment has not played.

If we believe in fairness, if we believe in humanity, if we believe the future of work is indeed human, it is beholden on us to do less talking and more acting. Positive outcomes are not achieved through well meaning dialogue but through the actions we take and the changes we make. Positive outcomes are not achieved in the warm bubble of elitist consensus, but by taking ourselves out of our comfort zones and listening more than we talk.

We have to accept that “we” have got things wrong, not “them” and that “we” can make the change, not “them”. We have to accept that the inequalities in work, housing, education, society come from our hand and from the hands of our like. But that we can also make changes that matter, right here, right now.

In my darker moments, I fear we do not have enough time and that ultimately the change that needs to be made will be provoked by external circumstances out of our control. That the burning platform will not be lit by our hand. But if there is a chance, if there is an opportunity, if we have a moment in which we can change things for the better, it will surely only come from meaningful, visible action, and not well intentioned, but impotent talk.

Leaving the conference I got in to a cab to go back to the station. The driver asked me where I’d been and what sort of things I spoke about. When I explaned, he replied, “Good luck with that! It’s dog eat dog out there. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the sentiment, I just don’t see how it is ever going to happen”.

Unless we start to act, I think he’s probably right.

The future of work is human

If I had to list four things that bring out my inner geek, they’d be:

Work
Technology
Psychology
Education

I can’t remember the dates of any historical events, my knowledge of sports and sporting prowess is limited and if you want to know what stocks and shares to invest in…..buy the ones I’ve just sold. But give me any of these four topics and I’ll talk, ignorantly but passionately, for hours.

Each in its own right is a things that stirs the proverbial loins, but what about the point where all four intersect? Is there a relationship between them?

We know that technology is changing the way in which our children interact with the world. It is also starting to change the way in which they learn and work at school. So what is going to be the impact on the world of work when these young people get to employable age? Is technology changing the way our brains work and function and what do we need to think about in how we design work, teams and organisations?

Are we already starting to see the impact of the way that we use technology on our behaviour in the workplace? Our choices, decision-making, attention, concentration, speed of communication?

Late last year the CIPD started a piece of work to explore the future of work from a variety of different angles. The aim being to move the debate on from the normal, often predictable themes and to take a different approach. There are a number of work streams and groups exploring all sorts of angles, you can read more about it here.

As part of this, I want to look at these questions. To go beyond the “robotisation” arguments and look at the relationship between human performance and technology from a psychological and behavioural perspective, the good, bad and indifferent.

And this is where I need your help.

If you’d like to be part of this work, or if you know someone who you think might be, then I’d love to hear from you. Ideally I’d like to pull together a group of people from a range of backgrounds to exchange ideas, thoughts and theories with the view to presenting the findings at a “Big Tent” event in October.

There is no specified time commitment, geography is unimportant and I haven’t even worked out the process (yet). I just want to bring together curious, passionate, thoughtful people to help explore the themes and ideas. So if that sounds like you, if this piques your interest, then get in contact and lets see where the conversation takes us.