A quick Google search for “future of work” news turns up alarming results. Some headlines warn of an impending robot revolution, while other stories bemoan the lack of clarity about how technology will impact our lives at work.
These frequent reminders that the future is uncertain can be enough to exacerbate anxiety, both in people who suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder and those who simply worry from time to time.
It turns out that humans are uniquely positioned to struggle with uncertainty. In 1994, researchers in Quebec even developed a system for measuring these struggles. The Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale (IUS) describes the degree of difficulty people experience when faced with an uncertain future.
And yet, thanks to rapidly changing technology and shifting social norms, one of the few things we can count on is that we’ll always experience some degree of uncertainty about the future of work.
Recognising this conundrum, what can we do to stay motivated? There are a few tactics companies should keep in mind.
Focus on what you can control
Employees are more likely to feel motivated and optimistic if they have a greater degree of control over tangible aspects of their daily lives at work.
This applies to intellectual aspects of jobs, such as how to prioritise and execute projects with minimal micromanagement, as well as to the physical aspects of jobs.
A new survey of over 1,000 workers found that 54% of workers feel more effective when they get to choose their workspace outside the office. Similarly, workers who must work in a traditional office setting report significantly higher satisfaction if they can choose among multiple workspace options such as a private desk, collaborative conference rooms, or outdoor settings.
However, many workers are not in a position to suggest the types of changes that could mitigate these factors. In this case, it may be useful to reflect on the difference between culture and climate.
In The Optimistic Workplace: Creating an Environment That Energizes Everyone, HR expert Shawn Murphy defines culture as the broad factors that impact workers’ experience of a job, such as a physical office space or norms around taking vacations. Changes to culture might be difficult to enact, and in many companies only a few high-level managers might be in a position to implement changes over a long period of time.
By contrast, climate is much easier to change. Climate has less to do with structural factors and is variable depending on aspects such as a manager’s leadership style.
Recognising which aspects of a job can and can’t change quickly can help to soothe some anxieties. For example, transitioning to a robots-only company would be a massive cultural shift that is unlikely to happen overnight, while simply finishing a project may be enough to disengage from a micromanager who is negatively impacting climate.
Leaders should offer as much transparency as possible
If you are in a leadership position at your company, you have the opportunity to diminish others’ anxieties. When possible, leaders should be transparent about how their companies will respond to disruptive changes in their industries.
Recent research shows that business owners and managers are
more likely to be optimistic about the future compared to individual
contributors. This is likely due to the fact that decision makers have more
access to insight about the company’s current status and future plans.
Key ways to promote transparency about the future include:
Improved transparency can lead to stronger relationships with employees and customers alike, and modern businesses are making it a priority.
When we have more information about what the future holds, it’s much harder for our minds to come up with scary hypotheticals that fill in the blanks.
Final thoughts: accept that change is inevitable
Over the next five years, our lives at work and at home will almost certainly change in ways that are difficult to predict.
Although this realisation can be frightening, chances are they will happen gradually and most people will have plenty of time to prepare. Some changes may even be positive – you might discover that your future self is more technically skilled, more confident, and more knowledgeable than before.
By recognising what you can (and can’t) control and seeking transparency about your companies’ plans for the future, you can calm some of your anxiety and discover a more optimistic outlook on the future of work.
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