What exactly is fair?

One thing that is certain, is that the current situation has brought to light a new separation in the workforce – one that was previously undefined. The notion of the key workers. The UK Government set out what they meant by this here. What was striking at the time and remains so, is the breadth goes way beyond the definition that perhaps  any of us would have given if stopped in the street 6 months or so ago.

So we emerge from this, either as a key worker or not.

The peculiarity of the mainstream debate on the post Covid world of work is that it falls predominantly on two separate groups. On one hand we have debates about flexibility, working from home, the impact of too many Zoom meetings, which predominantly falls on the “non-key worker” group (I appreciate there are exceptions before this is pointed out). And on the other hand we have the NHS, who have courageously and valiantly been on the frontline of some of the most extreme situations in this event and demands for better pay and conditions.

But if we are truly to consider the future world of work, we need to consider it for all. That is in no way intended to make comparisons between groups, to say that support for one is by definition at the exclusion of others, simply to say that it is more complex, more challenging and full of contradiction than a simple Meme or tweet can assess.

The reality is that the we are going to see a lot of people lose their jobs – predictions suggest as high as 6.5m in the UK. People will lose their businesses, their livelihoods and perhaps their homes. These aren’t those “key workers” or those that are working from home, they’re the people that are furloughed, hoping that in some way, the economic stimulus will be such to allow their bosses to start up their businesses once more, or self employed and unable to provide their services yet with no Government support. You could understand  how they will look to those that can either work at home are deemed critical with some sense of envy.

Those that have been working throughout, with concerns and fears about their wellbeing and safety, the teachers in schools, the postal workers, those keeping the water flowing and the lights on and of course the medical and care staff are maybe less likely to be impacted by job losses and directly by the economic impact. Does job security and a decent pension compensate for the physical and psychological challenges they’ve been through?

And of course not all key workers are created equal, the delivery drivers that we have depended upon, bringing food and essentials to our doors. The people picking and packing in the warehouses, or growing and distributing our food. These are the areas where low wages, job insecurity and the invasive use of technology have been prevalent for so long. What reward will they get for their contribution? What do they deserve?

The current situation raises more questions than it does answers. If NHS workers are to be paid more, when tax yields will be falling and the Government has made such expensive interventions to try to protect the economy, how will we afford it? If our distribution workers and delivery drivers are to get more, who foots the bill? Would we pay more for our Amazon purchases to ensure a better lot? Should those people working in industries that can survive remotely be the beneficiaries, or should they be punished for their choice of work and career?

I don’t have the answers and I probably haven’t asked all of the questions. But these are the debates that we need to have honestly, openly whilst trying to avoid factionalism and reactionary positions. You could argue that all this is fair, these are the life choices that people make, or you argue that this exposes the inherent unfairness of our society and the world of work. Working it out though, is going to take time and thought and moving beyond simple statements, to consider the whole.


Room 101 – 2018

The first working week of the new year and the air is full of resolutions of hope and good intentions. At the same time, we’ll all be making assertions about the things to watch in the coming year. Frankly, I’m beyond predictions, who knew what the last couple of years were going to have in stock for the world, no-one saw that coming, right? But instead here’s the things I’d like to see the back of in 2018.

Everything being about AI – Remember big data? Remember how boring that got? Do you hear anyone talking much about it now? Yep, AI and robotics is the new big data – a tedious obsession with something that we don’t really understand and therefore extrapolate to cover a whole multitude of unlikely possibilities. I’m not saying there aren’t advances, I’m not saying the technology won’t be important, I’m saying there are many more pressing issues for us to be facing into right here, right now.

Experts writing books – The first question that should be asked of anyone writing a book telling you how to do stuff is, “when did you actually do any of this?”. You wouldn’t buy a cook book from someone who hadn’t been in a kitchen, or a travel guide from someone who hadn’t been to the country. But HR, management and leadership? All you need to do is have a Mac and a Twitter account and people will ask you to write a book. Just stop. Enough now, already.

The future of work being human – See point one above. A truly vacuous statement. Nothing else to add.

An obsession with the gig economy – Is it good, is it bad? Guess what? Both and neither. Our obsession with debating the pros and cons of zero hours contracts entirely misses the point about individual choice and free determination. That’s the real argument. Arguing that zero hours contracts are the root of all evil is akin to blaming Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson for every gun related tragedy. Let’s debate the real issues and not the cover image.

Our university-centricity – I have nothing against people going to university, but let’s stop trying to pretend that attendance at a specific institution equates to capability. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the education system is not a meritocracy. Factors such as wealth, location, parenting play an overwhelmingly significant factor in university attendance. None of these things, to my knowledge, have been linked to genuine potential.

The London bubble – Ok, so a big one to end, I know. But let me quote the recent report from the social mobility commission, “There is no simple north/south divide. Instead, a divide exists between London (and its affluent commuter belt) and the rest of the country – London accounts for nearly two-thirds of all social mobility hotspots.” That’s right…and not one of the top 65 cold spots is in London. Not one. If businesses want to make a difference, they need to get out of the London bubble.

If we could all just make that happen, I’d be truly grateful. Ok, thanks.