I recently attended a book launch event of 3 times Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman. His soon-to-be-bestseller, “Thank You for Being Late: An optimist’s guide to thriving in the world of acceleration”, addresses the future of communities, ethics and work. Despite the peppy title, the future of work looms dystopic, with many changes ahead, many of them out of seemingly out of our control. Reviewing numerous reports, analyses, and articles on the future of work, my search for signs of hope, instead resulted in a stomach of knots.
As psychologists, the team at RED DOOR sat down to explore some of the trends and consider how we can better prepare ourselves, our clients and our children, to face the future of work with courage rather than fear?
The rise of the machine
Within the plethora of reports on the future of work, there is one resounding gloomy forecast – potential future unemployment. Oxford researchers, Frey and Osborne’s 2013 report, “The Future of Employment” explored the likelihood of different professions being taken over by computer algorithms within the next 20 years. They estimate that 47 percent of jobs in the US are at high risk.
Jobs as we know them, may soon to be a thing of the past. Automation of our job functions, potential loss of employment to machines, disenfranchisement and potential loneliness for those who cannot adapt, and difficulty to even secure an initial step into the world work for many young adults, are frequently predicted features detailed in reports of the future of work.
Bloomberg Businessweek recently rated the job automation risk for hundreds of jobs – another interesting analysis (link at end of this blog) . Many jobs, especially those which do not require university education, are at risk. Even jobs requiring a degree are at risk. For example, whilst Human resources managers may have a less than 1% chance of having their jobs automated, but human resources assistants, the step below manager, are rated as having have a 90% possibility of their job being automated by machine. Many occupations seemingly face significant chance of change – Financial advisors 73%; Marketing specialists 61%, Lab technicians 94%, insurance underwriters 99, and accountant/auditors 94%. Some professions face smaller risks and these industries may be the preferred industries for tomorrow’s students – some low risk jobs include special education teachers 1.6%; physician surgeon >1%; engineers 1.4%; and CEOs 1.5%. One-job-for-life already is a trend of the past, but soon one-career-for-life may soon be as well.
Psychological research helps us to understand that preparing appropriately for stressful events minimises the negative impact of that stress. Being mentally prepared is half the battle to beating FO-FOW (fear of the future of work). It simply boils down to the memorable words of Franklin Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Once we break down the future of work into potential helpful activities and thought patterns, employees and parents can better prepare the changes ahead.
8 ways to beat FO-FOW.
1) Become a portfolio poster child
The concept of a job for life is already in declining, now even one-career-for-life is no guarantee. How are people suppose to come to terms with this new era of uncertainty?
One solution exists in the practice of reframing (turning negative commentary into positive thoughts). For example, in the future most employees may become portfolio style workers, working project by project, in much the same way a freelancer may work today. The difference from today is that this will be the norm rather than the exception. Change of attitudes can take time, so some of the negative attitudes that society may hold toward work which is project based, discontinuous career paths, periods of unemployment, may take time to change. You are poster child this process of change. Be brave, don’t be dictated to by out-dated attitudes.
Reframing circumstances will help so that you remain at the psychological helm of your career. Instead of viewing yourself as cast adrift, imagine yourself as the captain of your new enterprise, of the company called YOU. As such every project adds some new skill or learning to your growing corporation. Your new goal establishes YOU into a constantly growing, preferred partner for any project that comes to the market, which is now global rather than local.
Also remember that employers will also be affected by this uncertainty. Employees will have flexibility to “vote with their feet”, and then hit with a big stick if they are unhappy. Every disenchanted employee has a voice as loud as their personal network (virtual and otherwise), and the growth of rating websites such as glassdoor.com which detail employee’s negative (and positive) experiences, will be a growing concern for employers. Soon ratings of employers will be as common as ratings of employees.
2) Be a brand ambassador for YOU
In a heavily interconnected world, one person can drive significant dialogue, a relatively new phenomenon. In business, we often silence our public personas least we attract negative attention to our employers. As workers become their own brand, their individual voices, capabilities, online personality become important brand elements. We already see avenues such as LinkedIn becoming popular job candidate search engines, and this is set to continue.
In addition to the image that you build online which employers can find, you need to maintain a positive mental framework about yourself and your ability. Building positive self-perceptions is an essential component of resiliency under uncertainty. You may consider reading the work of optimism and happiness researcher Martin Seligman, or thought reframing expert Albert Ellis. These psychologists teach how to change the thinking processes behind your current circumstances and use techniques to help move people out of their self-defeating, self- limiting or pessimistic thought patterns. If you want more help, seek a counsellor, as much of our work addresses this phenomenon.
