Adapting to a new world of work

The modern workplace is changing at a frightening pace. Employers need to face up to shifting demands of workers, changes to how and where people work, employees working later into life and more fluid relationships with staff or contractors


Increasingly, organisations are recognising they need to adapt their employee offering depending on the age profile of individual employees they are looking to attract.

“The model that suited senior management when they worked their way through an organisation several years ago is no longer sufficient to engage young people coming from school or university,” says David Fairs, a partner at KPMG in the UK.

The result is that employers have to work harder to identify what each generation wants, with a strong emphasis on career progression and learning opportunities, and create a fluid proposition that can evolve over time. “You have to give the sense of a career path, even if that career progression is not simply climbing vertically up the ladder,” he adds.

Changing demographics, the upheaval to the pension system and the abolition of the default retirement age also means employers have to prepare for people working later in life. This will require changes to individuals’ job roles and work environment, says Mr Fairs, while it also creates the prospect of older workers blocking opportunities for younger staff.

But organisations can use this to their advantage, using the skills and experience of older workers to fill skills gaps and help develop younger employees. “Older workers get a lot of satisfaction from nurturing and training the younger generation, and younger workers appreciate it too,” he says. “But tackling that in the right way is critical because you don’t want older employees feeling they’re training someone to replace them.”

We should be moving into a realm where we bring evidence and understanding of what really works, not what is fashionable

New ways of working will also have an impact, with the old employment model based around full-time, contracted staff breaking down. “Organisations are having to think about how they weave into their value chain micro-entrepreneurs, high-value contingent workers, temporary workers, associates and small niche businesses that support the wider enterprise,” says Mr Fairs.

Flexible and remote working will also affect how people work in the future. “I don’t think we’re at all clear yet about the degree to which people can freely work from home and not affect productivity, either up or down,” adds David Knight, associate partner at KPMG in the UK. “But the trend is certainly to work locally, from home or from a distance, and increasingly new office buildings don’t have enough desks for all the notional employees an organisation has.”

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With so many uncertainties around and trends that have yet to reach a conclusion, it’s important that employers decide any strategy based on firm evidence, says Robert Bolton, a partner at KPMG in the UK.

“The world of work is currently where medicine was in the 17th century,” he suggests. “We’re doing the management equivalent of leeching people and drawing blood from their heads to make them healthy. Whatever we do, we should be moving into a realm where we bring evidence and understanding of what really works, not what is fashionable.”

Now, though, is the time for organisations to take steps that could help deliver competitive advantage, Mr Fairs believes. “Many businesses are looking for that edge, but most are only prepared to adopt things that are tried and tested,” he says. “The brave at heart will be those who embrace and adapt to this new world.”

For more information on some of the topics discussed here, please visit www.kpmgslant.co.uk