Thoughts From Jobseekers on How Work is Changing

It seems that barely an hour passes on digital communication channels without predictions, opinions and discussions appearing about the future of work. Those last three words alone now appear on bios and as individual specialisms. The battle is often between a dystopian view of the future where AI-powered robots have made all jobs obsolete and a more optimistic view where technology creates huge opportunities to bring more meaning, fulfilment and improved well-being to working lives. And amongst the unknown there are many commentators, bloggers and analysts who see certainty.

But how is work changing now, and what issues do employees face? We need to look more closely at the world of work as it is now and understand the trends, attitudes, and, behaviours that are currently driving change and that will continue to drive change.

To find out more about this reality, and rely less on the myth, Matt Alder and I partnered with Kelly Services to research more than 14,000 jobseekers across 10 European countries, capturing their experiences, hopes and opinions. The findings from this extensive quantitive research will be captured in a series of reports.

The first one has just been published. There were three key topics that jobseekers seem focused on – the quality of their work experience, the capabilities of their leaders, and the opportunity for some flexibility within their work.

A few of our findings:

  • How a company treats their employees is the main factor influencing someone on whether to apply for a job.
  • How they are treated during the application process will impact the decision on whether to join for 86%.
  • The number one thing people are looking for from their employers is the opportunity to learn new skills, which is ranked more important than salary increases.
  • There are no clear cut preferences on flexibility. For some it is location and for others hours. Whilst 58% felt working from home would improve their work/life balance, 48% believe that working from an office helps to keep work and home life separate.
  • The option to work from home wasn’t available to 61% in our survey, although 70% believed they had the technology to enable it.
  • The most important leadership qualities are accountability and honesty (except the UK where its awareness and decisiveness)
  • 53% of respondents had considered self-employment, but only 18% have any plans to become self-employed

One of our main conclusions was that for employees and jobseekers the reality is more about how they do their day to day job, and the ways technology may make their daily routines easier and more engaging whilst offering greater choice over how and where they work. Certainly the way they are treated and supported is much more important to them than working for businesses who embrace the latest fads and trends.

You can download a copy of the report here – hope you find it interesting.

I’ll write about some more findings when the next report is available.

#HRTechEurope – We’re All Millennials Now!

Last week’s HRTechEurope conference and exhibition spanned 2 full days of interesting content and thought provoking presentations, 1500 delegates and lots of fun. There was a blog squad of 21 leading to a range of views and insights as we digested what we heard, and there is definitely some variety in the follow up blogs.

For me the HR takeaways were about flatter and faster workplaces, with greater personal responsibility and a different kind of leadership, offering seemingly less secure employment. The 20th century definition of employment may not be helpful for addressing the way work is transacted in the 21st Century. And as networks of influence and knowledge shift power from the institution to the individual then reputation will become an important currency. All of this requiring a mindset that we may not be used to finding. And its millennial!

Too much is happening too quickly. Technology is transforming customer and employee expectations and several industries are experiencing challenges to the way they operate. The need for agile and flexible structures was referenced by many speakers, as was the writing of Frederic Laloux on reinventing organisations. And Tom Fishburne’s alternative org chart got an airing in presentation slides…


How can workplaces keep up with the pace of technological change? “The new normal isn’t technology, it’s speed” said Peter Hinssen “if things move fast then hierarchies are dangerous“. His “work is the brief period of the day where I have to use old tech” slide (above) was one of the most shared images from the event and the concept of today’s workers as time travellers illustrated this well, but maybe even the most agile organisations might struggle to keep up. The reliance of adult workers on email and the phone (50% of business comms) is at odds with experiences of the future workforce, for whom they make up around 5% of communication.

Peter’s main message was about networks, for information and knowledge – “We’re still building companies with old fashioned structures…we need networks where information is shared. If a brand doesn’t speak the language of its network it will die” Network vs hierarchy was pitched as fluidity vs rigidity, with HRs role as enabler of the network.

