… available in a range of colours, if the scenario planners of PwC have been accurately interpreting their Big Data and keeping their crystal balls highly polished. The web page from which you can download their recent report, The Future of work – a journey to 2022, rather charmingly invites you to complete a quiz to identify in which of three potential worlds (Blue, Green and Orange) you ‘belong’. (The actual wording is ‘belong to’, the implied ownership of which made me slightly uncomfortable.) As I am not entirely a stranger to adventure, I answered their questions and received the following evaluation:
You will work for an organisation whose values mirror you own: You belong in the Green World
You are a loyal and committed employee. You want to belong to an organisation that shares your beliefs and has a strong sense of corporate responsibility, with ethics and environmental credentials as a top priority. You expect continued learning and development opportunities and often work closely with coaches and mentors. Although you expect to be fairly rewarded, you are not motivated solely by salary and are keen to incorporate charity or social/humanitarian work in your life. You also want to enjoy a wide range of alternative career and lifestyle benefits.
As an employee, my main concern while reading the report was not so much that the two other alternative worlds that PwC envisage as co-existing with this ‘Green’ scenario’ were less attractive (the Blue World represents an amped-up corporate world that I found reminiscent of the backdrop painted in the film Rollerball, while the Orange World combines organisational fragmentation and outsourcing with a hefty dose of networking and technology), but that the prevalence of opportunities to locate oneself in a specific world would most likely be arbitrary.
This implied question is left unspoken, partially glimpsed in some of the statistics that feature in the report:
- The chance to take control of their career, what they do and when is what 29% of people around the world most want from a job (a positively expressed version of the characteristics of ‘Orange World’)
- 65% of people around the world want to work for an organisation with a powerful social conscience (one attribute of Green World)
- The most important thing in a job for 44% of people around the world is job security (which equates to a – non-guaranteed – feature of Blue World)
Or, to put it another way, I might be one of the 71% for whom contract-based, freelance, highly transactional/portfolio working patterns aren’t what I most want, but I might not be able to avoid finding myself in this situation. I appreciate that organisational branding is argued to play a part in filtering potential recruitment applications, although a recent survey seemed to debunk this argument. Perhaps we live in a world so saturated with carefully managed and positioned content that scepticism is inevitable, but the following quote from an HRDirector article about the survey is worth pausing for thought over:
[…] applicants don’t trust much of what they hear from employers. Over 60 percent of applicants say they are more sceptical today of what employers say about themselves than they were three years ago.”
My own experience since starting working life way back in 1981 is that organisational life and the ‘world of work’ shows many signs of becoming both more blue and orange, but comparatively few – beyond organisational environmental policies – of becoming green. There are exceptions, of course (Continental, the German-based car tyre and component company, has recently published a Sustainability Factsheet that might interest some readers), but I suspect that ‘greenwashing’ is more widespread than its orange or blue equivalents. (Like recruitment practise, it may also be an arena in which public cynicism is increasingly likely.)
While the report poses interesting questions for HR in terms of how it might adapt and evolve in each of these worlds (or, indeed, effectively dissolve in Orange world), its scenario-planning basis outlook seems only to focus its gaze so far: how might organisations evolve and what does it mean for them. Beyond that, at the point at which employees are not only actually people (as well as suppliers, consumers and a key component in the environment in which businesses operation), the report seems not to wish to address potential consequences: other than as ‘talent’ or ‘suppliers’, the world beyond the organisation is only mistily present. I was reminded of Doug Rushkoff’s 2011 article for CNN, Are jobs obsolete? – and at least two of the PwC survey respondents provide anonymised quotes that indicate that they agree.
And I was also reminded of what seems to be a better set of questions to explore in Rushkoff’s piece:
The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment? Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with “career” be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?
Instead, we are attempting to use the logic of a scarce marketplace to negotiate things that are actually in abundance.”
And I couldn’t help but think that PwC’s report leaves another question unanswered – the extent to which these three very different organisational styles can ultimately co-exist. In a competitive world where the bottom-line will always have a voice in the decision-making process (even the greenest organisation can spend only the money that it has access too, after all), might the very organisations most focused on sustainability not also be the ones most susceptible to commercial failure as they are comparatively less driven by financial success?