Changing workplaces not to everyone's taste

Nov 01 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

While dramatic structural changes in the way that we work are welcomed by many with the ability to embrace them, a growing number of middle managers are having such difficulty coping that the change is making them physically sick.

Workplace revolutions such as flattened management structures, self-negotiated hours and remote working are not to everyone's taste, a new report suggests, with up to 2.8 million managers in the UK pushed to their limits by all the changes.

The report, 'Freestylers and Work', commissioned by Standard Life Bank and conducted by trend forecasters The Future Laboratory, identifies middle managers, aged 45+ as having particular problems, with many reporting symptoms of vomiting, panic, fear and nausea.

As separate research from Henley Management College has shown, middle managers are under particular pressure because the flexible working revolution means that management will become more about resourcing and measuring results than about discipline and following procedure.

Prime among the changes predicted in the Freestylers and Work report will be the rise of "demuting", with 12 million people anticipated to be working from home by 2020.

The growth of the home office means increased flexibility and a complete change in how and when we work.

"Flexibility is no longer a privilege; it is increasingly seen as a right," the report said.

The 21st century is going to be about a new generation of career-plan nomads who are rewriting the rules of time and work management
"If the 20th century was about the 47.6-hour week for Brits, the 21st century is going to be about a new generation of career-plan nomads who are rewriting the rules of time and work management in ways that suit their new approaches to work, rest and play."

Some eight million people throughout the UK currently work from home, collectively spending up to £149 million each year running their home offices. Seven out of 10 of these say they plan to invest more over the coming years as they spend more time working from home.

One corollary of the home becoming the focus of most people's working lives will be a rise in "binge time careerism", where employees work non-stop for an agreed period then take the equivalent time off, as well as "swing time", where the week is broken into work and play segments that suit the employer and employee.

Yet as research commissioned by BT earlier this month pointed out, 24/7 access to company emails and information via phones and BlackBerries could simply translate into staff working harder and longer unless organisations devised formal policies around their new working practices.

The Standard Life report also predicted conflicts ahead between employers and employees over new ways of working.

"We increasingly favour more flexible, personal and irregular ways of doing our work yet 72 per cent of employees believe their employers are distrustful of people who say they are working from home."

Major changes in work practices will also see the rise of keyboard corporations where global businesses are run from small live/work spaces and techvilles and cluster communities where hubs develop around areas or even streets where like-minded professionals choose to live and work.

"Think Hoxton and graphics, Cornwall and marketing creativity, Cambridge and biotech, the Scottish glens and software gaming," the report says.

The trend towards home working could have other positive social side-effects, the report suggests, pointing to the fact that three-quarters of those surveyed believe that flexible work patterns and the rise of home-based businesses are likely to revive home communities, while six out of 10 believe the shift will make larger communities and cities more personal and people-friendly.

Personal development could also benefit as new ways of working give rise to shadow careers - people pursuing amateur activities to professional standards.

For employers, however, the flip-side to all this will be the sheer number of alternatives available to individuals.

"Whenever I hear employers discussing how they are going to compete for talent, the focus always seems to be on competition with other employers," said Steve Huxham, Management-Issues' recruitment commentator.

But as he points out, today's technology savvy workers already have more opportunities than ever to make a distinct choice between corporate life and working, in whatever capacity, for themselves Ė and the trend will only increase.

"Forward thinking employers would be wise to view this element of choice as just as serious a competitor as they consider any other employers," he added.