No need for revolution on the labour market

Longer hours, along with Feasible and Flexible Work, are undoubtedly hot topics in the labour market. As we have all come to understand, we live in a society that is VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. It is difficult to predict how things will look tomorrow or the day after. This requires us to adopt a flexible approach, continually upskill, seize opportunities… and through all of that, manage to keep our head above water. By all accounts, this is a tall order for all concerned: individuals, companies, governments and society in general. Where could we even begin? Luckily, there are a few stalwart pioneers who are getting their teeth stuck in. But many of us can’t make out the wood for the trees.

Allow me to put some of this into perspective… If only to whittle down the proverbial mountain (or perhaps mountain range) we are faced with into a few pretty steep hills. To ensure we don’t become too disheartened before we’ve even made the first move, although certainly not to downplay the need for change, reflection and – above all – action. For on that score, there should be no doubt. A few thoughts:

  • We will need to work for longer. The legal retirement age has been raised to 67 – two years longer than before. I find it difficult to imagine that those two years will make much difference for someone currently in their twenties or thirties, or even their forties. Let us not get too fixated on that score, then, as though we were suddenly faced with an insurmountable effort.
  • Perhaps we could take a positive approach to things a little more often? People often seem to open discussions by announcing that ‘we HAVE to work for longer’, as though this were a terrible burden that nobody is very keen on. What’s more, ‘we can’t go on like this’ is treated as an established fact. Who among us, then, would dare to argue the opposite case? We might fear we would be judged as bone idle. Keeping busy is the key takeaway from this.
  • Work seems all too often to be seen as a necessary evil. But anyone who has experienced a spell of unemployment may well concur that work gives meaning to your day, enriches the soul and promotes social contact… so for many people it’s not just a case of ‘having’ to work, but also ‘wanting’ to work. The way we choose to word things is important.
  • This brings us seamlessly to ‘job satisfaction’, a term that is bandied about quite often. We ought to enjoy our work, and to be good at what we do – this improves performance and reduces stress, after all. I agree completely, but let us not fall victim to hyperbole and stay realistic: not every part of our job is fun, and we won’t take the same amount of pleasure in all of them. Some degree of working on autopilot can keep us calm, though, and sometimes plodding on with an annoying task regardless can afford us great satisfaction down the line. So, please – take your time and don’t hope for continual job satisfaction. If things are boring every so often, there’s nothing wrong with that.
  • We should stop piling so much pressure on ourselves. Do we need to continually strive for perfection and the highest standards? Could it be that, sometimes, ‘good enough’ actually is ‘good enough’? Trying to be the ideal colleague, parent, partner, neighbour or friend, with a range of interests, quite sporty, an eye for healthy eating and a nice car? Lowering the bar a little, both at work and at home, can take a lot of weight off your shoulders. There is nothing wrong with an unmade bed, eating the same food two nights in a row or occasionally enjoying doing nothing at all. It makes your work-life balance easier to manage, and shows that the ball is in your court as a professional too.
  • And for companies: there is no need for a revolution – continual evolution can work just fine too. Yes, we are facing some huge changes in our society, but that doesn’t mean absolutely everything will be up in the air. After all, the manpower, time, courage and staff support for that is not to be found everywhere. Starting off small is a perfectly good way of going about it. Indeed, this makes the change less uncertain, complex or worrisome.

In short: things aren’t as bleak as they might look. They don’t need to be anywhere – and that includes in our labour market.

Author: Katleen Weytjens, founder/journalist at HRM news site WisKeys

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