Do we exist to work or simply work to exist? Balancing our personal and professional life in a febrile, post-Covid economy buffeted by volatile inflationary cost-of-living pressures and increasing mental health crises has highlighted the existential nature of the question, according to a series of influential studies into the future of employment by the Cambridge Judge Business School.
In general employment we no longer talk of jobs for life, but a life of jobs in a high-pressure, low-skill post-Brexit gig economy where a combination of the pandemic and the associated so-called ‘great resignation’ led to high levels of vacancies and lower productivity. Gen Z pressures are also apparent downstream in attracting the right calibre of senior managerial and executive candidates who are increasingly drawn to more ethical career choices and working for businesses with the right ESG (environmental, social and governance) balance.
They want the security of making a positive difference in their choices, but not at the cost of the planet or their overall mental health which recent studies from CJBS bear out. The School, part of Cambridge University, provides managerial leadership through the CJBS Executive Education Programme which attracts the leaders of tomorrow from across the world.
Whether it’s the half-empty offices from London to San Francisco resulting from enforced hybrid hot desking arrangements that have become normalised working practices, or optimising talent and productivity in more remote working environments, the CJBS studies have, for example, explored how new hires in this Brave New World learn and become assimilated into the corporate culture when they may have little overlap with their peers.
The studies have interrogated behaviour changes to ask questions such as do organisations lose the serendipitous benefit of spontaneous “water cooler” conversations when people are not physically present? Equally, how do teamwork and negotiation differ when handled remotely rather than around a table?
Cambridge Judge faculty experts from various subject groups have probed these issues to provide expertise to organisations in understanding the changing workplace.
Current Cambridge insights include the work of Jennifer Howard-Grenville, Diageo Professor in Organisation Studies, who has examined how organisational culture stretches beyond a “statement of values” to represent practices and expectations of people working together so firms can interrogate their brand values and ethos in the same way that an anthropologist considers a culture.
“The pandemic has posed disruptive effects on working life, but also presented potent opportunities for reflection, discovery, and even reinvention”, she said in a Harvard Business Review article.
Dr Jochen Menges, Associate Professor in Organisation Behaviour, offers insight on how an employee’s mindset may impact their productivity in remote working. At a time when many companies are embracing mindfulness techniques, he also offers expertise to firms on how the millions of hours of commuting time saved by their remote-working employees could be put to better use – such as identifying a “must win” for each day rather than a lengthy list of things to do.
Last year, several experts in the CJBS faculty spoke to a weeklong Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum programme in Cambridge on how to develop leadership skills in the post-pandemic world. Designed by Associate Professor in Organisation Theory Thomas Roulet, who has written extensively about the “new” workplace after the pandemic, the programme included research into the paradox of increased meeting volume that were delivering lower quality outputs due in part to people “multi-tasking” while connecting remotely.
Other faculty expertise showcased at the event includes Mark de Rond, Professor of Organisational Ethnography, who specialises in teamwork and negotiations, Stelios Kavadias, the Margaret Thatcher Professor of Enterprise Studies in Innovation & Growth, who focuses on prioritising project selection in an environment of limited resources, and Karla Sayegh, Assistant Professor in Organisation Theory & Information Systems who authored an award-winning paper on how new members of a profession can help neutralise rivalries and ‘turf battles’ among veterans when there is a big change such as a merger.
When it comes to innovation, many companies cite limited resources as an excuse for maintaining the status quo, but CJBS has identified progressive solutions through Professor of Marketing Jaideep Prabhu who has pioneered the concept of “frugal innovation” or doing more with less, a subject he has authored two books around.
In addition, Associate Professor in Strategy Allègre Hadida argues corporate inertia can be broken by creating a “temporary organisation” separate from the rest of the business that can explore new ideas outside of the “normal remit”.
The research of Philip Stiles, Associate Professor in Corporate Governance and Co-Director of the Centre of International Human Resource Management at CJBS, includes identification of key changes that business should make in light of the pandemic. These include greater resilience, policies to ensure fair promotion decisions in a hybrid working environment, and more transparent management practices.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), a subject major for CJBS, includes expertise in gender diversity and fair promotion practices including Lionel Paolella, Associate Professor in Strategy & Organisation and Chair of the EDI Committee at Cambridge Judge who argues EDI is “not just a numbers game.”
“EDI is for everyone and is about making our workplace a better place because, ultimately, we all benefit from it,” he said.
All provide food for thought for businesses looking to recruit and retain the right calibre of candidate who themselves are looking to move along the food chain rather than simply be swallowed whole by a corporate culture while still asking themselves the existential question of whether they are existing to work rather than working to exist.