Change requires more than technology though. “Social tools can help but can’t change the organisation alone” said Lee Bryant in an afternoon keynote. They do make new structures possible though, relying less on visionary leaders, whilst organisational change is not a technology project and more about continual improvement – “Change shouldn’t be top down, or something that only happens every 3 years, but it should be agile, gradual and on-going

Continuous improvement was also a theme underpinning a new approach to performance management. “Do you have confidence in the performance data within your organisation?” asked Heidi Spirgi. 1 hand was raised out of an audience of over 300. The new approach is based on leaders having frequent strengths-based conversations over the course of the year “what are you working on and how can I help?“. There is a shift from purely delivering feedback to regular coaching whilst performance ratings are becoming a thing of the past, with research indicating that 61% of a performance rating its a reflection of the rater not the ratee.

In another session on the performance appraisal, Armin Trost asked who was the customer – employee, manager or Board? He berated those who tried to set objectives for 12 months when they didn’t know what would be happening in their business the next month, whilst also observing that what usually starts out as an appraisal about performance usually ends up being about the person.

Rachel Botsman closed the event with a look at the Collaborative Economy. Rich in positives – “using technology to allow trust between strangers“, “untapped value of assets through collaborative models that enable empowerment efficiency and greater access” – she said the next phase for this technology would be about ‘unlocking the value inherent in human potential‘. Work was being ‘consumerfied‘ with new app Wonolo being showcased in a video – a collaborative platform for basic low skill, repetitive work.

Rachel had questions for HR. The 20th century laws for classifying workers is no longer relevant for new working models. Is the future of work not just about flexibility and empowerment, but also precarious, with no benefits and no guaranteed income? She called it the murky side of the sharing economy. The personal ratings element within this technology is interesting though with personal reputation and a kind of ‘peer capital’ becoming the new currency of work – from institutions to individuals.

The showcasing of Wonolo interested me. I’ve long thought that this kind of technology will impact staffing agencies and this was the closest yet. There have always been threats to agencies – job boards, in-house teams, social media – but this is different. The business needing a basic skill is directly in touch with the person offering the skill. The fact they connect, and the worker has a rating, covers validation, certification and availability with the pay rate set. Once these scale then things could get interesting.

So what about millennials?

I took part in a panel discussion, chaired by Andy Campbell from Oracle, about them. We heard research on what they want from the workplace – and the list could have been what the over 50s want from the workplace. or what 30/40 somethings want if they didn’t have childcare costs and associated expenditure. We heard about their aspirational employers of choice – Google, Apple etc – yet these are purely based on brand perception. Most look fun but don’t necessarily offer the flexibility, opportunities and rewards that we heard earlier the millennials want.

Employer branding didn’t start with the internet – there have always been aspirational employers of choice. Step back in time and Virgin, Marks & Spencers, John Lewis, BBC, NHS, British Airways and a plethora of banks, consulting firms and advertising agencies would all have topped those lists for older age groups.

Whilst the socio-economic, cultural and family factors that have influenced the values and aspirations of millennials during adolescence may have been different from previous generations (though not those growing up in fluctuating economic times) their mindset towards technology, change, personalisation, consumerfication, instant gratification, speed and opportunity is something we all need to share in the future world of work.

And if its a mindset, and not a date of birth, then we’re all millennials now.

Looking for Collaboration and Simplification at #HRTechEurope

The conversations around HR, recruitment, technology and the future of work move on to Docklands next Tuesday and Wednesday as HRTech Europe rolls in to Town. Always one of my favourite events, the mix of practitioners, theorists, commentators, suppliers and collaborators usually makes for some lively dialogue, great networking and thought provoking takeaways. And I’ll be part of an awesome (and I don’t use that word lightly) blog squad who will be helping to try and make sense of it all for everyone following online.

