Chairman's blog: Brexit and the future of work - Don't panic!! - By David Lennan - Chairman - Work Wise UK

Commute Smart week is with us again and what a year it’s been, disruption in many sectors, trade wars, confusion and misinformation all adding to worry and fear as new events and emotions impact on us daily. Have we really got that much to worry about and fear?  I don’t think so. No matter what the headlines and pundits say, or whatever discomforts or displeasures we may suffer or witness in our workplaces, the world of work changes relatively slowly. This is not because we are slow learners or developers, but in reality we really don’t like change and most people would rather rake over the past rather than think positively about creating the future.  We can’t put the clocks back, well only by an hour at this time of year and even that is a point of controversy and indecision.

And so it is today,  when we still can’t make our minds up about “ In or Out” whether we want to be Global or European, Adventurers or Followers, Entrepreneurial  or Steered along,  supported by Common or Civil Law and these are just  some questions that we should have answers to by now, or at least our Leaders should!

Around this time last year The Government set Sir Charlie Mayfield the task of finding “The Missing Billions” £130bn to be more precise, which was said to be lost to the British economy through poor productivity. Well, here we are now in full flow and ebb on occasions, towards Brexitgate, the Missing millions team don’t seem to have found the answers, or at least they haven’t told us yet.  

Whether discovery of  the missing billions or Brexit will result in significant changes to our Workplace Cultures, Attitudes and Behaviors at work, our  Laws, Terms of Trade, or simply create yet more,  problems is difficult to predict. I do however find it weird that despite our economy running at near capacity, unemployment rates almost the lowest on record, deficits shrinking and Foreign Investment and confidence in the UK remaining,  we still run around looking backwards and not taking advantage of the growth opportunities that abound in our rapidly changing world.

To be able to take advantage of World Trade without restriction and constraint from the EU we need to be really fit and agile in the UK workplace. Even the original Treaty of Rome laid down some guidelines for Economic Liberty, but over time the priorities of EU Leaders have attempted to develop a more socially united Europe centered on collectivism leading to a concentration of power and authority at the Centre. We know from all our business experiences that this centralist model of leadership and management is flawed and that people only really thrive when they are fully involved in decision making and are able to share in organisational success and growth. We know that  disengagement in the workplace has a massive impact on productivity and Gallup’s State of the Workforce report 2017 estimated that the UK lost £87.2 billion in lost productivity and only 11% of UK workers are “actively involved and enthusiastic” about their workplace. Little wonder that the UK is in 7thplace in the G7 and 17th in the G20 and that is appalling.

A big factor contributing to low productivity is poor leadership and abysmal communication.  I wonder how many employees really know and understand the main goals and ambitions of the companies they work for.  How well aligned are the jobs they do to the strategic direction of the organisation and do they really contribute to the future success through their actions and activities at work.   

I believe that our low productivity is a symptom of poor work place management, combined with a mix of related factors such as the age and composition of our workforce, working hours, poor vocational education, housing, travel to work congestion, workplace health, investment in skills and technology, supply chain management and innumerable other issues that can influence and change the workplace environment and severely impact on organisational performance.

Productivity as we know revolves around several key factors:  Leadership and Management Capability, Creating Productive Workplace Cultures, Encouraging Innovation and the use of Technology, Investing in People and Skills, The Organisation of Work, Networking and Collaboration and Measuring what Matters.  Workplace management is all about letting people use their knowledge, skills and experience to do things better and more efficiently and by making sure that the workplace culture really does allow ideas to flow and most importantly be acted upon.     

Board Leadership and Management Practices are the real game changers in delivering success and middle managers are the link to success or failure. Flexible approaches to the work environment can provide a real engine for growth. Witness Spotify in Music, Netflix in Home Entertainment, Uber in Travel, Tinder with Dating. Technology can transform, but not with Luddite attitudes at the top, middle and bottom, bad to the core organisations don’t survive, they die from within from sloppiness and apathy. Leadership and clear communication in transformation is crucial. Fudge is hopeless and to be avoided at all costs. Clarity of message is essential if you are to take people with you on the journey of change and development. 

Productivity is very clearly linked to Corporate Governance and good governance is really about leadership and doing the right things, not just being followers of Laws. Creating the highest of standards from the top avoids our law makers and enforcers from becoming involved.  How shameful it is to see cases of Sexism, Racism, Ageism, Misogyny being buried within Organisations,  not just small organisations whose misdemeanors and blatant wrong doing often slip under the radar, but major companies, political parties , government central and local, public and professional sectors are all guilty. We are seeing far too many examples of cultures that create and hide significant issues that when exposed, lead to severe reputational damage and a loss of trust. Trust takes years to build and vanishes rapidly when cultures and behaviors are exposed to public scrutiny.

Commute Smart Week provides a real opportunity to have a proper discussion in your workplace about how you work and what you achieve. This is could lead to adopting more flexible and open approaches to people management, key components of effective change and increased productivity.

We never know when our economy might slow down or change direction, but we do know that the world of work is changing very rapidly and our resistance to change makes matters worse.  In many professions and service industries inefficiency and very poor service force changes that puts many of our jobs and even our professionals at risk. We are already learning that AI and technology can in many cases do a far better job. The UK is at the forefront of Technological development and AI. We should be using that knowledge and skill to become fitter and more agile by preparing  us for the post Brexit challenges . Let all of us help and have the opportunity to contribute to the future that we want.