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The Future of Work | Working the Future
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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking


2023-12-13 17:17

Cathryn Barnard



Contemplating the coming holiday period, I’m reminded of the importance of taking time out. Not least when the world isn’t going to get any less crazy anytime..


As we approach the end of another year, I’ve started looking forward to re-engaging with the fantastic tool my coaching friend Mark introduced me to a few years back. For those unfamiliar with it, I can’t recommend the Year Compass enough. 

It’s a free downloadable booklet that helps you reflect on the year just gone and plan the next one. I’ve found it invaluable to ponder the progress I’ve made each year. Since COVID-19, it’s felt like time flies at a crazy pace. I know I’m not alone in thinking this. 

Taking time to note down each small success throughout the year helps me stay focused on the forward momentum of our business. And it reenergises me for the year ahead. 

Year Compass reminds me of the criticality of deliberately carving out reflection time. And just how essential this activity is in the ‘polycrisis’ age. 

I’ve written previously about the importance of being idle. As I contemplate the coming holiday period, I’m reminded of the importance of taking time out. Not least when the world isn’t going to get any less crazy any time soon.


Why is rest so important?

One of the most impactful sets of research I read this year was produced by MQ Mental Health Research in partnership with Peopleful and NWU WorkWell Research Unit. September’s Building Mentally Healthy Workplaces Interim Report examines stress, anxiety and burnout risk in the UK labour market in 2023. 

The data showed one in four of us are at high risk of burnout, with a further 22% showing signs of stress and anxiety. The deteriorating global landscape, ongoing hybrid work frictions, job security worries, cost-of-living challenges, and a general rise in micro-aggressions will undoubtedly contribute to this. 

Back in 2020, psychologists warned of a tsunami of mental health issues that would arise from the pandemic. Restricted access to fresh air and sunshine, social isolation, uncertainty, the end of ‘normal’, job precarity – these have all adversely impacted wellbeing and exacerbated long-term anxiety.

We’re now in a liminal place. No amount of wishful thinking will bring the pre-pandemic world back. 

But widespread refusal to acknowledge the extent of our societal and environmental challenges isn’t helping us move forward either. Until we accept the reality of this new landscape, we can’t imagine a different future or proactively make plans.

In maintaining the charade of normality, we’re working longer hours, being asked to do more with less, continuing to blur the boundaries between work and life, and worrying about job and financial security. 

The days, weeks and months are hurtling by in a flash, and my hunch is way more of us are frayed at the edges than the data shows. 


Powering down to power up

This Christmas, I’m ringfencing a purposeful pause. However hard I find my goal is to switch off.

We have challenging years ahead. Every organisation will soon be forced to come to terms with what sustainability, degrowth and the transition to a net-zero economy really mean. We will all need as much personal energy as we can muster to navigate that.

Carving out time to restore and re-energise is vital. As is switching off from the distraction of endless, addictive newsfeeds and social media status updates. But spending time outside in the fresh air with people I like is a superb antidote. 

Continuous change and uncertainty are mentally exhausting. 

As the world becomes increasingly complex and fragile, the deliberate practice of self-care is crucial. 

In 2024, we’ll need all our creative wits about us to design, experiment with, implement and transition to new systems that are more sustainable, inclusive and equitable. Doing nothing allows new mental connections and creative breakthroughs to happen. 

One of my primary goals in the year ahead is to ‘unlearn’ many of the entrenched ideas I’ve held about work. Not least the time I think I ought to spend doing it. 

Digital tools are already creating vast efficiency and automating the drudge of routine and repetitive work. The climate emergency will further reshape the structure and location of work as we’re all forced to re-define and re-calibrate how we define value. 

The work of the coming years will be to build working conditions that allow us to fulfil our potential and flourish using the vital skills that are innate to our species.

I’m treating this festive period as an experiment. I’m daring myself to switch off. I suspect I’ll thank myself come January. 

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