The world of work is broken; we’re more burnt out, stressed and overworked than ever before. The number of employees being signed off for work with burnout and mental health issues is higher than ever before; according to NICE, an estimated 13.7 million workdays are lost every year in the UK due to work-related stress, anxiety, and depression, costing £28.3 billion in lost productivity.
So, going into the year ahead, what can be done to fix this? To answer this question, I spoke to some of the UK’s leading experts, coaches and women CEOs on vision for the future of work. Here’s how we can reset ways of working in 2023 and beyond.
What needs to change in the world of work, especially for women?
Charlotte Melia is CEO at Dazzle & Fizz, a Creative Event Studio, and 2022 winner of ‘Creative Entrepreneur of the Year’ at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards. She says: "The biggest change that needs to happen in the world of work, is more capital going to female founded businesses. In 2022, only 1.9% of venture capital went to women led start-ups and double-female founded teams are still amongst the least likely group to secure investment. More capital investment into women founded ventures would give more women a voice and allow them to make a tangible change on the world of work."
Professor Sue Vinnicombe CBE of Cranfield School of Management, specialises in women and leadership, and consults for organisations on how best to attract, retain, and develop women executives. She expresses the need for a more modern approach to job sharing "jobs need to be redesigned so women (and men) can work more flexibly. Working part time only exists primarily for low skill jobs and this needs to be addressed. We can learn from the public sector, where job shares are much more common. Where are the big executive job shares in the private sector?"
Monica Eaton, Founder of Chargebacks911, emphasises the importance of diversity, saying "especially in the technology sector, which is reckoning with a large gender gap, we recognize the imperative for higher levels of diversity and representation. Not only is this a moral judgement – it’s also smart business. Varied perspectives make for a more dynamic, in-touch and ultimately sustainable organization. To build technology that works, everyone who uses it will need to be represented with a seat at the table." She talks about three key principles for increasing diversity; helping young girls develop a passion for technology through STEM, holding the door for others through mentorship and encouraging diverse leadership to attract more women to the organisation.
How can we empower colleagues, businesses and each other this year?
Paula Allen is a Global Leader and Senior Vice-President of Research and Total wellbeing at TELUS Health. She believes the pandemic has fundamentally changed how and why we work - and companies need to adapt their policies to support the needs of women better. She says "the pandemic has changed the way we work. We found that 58% of Britons reported that flexible work is more important than career progression and 31% said that flexibility is the most important action taken by their employer to support their mental health. But these changes haven’t come without their challenges, with isolation and loneliness definitely being amongst them."
She says that learning from the pandemic is that employees want choice and flexibility. The focus may be on offering remote working options for employees, but it also needs to balance offerings for those who want to return to the office in some capacity. She talks about the need for open communication, flexibility and a workplace culture that caters for those working from home and in the office.
Sandi Wassmer, Chief Executive Officer of enei, is the UK’s only blind female CEO, a neurodiverse leader and changemaker, who is passionate about human rights. She stresses the importance of creating bespoke offerings for employees. She says "to make remote and hybrid working equitable, there is no one size fits all; to be equitable, organisations will need to consider the diverse needs of their employees and ensure that they provide different approaches to achieving equally valuable outcomes."
She says it’s important to note that everyone working either hybrid or remotely is on a learning curve. The structures and systems that may have worked when people worked in offices five days a week are no longer fit for purpose, as those micro interactions 'at the water cooler', or those, 'I need to pick your brain for a minute' interactions no longer exist. Collaboration and co-creation are key, bringing the needs and voices of employees front and center , and designing the future together.
Finally, she says, with technology playing a far greater role in our working lives, both digital literacy and digital confidence must be supported. Providing access to the right technologies for the right tasks, ensuring that technology is accessible to all of its users, and making sure that the appropriate levels of training and support are continually available are vital.
How can we overcome hustle culture?
