The world has changed. The nature of work has changed. Where we work has changed. We are moving between jobs faster than ever before and between tasks at a pace more rapid than we ever contemplated. We are constantly "on" - on email, on smart devices, on social media and on the job.
The parameters of the workplace are also infinitely evolving as boundaries diminish whilst advancements and innovations in "big brother" based technology enabling minute by minute remote surveillance of workers (subject to notice in some States) are met with considerable resistance and cynicism impacting adversely on workplace culture and morale. All the while, from a legal perspective, risk is increasing - work health & safety risks, bullying claims, discrimination, sexual harassment and adverse action complaints as does vicarious liability for organisations and personal culpability for individuals involved in breaches.
Leaders in this new world of work are caught between a rock and a hard place of "controlling" increased risk and liability whilst simultaneously encouraging initiative, flexibility, autonomy and creativity to drive workforce engagement and to attract and retain future generations of talent.
The research on millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) by industry experts has been focused, long running and is indeed consistently illuminating:
An entrepreneurial, purpose and values driven culture is therefore critical to engagement of the workforce of the future and any attempt to reign in or enforce rigid controls over future generations will not only be resisted but will most likely disengage and alienate a significant pool of talent.
HR, as guided by employment law, has for many decades been risk and compliance driven, focused on identifying things that can go wrong or result in legal exposure and then enforcing rules, policies and procedures to seal exposure gaps. Non compliance with rules, codes of conduct, policies or procedures leads to disciplinary action up to and including summary termination of employment such that employees are forced to comply due to fear of reprimand.
In the changing and increasingly autonomous and creative world of work, successful organisations rely less on control based prescriptive policies and "fear" driven compliance initiatives and more on providing employees with environments where leaders inspire engagement and achieve buy in to a core purpose and values.
The risks associated with litigation in our industrial system, the paramount obligation to maintain the health safety and welfare of workers and the vicarious liability organisations bear for conduct such as discrimination and sexual harassment, are such that we simply cannot do away with policies and procedures altogether without significantly increasing risk and legal exposure. However, to reconcile the conflicting needs of compliance with future workforce engagement, leaders and HR must re-think overly prescriptive "control" based polices and Codes of Conduct and redefine employee compliance obligations by connecting them to core purpose and values based ideologies that will influence and inspire them.
The key to high performing teams in future workplaces is therefore to unite the workforce with a common purpose, hire employees based upon and consistently reinforce core values and ideologies that are intrinsically instilled in employees such they are inspired to do the the right thing even when no one is watching. It is only with this foundation that autonomy and flexibility can be confidently encouraged by leaders so creativity can flourish.
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