Humanising Work has been saved
Rethinking our working relationship with technologies
With the corporate health and wellbeing market booming, estimated to be worth $66 billion in 2022, it’s clear that business leaders are investing in trying to support their workers’ mental health. New corporate wellness initiatives and large programs are being introduced at high speed, and approximately 75 per cent of large employers run wellness programs. Despite these efforts, there seems to be no decline in the number of burnouts and mental-health problems in the workplace. Although it is absolutely worthwhile for companies to offer wellbeing programs to support their workers, we can’t help but think it’s peripheral to the real problem: a band-aid solution that ignores the real issue. If work itself is largely causing burnout and mental-health problems, shouldn’t the solution be to redesign the work?
Not your father’s workplace: the spiralling changes in the nature of work
Over the past few years, spurred by the pandemic, we’ve had a few revelations about how we work and what that means for the worker, including well-being, efficiency, effectiveness and energy management:
- In the past, work was often designed with a myopic focus on efficiency: How do we design a process that is as fast and as cheap as possible? With such a focus, the human element of work tends to be forgotten.
- Work has become more intense. We’ve seen a stronger imperative to work faster and with tighter deadlines, and to perform multiple tasks at the same time. This has been coupled with a decrease in ‘idle’ time to think.
- What workers spend their time on has also changed. About 60 per cent of working time is now being spent on ‘work about work’ as defined by Asana’s 2022 anatomy of work research (which was mainly focused on knowledge workers). This means communicating about work, searching for information, switching between apps, managing shifting priorities and chasing status updates. Over one year, the Asana research showed, 129 hours were spent on duplicated work, and another 129 on unnecessary meetings. Translated to a team or organisation level, the numbers become even more staggering.
- Use of apps and other technologies in the workplace has surged. Large enterprises use 200-plus apps in hopes of enhancing workplace productivity. Many companies are using seven tools for messaging, communication, file sharing and scheduling. Most workers toggle between apps 10 times per hour – that’s 32 days per year of lost productivity. Although improvements in technologies supports workers, there is a lack of proper integration, resulting a somewhat disconnected experience through the use of multiple technologies.
Considering these effects, it’s apparent that we’ve neglected what humans do best, and have minimised the impact of their potential on the work. We’ve also isolated workers from what intrinsically motivates them, creating a widening gap between what we do and what we care about. The aspects described above show room for improvement to combine an increase in productivity alongside an increase in pleasure at work.
Humanising work: what we learned from working through the pandemic
Lessons can be learned from 2020. In lockdown, productivity in knowledge markets increased worldwide. But the number of working hours did not increase accordingly, meaning that there was not necessarily a correlation between productivity and longer hours. The longstanding and often strict rules and expectations that governed work were broken.
When necessity knows no law, organisations are suddenly more than able to put aside administrative restrictions and invite opportunities in. Slowly, the focus shifted toward working (together) based on something Deloitte research in Europe revealed as the main factor for coping with COVID-19 changes: trust from leadership and colleagues. To ride the wave of this revelation – away from optimising work toward humanising work – we must let go of the idea of improving existing processes. It’s not about automation and efficiency; it’s about going back to the drawing table and making humans the focal point of work.
In redesigning work with a holistic, human-first view, we see how technologies can support employees, rather than employees following the technology. The goal is to bring back engagement and fun to the workplace, and let people do what they do best. Technology would be used simply to optimise the human factor, giving people the space to perform to their potential and enjoy work.
In this re-architected vision of work, the priority is on value (not cost), which includes value to the employee. The question is: How comfortable and bold will you be as an organisation in adopting such an approach – one that may be perceived as prioritising the employee over the shareholder? Our recent work with the Erasmus MC Sophia Children’s Hospital is a prime example of how work can be re-architected, with a focus on putting the nurse first.