Charlotte Melia says "I think that rather than trying to overcome hustle culture, we need to reframe it. Demonising hustle culture is to discount those from less privileged backgrounds, for whom access to capital is poor and business support is also low. For these groups, hustle is often required in order to get their businesses off of the ground in the first place. What we should push to overcome is burnout rather than hustle-culture and provide entrepreneurs with the tools to recognise when they are at risk of taking their working life too far."
Becky Hall is an accredited life coach, leadership consultant and is the author ofThe Art of Enough. On this, she writes that hustle culture is dependent on two assumptions. Firstly, that we always need to do more, this means that we push ourselves harder, coming from a belief that there is never enough. And secondly, that we need to be better than other people, this means that we compare ourselves to others and develop a critical approach to ourselves in relation to what we perceive others are doing.
She says "to overcome a hustle culture we need to fall in love with the idea of ‘enough’ – as being the key to contentment and balance. Let’s challenge both of these assumptions and turn them on their head. We don’t always need to do more, that is a myth that comes from a scarcity mindset. If we can focus on what we have instead of what we lack – we can start giving our best energy and attention to improving the quality of things, of enjoying and even luxuriating in the what is there in front of us. This means that we start to really embrace the present moment and make decisions from a place of fullness and contentment. It’s a powerful place to be, because it’s not driven by anxiety."
We are stronger together, not separately. Comparison is such a form of anxiety and it can be so de-motivating and unhealthy. Again, tackling it requires us to move from seeing others and measuring ourselves against them – to celebrating what we admire in others and thinking – ‘how can I join?’. In so doing we look at what we have to offer not what we lack in comparison to anyone else.
How important is community and network?
Professor Sue Vinnicombe CBE relays the importance of community, saying "community and networks are very important to women because they’re a support system. We find that women continue to maintain relationships made through leadership programmes and women networks. Having senior women in top executive roles in your organisation is critical in communicating the message that it is possible to get to the top and these women act as powerful role models for how to achieve this success."
Anna Brightman is co-founder of UpCircle Beauty, the brand known for pioneering the “by-product beauty” trend, says community is incredibly important. "With everything that’s been going on in the world, small businesses rely on the support of the community that they’ve been a part of and the networks that they’ve built in order to survive." She talks about the importance of sharing your knowledge and giving back to others. She shares "I’ve given careers lectures in girls’ schools, offered mentorship to teenage girls looking to start their own business, and featured on countless podcast episodes often on the subject of female empowerment or women in business. I also give frequent talks on podcasts and webinars to knowledge-share and inspire the next generation of “green” entrepreneurs, all of this contributes to the building of mutually supportive networks and a strong sense of community."
What is the secret to a purposeful career?
Judith Germain is a consultant, mentor and trainer who specialises in creating clear thinking and decisive leaders who are able to amplify their influence. She says "the secret to a purposeful career is having one that ensures that you complete meaningful work which is aligned with your values, beliefs and passions. You should seek to work with organisations that allow you to grow and develop, enable you to feel like you belong, and are culturally intelligent. The next priority is to take control of your career, by building a strategy based on where you see yourself next. Take the time to discover which skills and competencies are required, and then decide how you will acquire them."
Liz Villani, founder and CEO of #BeYourselfAtWork, says "you have to make a real concerted effort to understand what’s important to you. You have to dig into what your values are and how you want to apply them at work before you think about the type of role you’d like. We’re all different and so there is no ‘right approach’, but it’s important to immerse yourself in a role that you enjoy and where you have strong, authentic connections with your direct colleagues."
She believes the majority of workplace disputes are caused by people not sharing values with their colleagues and being too quick to judge them. "We should all practice self-control, be slower to judge others and make proactive efforts to understand why our colleagues might behave in a certain way. By taking the time to understand our colleagues, their values and how they might differ from ours, we can get the best from each other and find purpose in our jobs."
If you want to find out more about the future of ways of working, join us on 10 March for our International Women's Day Step Forward summit.