For those working in the people space, technology is posing some interesting problems and exciting possibilities. The recent Human Capital Global Trends report, along with other recent workforce overviews, have all flagged up findings such as:

  • People analytics has the second highest HR capability gap
  • Increasing investment in technology is not being matched by investment in the people and processes that would gain maximum benefit
  • 70% employees say that technology has changed their role or career in the last year
  • Using technology/new devices is ranked as the second highest training need by employees
  • Identifying and implementing the right technology is only a priority for around 20% of HRDs
  • Half of HRDs see their work environment as complex, and another 25% as very complex.

Are we being overwhelmed by an inexorable onslaught of automation and robotisation? Or do we just need to step back and take stock of the opportunities on offer?

I think there are a few strands here, most of which will be aired at HRTech next week by speakers as diverse as Peter Hinssen, Rachel Botsman, Lee Bryant, Nick Holley, Costas Markides and Euan Semple.

Some of the questions on my mind looking ahead to the event:

Should we be leveraging networks more? Peter Hinssen will be looking at networks of intelligence. Maybe customers and employees can provide some of the inspiration.

Is collaboration a choice or a necessity? I’ve been hearing about HR collaborations with IT and finance over analytics and data. I’m thinking this needs to become the norm not the exception.

How should we define performance? Most would agree that the yearly, school report style assessment of past performance isn’t fit for purpose, but what’s the replacement? Ongoing dialogue and continuous learning, with flexible goals, may be more relevant, with collective feedback. Do we have the culture, and leadership. to bring this about?

How do we define leadership? A culture? A collective mindset? Agile and flexible, future leaders need to be change agents comfortable with spearheading organisational change.

If responsibility for personal, professional and career development is now with the employee, what’s the future for the L&D function? I’ll be joined on the blog squad by some learning professionals, who will no doubt have a view!

How can we make work simple? Businesses may be facing increasing complexity but passing that on to the employee will reduce effectiveness and increase stress. Only just over half of companies have some kind of programme in place to help simplify work processes and practices – we clearly need to do more.

And then there’s the Millennial Mindset. I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion (along with Jo Dodds and Perry Timms) on ‘Employing the Millennial Mindset‘ chaired by Oracle’s Andy Campbell. It’s Tuesday at 3.30 on the main stage and we’ll be answering questions that you’ve all asked – you can start submitting them now through the hashtag #OracleAndyAsks. Come on, it’s about Millennials…you know I’ll have something to say!

One of the main concerns over technology is how intrusive it’s becoming. The 24/7/365 always-connected working environment, with more responsibility being shifted to the employee, can have a serious impact on wellbeing. I recently took part in a panel discussion for ADP on people and technology. here’s the video for the part of the debate on technology and wellbeing – I’m hoping to hear more about this on Tuesday and Wednesday…

HR Tech is coming to Town…are you ready??


The Uberfication of Knowledge

Johnny refilled the kettle for his second instant coffee of the morning. Still in his pyjamas, he took a glance at his proper coffee machine. It had been about 6 weeks since he and Susan had drawn up their emergency household budget plan, with overpriced coffee pods being one of the first victims of the new regime.

He’d had a bad night’s sleep…in fact he barely slept at all. Weeks ago Johnny had agreed with Susan that he would no longer look at emails after 9pm, that whatever came through could wait until the morning, that his creative flow needed rest. But last night he couldn’t help it.

It was from the Scrybz platform and Johnny had assumed that it was a good news message, telling him that his rating was back to 4.6, or even 4.7. As he tapped to open it he was planning a (now rationed) beer to celebrate. But it wasn’t. The message was to let him know that his rating had slipped to 4.4. He knew what that meant – he had about 4 days to get it back to 4.6 or else he’d be de-activated. He and Susan had discussed his options when he first got notified of the drop to 4.5, and agreed that should the worst happen he would sign up to Bloggz. The pay was even worse through that platform, but he would be one of only a few trained writers there so assumed he would get more gigs and better ratings. They hadn’t considered it too deeply though as Johnny was convinced he would get his rating back to 4.6 with Scrybz and then to 4.8 so he could again be a Scrybz Gold writer – better pay and better quality gigs.

