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The future of employment: Explosive times

Published in Connect Magazine February 2021

Extraordinary times blow the lid off normality. When the smoke clears perspectives are different.

The Spanish Flu of 1918-1920 was the largest influenza pandemic in history, killing around 2% of the world’s population. Together with the First World War it caused international poverty and devastation, leading to the  creation of the International Labour Organisation, which promotes social justice by promoting decent work, addressing deprivation through co-operation between governments, employers and workers.

Health and well-being

Prior to Covid-19, well-being was already big business. Going forward, new recognition of our vulnerability and our ability to affect – and infect – others mean that health and safety are at the top of everyone’s agenda. Remote monitoring may be increasingly used in all aspects of work. For the medical sector this could protect workers by reducing demand for in-patient treatment.

Technology

Technology like Zoom, which allows separated communities to interact ‘face-to-face,’ has become as fundamental to employers as the telephone, raising new issues around behaviour, supervision and data protection. Businesses will have to consider the security of communications and whether client information is being managed in accordance with legal obligations. IT expertise is at a premium and smaller jurisdiction may struggle to find enough skilled suppliers.

Digital regulation

In relation to data, the UN flagged concerns about new digital forms of advertising and marketing in a 2014 report, four years before the Cambridge Analytica scandal. However, the past year has developed public understanding of the power of social media and the world’s inter-connectedness. Businesses which sell or utilize social media services will be under intense scrutiny. Historically there was a widely held view that ‘you can’t regulate the internet,’ but it is doubtful whether governments will continue to accept that line and many countries may be considering new regulation. The impact of digital media on employees is also a well-being issue that workplaces will have to address.

How, where and why we work

Finally, we are all being forced to look our own mortality in the eye, developing an existing tendency among millennials to expect more from work than a mundane ‘9-5’ role. Alongside that, focus on the effects of climate change will increase the shift away from a throwaway society and increase the value placed on sustainability and durability – a vintage pair of shoes, farm shops, minimal packaging. Considering how, where and why we work, including shorter or more flexible working weeks, re-training and upskilling, will be key.

At a business level, employment policies around sickness, technology use, pay (in relation to furlough, for example), flexible working and staff supervision must be reviewed. As an island, since the end of World War II, Jersey has largely been politically stable. It has shown a capacity to re-invent itself and agility in implementing new laws. We now know that sound healthcare systems, our beautiful natural environment and the safety and stability of our society are not matters we can take for granted, but as a community we can grow roses from the ashes.

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