It won’t be what you know but who you know that will be important in the future of work. As individual brands, portfolio workers, our networks, virtual and otherwise will be extremely important. It’s time to brush on the key elements of social skills, your best elevator pitch, friends you can lean on, and connections you can learn from. This is not a time to be shy and reticent. Remember you may never meet your employer or co-workers in real life. The future of work contains risks of loneliness as we become separated from face to face interaction, building your self-esteem and confidence will be extremely helpful, to continue to build positive connections.
4) Mobilize for mobility
We live in era of hot desks – soon even these may turn cold. Work environments of the future may be completely virtual, you may never meet your co-workers in person. Workers will be truly independent of work places. This trend will affect you greatly if you have traditionally made your closest friends within work environments, or you need a lot of hand holding to get achieve project goals. If you tend to make most of your friends at work, start thinking now where you will build future friendships. If you have needed a lot of support and reinforcement there has never been an easier time to find a mentor, virtual or otherwise, get onto LinkedIn and start shopping. It may not be your work boss, as it may have been in the past.
Additionally, platforms for selling work are expanding – see upwork.com; indeed.com; and of course, LinkedIn, now you are part of a global workforce. The world of work is actually becoming bigger.
5) I before A, rather than A before I.
Much of the reports on the future of work that have been published have highlighted the use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) to replace the work of humans. Much of the hope vested into AI focuses on the eradication of disease and poverty and the conquest of climate change. However even whilst AI is still in its infancy, it not hard to see which direction the wind is blowing in terms of changes to human employment. Computers will play an increasingly important role in our professional lives, particularly in areas where large amount of data is analysed in order to decide on actions such as medicine, accountancy, marketing, and financial products.
Thomas Friedman, suggests that we need to think of the aspects of Intelligent Assistance (IA) that will be part of our job experience. Embracing this technology is an essential component of securing your job future. Surrender nostalgic perceptions of the “good old days”. Look into your industry and how technology is advancing and enabling, and learn to harness the tech that is being developed to play a role. Taking charge of this change helps protect you from being replaced by technology altogether.
6) Consider your resilience and motivation.
Friedman suggest that the motivational divide will be a stronger predictor of success in the evolving world of work, rather than the digital divide. The digital divide will decrease as we embrace technology and also it becomes simplified by ‘drag-and-drop’ software. The really important component is motivation, and I believe even more, resilience.
Psychological research into human motivation implies that the highly motivated and lowly motivated are not driven by the same forces. When we construct measures to address low motivation in the workforce, the result is a workforce which is neutral, not highly motivated. Highly motivated people are driven by internal factors such as desire to accomplish goals, and a drive to achieve more. Hygiene factors such as finances or health care are not enough to drive the highly motivated. What gets you out of bed to get to work now? If you are driven only by your pay check you may look to guides on self-motivation to prepare yourself. If you don’t know where to start a counsellor or a coach may help.
Resilience is an aligned skill to motivation – you are resilient you are better able to face the stressful slings and arrows that one encounters in a lifetime. In order to assess your current level of resiliency take our checkup test in the attached blog. https://reddoor.hk/the-resiliency-rx-check-in-to-check-up/ . Both resilience and motivation can be taught, to children and adults. Don’t give up.
7) Commit to becoming a Life-Long-Learner
The question we frequently ask children, “what will you be when you grow up?”, will soon become redundant. Friedman in his latest book, “Thank you for being Late”, suggests that one cannot be a lifelong employee if you do not commit to be lifelong learner. As lifelong learners, we will constantly be reshaping our capabilities and knowledge. We won’t achieve the aforementioned “grow up”, stage. Rather the new question will be, “what career do you plan to tackle first?”
Training and upskilling will be continuous and our careers will change with this. Think about what could help you adapt to the future of work – learning a new language, technology, communication style. Courses are available on key sites such udacity.com and various open university sites, and even specific universities for older individuals such as the University for the third stage: http://www.u3a.org.uk.
8) Personal performance metrics
The future of work is less about you performing KPIs (Key performance metrics) and more about you achieving your personal performance metrics. Having a well-rounded view of success in work, and life, will be essential in the future.
If financial recompense is your only current measure of success, you may wish to take a moment to think about what really matters and makes you happy. We need to judge a job, and ourselves, by broader metrics including success at projects, the activities we do in our free time, our sense of purpose, how we contribute to family and society, what makes us happy, what we are passionate about. Work is one element of what you do and you can no longer summed up in a business card.
Ready, get set, go.
The race toward the future of work is already in progress, you can be prepared, so start to tackle this to do list. Fear of the future of work can be overcome. In the immortal words of Mark Twain, “Courage is the resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of fear”.
We hope you found this blog helpful. Our next blog will be specifically aimed at beating FO-FOW for parents preparing their kids, and themselves, for the future.
Bloomberg Businessweek article on job automation.
Frey and Osborne’s survey on the future of employment
McKinsey report on technology and jobs
PWC report on workforce shifts forecasted.