He wasn’t sure which gig had dragged him down – he’d only had two all week as most content procurers wouldn’t risk briefing a writer below 4.6. He guessed it must have been the 1,200 words on the impact of Putin’s latest personal scandal on the Russian economy for a clickbait centric general business news site – so outside his comfort zone, a weak spot in his knowledge level with precious little time available for any research, but with the volume of briefs triggering surge pricing for an hour he couldn’t turn down a piece that length. At the rate per word he now got for his new rating he had to gamble on the longer pieces and hope for the best – with only 10 seconds to accept, or reject and slip back in the queue, he had to rely on gut instincts.

He walked through to the tiny room he called his creative space. – he loathed the thought of referring to it as an office – and looked around. Something inside drove him to start each day like this, a reminder of how things had been before. The memories gave him comfort, somehow encouraging him, making him believe he was still in control.

The certificate for his 1st class English degree sat framed beside the one for his young business journalist of the year award. There was a picture of him on the BBC Breakfast sofa being interviewed about his move from a top selling daily broadsheet to the digital news site Shruggington Mail – one of the first of the ‘new breed’ of digital savvy, serious journalists to do this. Another photo, this time of him reviewing the papers one evening on Sky News a few weeks after his move. He couldn’t help but smile at this – he was never invited back after losing his temper with a seasoned radio phone-in jock who baited him about his youth, salary and ‘hipster’ views on business. On the side were various pictures and remnants of his career and speaking engagements, privilege passes to numerous red carpet events, and a few favourite pictures of him at the House of Commons.

The one thing that wasn’t there was the framed copy of his first article for Shruggington. He joined the week Scrybz launched in the UK and Johnny had championed it. He had heralded this ‘Uber for content and opinion‘ as a major turning point in the evolution of news. His piece got a huge reaction becoming the most clicked, commented and shared piece of content Shruggington had ever published. Ted, his editor, had turned it into a traditional newspaper article and had it framed. But Johnny kept it in a cupboard.

He had thought that Scrybz was necessary to disrupt his industry. The news sites were becoming full of freelance bloggers, history students turned political commentators, comedians, businessmen, think tanks and ex-MPs. Many items were being produced by interns and moonlighting college kids. He knew from his friends in the US that Scrybz had helped transform the main digital news sites, with the freelancers producing much sharper content for fear of falling foul of the rating system.

Ah, the rating system. It now controlled his life. They kept changing the format but as far as he could ascertain the client had a series of fields to score – usual stuff like quality, adherence to brief, originality, evidence of research, relevance, political slant – but then there was the big unquantifiable…the engagement algorithm. Scrybz clients installed a special analytics tool (it was a condition of signing up) and this fed back to the app a score based on a complex measure of engagement during the first 24 hours after posting. No-one ever really knew what the score was nor how it was calculated.


At first he had welcomed the rumours that one of the VC groups behind Scrybz was looking to buy Shruggington Mail. The print media was threadbare after a bitter circulation war drove most of them to effectively become clickbait digital sites with varying levels of subscription, whilst sites like Shruggington had built a legacy of producing quality digital only news, comment and insight. The takeover happened quickly, but it was what followed that remains a blur to Johnny. He heard whispers around the coffee station that all journalists, researchers and support staff would be taken out. That Scrybz would be the way all content would be sourced. That editors would now be content procurement officers and any caught showing allegiance to ex-colleagues and giving them work would be gone.

He had laughed it off but within days he found himself crammed into the staff canteen with all his colleagues, for a Town Hall meeting at which all those rumours, and more, became fact.

He was shocked. Many colleagues started messaging contacts at other news sites looking for work immediately, but the feedback was clear – no other organisation was hiring, they were all going to wait to see how the changes at Shrugginton worked out and then may investigate similar structures of their own.

