Inclusion, Education & Wellbeing in the Workplace

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At Matter Of Form, we are fascinated by the changes in how we live and work in our ever more rapidly evolving world. Many fear that their jobs will be made obsolete by technology but that they will still need to work for longer, as their life expectancy rises...

On the 13th of February, Matter Of Form attended the BAB Stir Conference, ‘100 Year Life’ at the London campus of University of Chicago Business School to gain expert insight into how century-long life expectancies will impact the future workforce.

Beginning with a compelling fireside chat, moderated by Dame Vivian Hunt (Managing Partner, Mckinsey & Company), Irene Dormer (Non-Executive Director, Rolls Royce and AXA) it was discussed how to harness a happier, more productive multigenerational workforce who now live and work for longer.

From Diversity to Inclusion

In prior years, achieving a diverse workforce was the main goal of most companies. However, it is now recognised that diversity does not go far enough. Diversity without inclusion simply does not work. “We are beyond diversity, we should be into inclusion” Dormer noted that enlightened employers recognise that people from all backgrounds and interests can add an invaluable perspective to new business opportunities and challenges, and in doing-so produce much greater progression than was the case in the more homogenised approach of the past.

Inclusion celebrates differences not just for the sake of representation or fulfilling quotas, but to create a fair and equal approach to talent and culture.  Being more inclusive of gender, race, age, physical ability and culture businesses generates the diverse human capital needed to succeed. It all leads to a happier and more productive multi-generational and multi-cultural workforce who are living and working together successfully for longer.

The Value of Trust

Dormer raised the central importance of trust. People who feel safe and valued in their work are encouraged to contribute individually and as part of the team.

Implicit in the generating trust is an awareness of needs. In the workplace, this can be achieved through consultation, sensitivity and appreciation of differing circumstances. Dormer told of a time where she worked with an engineering company who had recently undergone a flashy office refurbishment. The employees were struggling to adjust. Dormer delved into the issue further and found that workers within the engineering industry were more likely to have autistic tendencies. Open plan working proved distracting and uncomfortable for them.

There is a real need to make sure team needs are understood, not just assumed.

Retrain and Reskill

Hunt noted that employers “have an obligation to help people retrain and re-skill in order to keep up with technological change” and companies need to offer greater support. Further education is needed to build the diverse skills necessary to compete as rapid innovation shortens product life-cycles shorten. Companies should partner with leadership academies and other comparable companies to explore best practice.  Bridges to higher education will ensure a talent factory and help to support study programmes for those in work, investing in people to help to develop their increasingly ‘portfolio’ careers. Finishing education in our teens or early twenties simply does not offer sufficient flexibility or security for workers.

It also doesn’t allow for unconventional working patterns that cater to ‘dip in/dip out’ workers who want something different from the traditional school-work-retirement lifestyle.

Intergenerational Knowledge Transfer

Dormer advocates reverse mentoring [where junior employees share their knowledge with more senior ones, taking advantage of their digitally native GenY skills in social media and the latest product software].

Re-invention and re-engineering keep an organisation fresh and attractive to new talent.  People gain confidence from seeing an evident meritocracy, so that they know their contribution will get noticed and allow them to advance. Quotas and audits can make sure this works.

“Lifelong learning is more crucial than ever” Alok Sharma (UK Minister for Employment)

Rather than experiencing an all-out midlife crisis, Sharma advocated a midlife MOT to ensure fulfilled, well balanced and sustainable work choices. It is key that the UK does not lose out on capable and experienced workers to technology through a lack of re-training opportunities. A new attitude towards apprenticeships would help older people retrain whilst also offering more flexibility to support other interests, family commitments and well-being with part-time work.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Dr. Jon Finn of Tougher Minds, added a unique scientific perspective in his talk. Finn argues it is essential that we do not lose sight of the importance of individual health and happiness in order to get the best out of people in the work environment.

Scientifically, our brain lends itself to instinctive habits – such as to sleep, eat and breathe and traditionally work catered to a routine. However, today this framework simply does not reflect the nature of modern work. As a result of this, our brain finds itself in panic mode trying to compete and complete with the constant multitasking, jarring notifications and being on call 24/7, causing the brain to constantly be overworked, stressed or helpless. Consequently, people are increasingly sacrificing udonism (long term gratification) for hedonism (short term gratification) which creates a rollercoaster of ups and downs, as opposed to sustained happiness, reinforcing bad habits such as worrying, lack of sleep, inadequate relaxation and reflection, not enough exercise and poor diet.

In order to be happy and fulfilled, we need to actively address our everyday lifestyles, tackling habits such as lack of sleep, inadequate reflection and relaxation. Whilst it is key employers provide a safe, trusting environment for their employees – this is ineffective without individuals taking account of their own well-being beyond work. This means learning better habits, investing in ourselves and making sure we are investing in our own well being.

Embracing the 100 Year Life

As aptly concluded by Emmanuel Adam (Executive Director, British American Business), the event was “a firework of leadership, inspiration and encouragement’. Adam noted how “diversity and inclusion needs to be seen through a different lens” and that careers, work patterns and the definition of personal fulfilment change over time, “all – and much more -of which businesses and organisations on both sides of the Atlantic need to reflect should they want to embrace the 100 year life”.

Working practices and conditions need to be flexible to cater for modern lifestyles, striking the right balance between employer and employee needs. Successful businesses will embrace flexibility, moving away from the traditional 9-5 (or working all hours) office-based cultures and will reap the benefits of a more fulfilled, trusting workforce.

Both employers and individuals alike, have responsibilities to create the best possible conditions to succeed; namely, broadening outlooks, embracing a culture of inclusion, and upskilling & education. As well as ensuring personal well-being by enabling and developing good habits and balanced lifestyles.

Poignantly, Sharma noted that ‘each industrial revolution has created more jobs’ so the demand is there for experienced people, who in times before would probably have retired. Technology enhances industries, but humans are needed to drive progress.


As part of a wider series, we will be sharing further articles assessing the Future of Work and Living. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for a collection of our selected thought leadership, case studies, news and favourite curated reads.