TREND DIGEST: SUSTAINABLE WORK

CATEGORY / education TAGS / trend alert, trend digest, work, work life balance Fractals LAB / Forma DATE / May 28, 2021

TREND DEFINITION:

Initiatives and government regulations designed to promote a better work-life balance and provide more sustainable work conditions. 


TREND HISTORY:


Money remains the key measure of growth and production in most conventional economies, but GDP (gross domestic product) is being questioned as some critics believe it is no longer an adequate measure of performance. Alternatives to GDP are beginning to circulate, proposed by a range of institutions and academics. Rutger Hoekstra’s book, “Replacing GDP By 2030”, tracks GDP as the world’s most influential indicator, and proposes a roadmap for an alternative based on wellbeing and sustainability principles. Two offshoots from this movement have differing approaches regarding work and pay. ‘Degrowthers‘ believe in decreasing salaries and working days, while ‘green growthers‘ propose that pay rates stay the same, with a reduction in working hours.

The Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) was established in the UK in 2017 as a group of brands and individuals “working together to change the economic system to create a wellbeing economy”. Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand also established the Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) initiative in 2018 to demonstrate how countries could work together to prioritise social and ecological wellbeing.

As part of the wellbeing economy debate, the demand for flexible working and work-life balance is now coming not just from employees, but also from governments, and indeed the EU. As for achieving a better work-life balance for workers, France introduced – through a law that took effect on 1 January 2017 – an obligation on employers to allow employees to disconnect from their professional activity. The law applies to businesses with more than 50 employees and provides employees with a legal right to ignore work-related emails outside of their normal working hours.


Finland’s Working Hours Act formally allows employees to customise their working timetable according to their preferences, with a window of three hours earlier or later than regular office time. In the UK, workers that have been with the same organisation for over 26 weeks can apply for flexible working through a statutory application.

Following some private initiatives, Spain is piloting a four-day workweek nationwide. From New Zealand to Germany, the idea of a shorter workweek has been steadily gaining ground globally. Hailed by its proponents as a means to increase productivity, improve the mental health of workers and fight climate change, the proposal has taken on new significance as the pandemic sharpens issues around wellbeing, burnout and work-life balance. A few years ago, Microsoft Japan tested a four-day work week and productivity jumped by 40%.

Similar regulations, designed to promote better quality of work and life for society, are emerging globally, such as the Fair Workweek Legislations in the US for more humane working conditions.

European Union Member States will need to implement the provisions of the EU Directive on Work-Life Balance for Parents and Carers by mid-2022 (for Italy the date is August 2022). The Directive is aimed at addressing the imbalance of care-giving responsibilities between men and women and contains a large number of considerations for businesses around workplace equality. As an evidence of that the trend of child friendly workspace is still on the rise.

New data from Linkedin recently show that 53% millennials and 49% Gen z now consider work-life balance more important than salary, and flexibility becomes a key factor for talent retention. 

In this scenario, businesses that quickly adapt to the demand for flexible working will be best positioned to thrive and adapt flexibly to this changing environment.

Companies should regularly improve working conditions and employees wellbeing, focusing on offering benefit programmes that meet the expectations of the workforce.

TREND EVIDENCES

The Flexible Talent Network (FTN) is a methodology created and actioned by professional services network PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Aiming to build a more flexible work culture, the organisation established a network for professional talents willing to collaborate with the brand outside the conventional 9 to 5 working paradigm. Members of the initiative are able to customise the working schedule around their personal needs, with shorter hours, reduced work week and flexible shifts.

In the list of the best brands to work for in 2020 – a poll carried out by employer review website Glassdoor across 55 million users – marketing software brand HubSpot was ranked first for its rich portfolio of benefits designed to support employees in establishing a work-life balance. Among the benefits on offer included unlimited vacation time and 16-week paid family leave. Additionally, employees who hit their five-year anniversary are given a four-week paid sabbatical with the equivalent of a $5,000 bonus. Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia is a brilliant example of human-focused leadership. The company provides employees with a series of benefits designed to support a quality work-life balance, such as access to on-site child care, paid paternity leave, free yoga and hiking trails close to the brand’s office.

Perks are increasingly important and time-to-disconnect has still great appeal, especially for Millenials, who are embracing the ongoing trend of mini-retirement as entrepreneur Jeff Maddux, as an alternative to fire or job quitting. The accountant strategically saved three to six months of savings while working before he left each job. To date, he’s had five mini-retirements and all are listed chronologically on his LinkedIn profile.

Going towards an always increasing caring attitude to grow employees as better citizens seems to be the main purpose for tomorrow ’s organizations, as people become sensitive to climate change and people’s diversity and will ask for more time to actively help. Several organizations already include “time for volunteering” among their perks. Going forward, software like Your Cause encourages community initiatives on a mass level by connecting employees to the causes they care about most – offering a hyper-local experience with a vetted network of in-country partners, while new soft skills like Kindness or Happiness are gaining momentum both as organization KPI as well as soft skills to be developed for tomorrow’s workforce. 

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