The Bonfire of the Hacks they called it. The lead story everywhere – broadcast news, independent sites, social media. Twitter was in meltdown as everyone with any interest in digital media and news speculated and guessed. Guesses were taken as fact, and speculating tweets as statements of intent.

Johnny meanwhile tried to work his way through his Scrybz joining instructions and complete an incredibly long sign up and validation process. He was angry. They were missing the point. Taxis, rental rooms, recruiting were one thing, but this was different. It wasn’t a bonfire, and it wasn’t disruption, it was degradation of skill and knowledge. His skill and knowledge.


He snapped out of his daydream and sat down at his workspace. It was only 18 months ago but seems more distant after the roller coaster ride he’d been on since. Susan’s freelance research work was quite erratic and Johnny’s biggest saviour had been Ted – now the Chief Content Procurement Officer, Politics & Business Section at Shruggington. Even though he wasn’t really allowed to, Ted still tried to help out when he could, sometimes messaging Johnny when there was a strong brief about to go live on Scrybz, encouraging him to log in at the right time, and sometimes it worked, but in reality it was a difficult system to game for any length of time.

He opened up his computer and got ready to log in to Scrybz for the day. It was 1st December – maybe he could get his rating back and earn some better money in the run up to Christmas.


He came back early from pre Christmas drinks with ex-colleagues from Shrugginton. The evening was pleasant enough but as no-one signed up to Scrybz or Bloggz could really say much to each other about work or current news, things were fairly subdued.

Anyway it was 23rd December and he was feeling more relaxed. His rating was back to 4.7, largely thanks to two opinion pieces on morality in the digital business start up space following a couple of funding scandals. Both meant he got out to Shoreditch to do interviews and get quotes too. One of his strongest areas was the digital economy and even now his name on an article could generate traffic, plus the nature of the scandal had triggered surge pricing which made them a bit more profitable. Susan had been paid a good retainer on a new project and they had been able to plan for a happy, though still budget, Christmas. Although they did agree that the proper coffee machine would be back in use for Christmas week.


Johnny’s parents had never really understood his new working arrangement so he tried not to talk about it. They liked it when they could buy papers and see his name in print but after his move to Shruggington they stopped buying them, preferring to call every few days and ask what he was writing about.

You’re not going to answer that, are you? What’s so important that it needs to interrupt Christmas lunch?” His mother hated it if either Johnny or Susan’s mobiles rang when they were all together, particularly for a family occasion. But the ring tone meant it was Ted, who wouldn’t be calling halfway through the turkey unless he had a reason, and Johnny knew that the reason might be some interesting work.

Making excuses he went in to his creative space to return the call. Ted sounded excited

Something big has come up. I can’t say what it is as it’s got a top security embargo until the 27th but I need 2,000 words on how the economy has changed over the last five years. It’s a personal piece, I need it from your perspective. I know you’ll want it and I’ve got clearance to go outside of Scrybz and brief directly. We can only pay the Scrybz rate for this afternoon, but I thought it was right up your street. I have had to brief a longer critical analysis through Scrybz Gold, but I’m sure you’ll understand.

Johnny did understand but wished his could have come through Scrybz too. Direct was good but carried no rating and he knew this would be a successful piece. He asked Ted to give him a moment to log in to Scrybz and then to brief the piece there, but Ted tried to talk him out of it, there was a strong risk he might lose it. He asked Ted to give him a minute to think.

He wanted the ratings – it could put him on to Gold rating – but could he risk losing the chance to write it?

He went to the cupboard and got his framed article, the first time he’d looked at it, or even touched it, for the best part of a year. He blew some dust off and stood it up on his workspace, walked a few paces back and stared at it. The headline still gave him a shiver, and then he smirked. What hubris…


He closed his eyes for a few moments then picked up his phone and called Ted.

Don’t brief Scrybz, I’ll do it direct. I’ll finish the Christmas pud first though

Ted laughed. “It’s OK, you can wait ’til after the presents

Presents? This is the new world of work Ted. Presents can wait