And In a Dystopian Future … Not So Far, Far Away….

Posted: November 7, 2016 by Matthew Hanwell in Dystopia, FutureofWork, Human Resources, OD, Technology


Blog Post by: Ian Gee and Carole Grimwood

It’s my birthday! If you’d asked me 20 years ago I’d have said that I’d be celebrating my retirement today – drawing a reasonable pension, looking forward to catching up with reading, travelling, learning a new language, joining a yoga class, generally indulging myself before I cast off this mortal coil. As the years pass however, the retirement horizon continues to stretch further into the distance. I do have a private pension plan, (several in fact), and I will receive a small amount in about 10 years but it won’t be enough to cover the basics. I’m not on my own, this is now the norm.

When I was younger I worked in HR, but most traditional HR work is now automated. I remember people saying that there were some things, like recruitment and selection, which would always need to be done in person. Managers used to pride themselves on their intuitive ability to select the best candidate, whilst we HR experts were always striving for a more objective approach. Now a Selectorbot conducts a video interview and applicant responses are analysed using a sophisticated algorithm. Apparently, this makes a much better job of identifying talent and predicting performance. We should be careful what we wish for.

I’m lucky that I still have one of the skills that hasn’t yet been fully automated. I have to make use of digital tools, techniques, and data of course (no one could get by without staying on top of the technology) but there is still a face-to-face element thank goodness. I don’t sit in the same room as the people I provide support for though – I do all my work from home. Apparently, with virtual reality we can’t tell the difference. I’m not convinced but I go with the flow.

So, I’ll be doing some work today and spending yet more time trying to find some new clients. Like the vast majority, I’m self-employed. There is no job security and there are no regular hours. It’s a very crowded market place and you need to be constantly in the ‘on’ position and ready to go to be in with a chance of picking up work. This is the reality of the gig-economy.

You never really feel that you are truly part of something either. I’m just a temporary cog in a machine now. Can you remember all the effort that we used to put into employee engagement – the holy grail of productivity and business success? All those initiatives to develop engaging leaders, to give employees a voice and ensure that they felt valued by the organisation. There used to be awards for it in the HR world! The trend these days is to gamify work to raise productivity. It’s all about prizes and badges and tokens. It makes me feel like I’m back in primary school.

The combination of home working and self-employment can be very isolating and there has been a massive increase in stress and depression. Alongside that though, there are many, much more effective, drugs to manage psychological illnesses. We must be grateful for small mercies I suppose!

At least I still have a modicum of autonomy and control. The people who have to work in roles where even as recently as 2010 they would have been employed are also engaged as contractors (they used to call it uberisation). They are increasingly manged by chip. Implants monitor attendance, productivity, health, and even mood. Sometimes I think it’s getting difficult to spot the difference between real people and the robots. In fact, it’s easy – the robots don’t have moods, or sickness absence, and they don’t need a loo break. They also learn a good deal faster. So much pressure!

Not too long ago we also used to put a lot of emphasis on creativity. That wasn’t just about major innovation to invent new businesses, new products, and new ways of working. We used to say it was important for all employees to come up with ideas for improving the way things were done. Human creativity seems to be pretty much redundant now. The power of artificial intelligence applied to the ever-increasing mass of available data has seen to that.

We also used to put a great emphasis on the idea of a career back in the day. When I was young, everyone wanted a career and success in life was largely determined by this. The notion of a job for life vanished pretty quickly but we hung onto the need for career development for a long time. Initially development was actually provided by organisations. Later it became much more of a personal responsibility. Now it’s not even an important concept. You get a gig because of what you can do and not for any potential that you might have. The only thing you need now in this gig world is flexibility, adaptability, resilience and to be prepared to keep up and work with the technological advances.

The worst thing for me though is the loneliness. I enjoyed the sense of belonging that comes from working for an organisation. I loved being part of a real, physical team. I enjoyed having the time to develop relationships with my colleagues. I remember when I started applying for my first jobs in HR I was told that I should never say ‘I want to work with people’. But you know what? That’s exactly what I want.


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