Happy New Year! I hope that your holidays provided you the recharge you needed to get 2019 off to a great start.
It’s the “new” in “new year” that we’re talking about this week on #WorkTrends. We’re all wondering how 2019 is going to be different from 2018, and I’m not talking about the new coffee machine your boss has surprised you with.
This week we speak with Marylene Delbourg-Delphis, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and the author of “Everybody Wants to Love Their Job,” about how work is going to change in 2019. Her answer? It’s not going to — unless you do something about it.
It wasn’t the answer I was expecting, but our conversation was a powerful reminder that the future of work isn’t defined by our fancy tools; it’s defined by the people who use them.
Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.
So What’s the Future of Work?
The way Delbourg-Delphis sees it, the future of work comes down to one word: automation. And while that word itself can scare people, she doesn’t see things in such apocalyptic terms. “Many jobs can be mapped onto new jobs. So the future is not doomsday,” she says.
Of course, there’s another change coming as well. Baby boomers are aging out of the workplace, and millennials have taken their place as the largest cohort, with Generation Z not too far behind. Soon the workplace will be filled with young, techno-savvy whippersnappers who can’t imagine life without smartphones and hashtags. The office will never look the same.
Or will it?
Change Isn’t a Given
Assuming that work itself will magically transform because of technology and generational change is a mistake, Delbourg-Delphis says. She admits that sounds counter-intuitive. “It’s logical to believe that [work] will change,” she says. “Digital transformation is already here for us as consumers.” But she says there’s something standing in the way of true change at work: the way things have always been done. “We should not underestimate the status quo,” Delbourg-Delphis says.
The status quo, she notes, has little to do with workplace demographics, because the issue is structural. Despite the fact that the U.S. has transitioned to a service economy, organizations still operate on a hierarchical model that dates back to an industrial economy. This model can isolate leaders from their employees, and it can lead to stale thinking that discourages innovation and disruption.
To Delbourg-Delphis, change has only one source. “Companies don’t innovate,” she says. “People do.”
The Key to Change
What companies must do, Delbourg-Delphis says, is think about their employees’ engagement — and make sure they love their jobs. It sounds like common sense, but the stakes are quite high. Delbourg-Delphis’ research shows that if employees are unhappy, productivity drops by 30 percent.
She says engagement has three categories. Maintaining these, she believes, is essential to creating an organization that is both positive and dynamic.
The first is personal engagement. Making sure employees are motivated is about more than just giving them prime desk space. “It’s very important for employees to have skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback,” she says. Failure to give employees any of these risks alienating them from the organization.
Second is interpersonal engagement, or team engagement. Employees often work in teams, and part of the way employees define their roles at an organization is by their interactions with peers. Clear lines of communication within a team, as well as with other teams, is paramount to creating the respect and trust employees need to feel toward one another.
Finally, there’s collective and societal engagement. You may know this by another term — culture — but Delbourg-Delphis defines culture differently than others do. Culture, she says, has nothing to do with a company’s so-called values. In fact, culture has little to do with management at all. “A culture,” she explains, “is what employees feel.” If employees aren’t free to express their emotions, a company’s culture can quickly turn toxic.
The Growing Role of HR
If people are key to driving innovation and change across an organization, then there’s perhaps no greater piece to ensuring transformation than HR, she says. “In the future I see a much, much bigger role for HR,” Delbourg-Delphis says. “HR should be in charge of the health of the human infrastructure just as the CTO is in charge of the technology infrastructure. They are the human infrastructure designers.”
This means that the key to driving innovation across an organization is for HR to ensure that employees are both happy and productive. So while your fancy new enterprise software may be great, HR should be ensuring that these tools are put to use in ways that enhance the three categories of employee engagement. Making sure these tools bring employees closer to the organization is key to driving success.
But HR also needs to remember that it has a responsibility to grow and challenge itself. Delbourg-Delphis says the most important skill an HR practitioner can have now is “an endless ability to learn.” She suggests delving into organizational psychology. “Academia has created a phenomenal body of research that we can leverage literally every day,” she says.
As we’ve discussed, the stakes are high. Keeping your employees happy is about more than just a pleasant workplace. It’s the key to driving change itself. It’s a fascinating, practical way to think about a word we often define far too loosely, and maybe it’s a New Year’s resolution for all of us in HR.